Why Do We Need a President Anyway?


It wasn't always a given that we'd have a single executive who has the power to make final decisions about the fate of our country.

Every four years, political frenzy seizes the nation for months building up to the presidential election.

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The Supreme Court ruled that President Obama's recess appointments to fill openings in the National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. Was he abusing his power? What powers belong to the executive branch of our government?

Often lost in the hoopla of the campaign trail, though, is the question of how it all began: Why do we have a president in the first place?

When the Founding Fathers met to design the constitution, in fact, many were skeptical about appointing a chief.

They had a revolutionary view of European history, after all. And from what they'd seen, they worried that putting one person in charge would foster monarchy, tyranny and oppression.

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Only after a fizzled attempt to run the country through disparate committees in individual states did the creators of the United States Constitution decide at a historic convention in 1787 that there needed to be a strong national government with a leader on top.

"Things were not really efficient without an executive that has a certain amount of power," said James Pfiffner, a political scientist at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. Psychologically, he added, people like to have leaders to look up to.

But making the call to create the Presidency was not easy.

"At the beginning of the convention when they decided there would be just one person as the executive," Pfiffner said, "there was in Madison's words 'a considerable pause.'"

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After the United States declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, leaders spent years thinking about how to rule the country without becoming another monarchy, said Jack Rakove, professor of history and political science at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and author of "Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America."

By the time the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia in 1787, every detail was up for grabs. Would there be one chief executive or more than one? What kinds of powers would he have? And perhaps most difficult of all, how would he be chosen?

At first, convention attendees -- which included James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington -- assumed that the legislature would pick the President, who would serve for seven years without opportunity for re-election. But Wilson and others argued that this system would make the chief merely a tool of Congress, giving them too much power.

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