On January 20th , the nation and world witnessed the peaceful transfer of the most powerful political office in the world from President Bush to President Obama. As we have watched every four years, it occurred peacefully, without force of arms or violent action. It represented the expressed will of a free people following the pattern laid down by America’s Founders over two hundred years ago.

It is interesting that when the oath of office was administered there was some confusion and it had to be administered again. The thought, apparently, was that if one is committing to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” it had better be done as perfectly as man could do it, lest there be any one say the Constitution was not being meticulously followed.

But if we are making every attempt to be true to the Constitution, why stop with the oath? What else does the Constitution say about the duties, powers, responsibilities, and limitations of the office of President of the United States, which should be meticulously followed? In The Making of America , Pages 508-510, Dr. W. Cleon Skousen outlines the Founders intent concerning the power which devolves upon a person who takes the presidential oath.

The Most Powerful Political Office in the World

It would be interesting to know how the Founding Fathers would have reacted if someone had disclosed to them at the Constitutional Convention that within 200 years the President and the executive branch of the United States government would become the power center of the world.

It was the original intent of the Founding Fathers to carefully limit the powers of the federal government, including those of the President.

James Madison pointed out that the Constitution was structured so that “the powers delegated … to the federal government are few.” He also pointed out that “the number of individuals employed under the Constitution of the United States will be much smaller than the number employed under the particular States.”

If George Washington Were President today

In Washington’s day there were 350 civilian employees serving a population of 3 million. Today there are around 300 million or one hundred times more people, so if Washington were President today he would have to have at least 35,000 (350×100) civilian employees to provide the same level of service today that he maintained in the 1790s. But let’s assume that our modern society is ten times more complicated, necessitating ten times the number of federal employees. That would be 350,000 employees today.

Since we have around 3.5 million federal employees, that makes the ratio of government workers over one hundred times greater in our day than in Washington’s era. The question needs to be asked: Are we still just trying to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution as the oath requires?

Six Areas of Constitutional Responsibility

The Founders contemplated heavy responsibilities for the President, but limited him to six areas. Here are those six areas of presidential responsibility as assigned by the people of the nation to the President in Article II of the Constitution. The President is:

  1. Chief of state over 300 million Americans. This of course does not give him any arbitrary power to rule or make our laws through executive orders or decrees. It merely recognizes him as our leader. He speaks for and represents us.
  2. Commander in chief over a military force of three million. The military is under his command, but the power to declare war, to finance a war, and to set policy for the military still lies under the control of the representatives of the people in Congress, not the President.
  3. The chief executive officer of the whole executive branch of the government. He is the boss of those who work in the executive departments of the federal government. Executive orders are to be limited to the executive branch over which he has control.
  4. The chief diplomat in handling foreign relations. Our nation speaks with one voice to foreign nations, through the President and those who assist him.
  5. The chief architect for needed legislation. The President is the only one who has the scope and welfare of the whole nation in mind. He may recommend to Congress legislation for the general welfare of the nation, but nothing is to become binding law without congressional approval.
  6. The conscience of the nation in granting pardons or reprieves when he feels justice requires them. The president has the power to let mercy and compassion appease the demands of justice. It is a special power to be used occasionally, but not abused.

Unconstitutional Burdens Thrust onto the President

The Founders would be amazed to learn that under the influence of a modern centralist philosophy, the President has been burdened with a host of other responsibilities never dreamed of by the Founders. Congress has asked the President to do many more things, but under our system Congress has not authority to add to the responsibilities of the President. Only “We the people” can change or add to the constitutional powers of the President.

Here are some of the things Congress has assigned to the President without proper constitutional authority from the people:

  1. The responsibility of maintaining full employment for the work force of the entire nation.
  2. The task of ensuring a high level of agricultural prosperity.
  3. The task of developing a national housing program.
  4. The task of supervising the exclusive distribution of atomic energy resources.
  5. Underwriting hundreds of billions of dollars in private loans and private insurance programs.
  6. Providing various kinds of federal relief for the victims of natural disasters throughout the country.
  7. Administering a national welfare program.
  8. Administering a national Medicare and Medicaid program.
  9. Administering a national social security program.
  10. Allocating billions of dollars for educating the young.
  11. Settling major labor union-management disputes.
  12. Administering a network of health agencies.
  13. Administering the environmental protection of the entire nation.
  14. Administering nearly 40 percent of the nation’s land area and its resources.
  15. Administering supervisory control over the discovery and development of all major energy resources.
  16. Regulating all major United States industries such as steel, automobile manufacturing, coal mining, oil production, metal mining, and so forth.
  17. Supervising all radio and television broadcasting in the United States as a prerequisite to issuing licenses.
  18. Monitoring the manufacturing and distribution of food and drugs and requiring special permission before any drug can be distributed.
  19. Initiating various types of federal programs on a regional basis to replace many powers and activities originally reserved to the sovereign states.

It is rather astonishing that none of the above additions to the President’s powers and responsibilities have been authorized by the people in a constitutional amendment. Furthermore, they are all outside the original intent of the Founders as set forth by Madison when he said:

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined…. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Even during the presidency of George Washington, he noticed the growing tendency of government officials to usurp more authority than the Constitution authorizes. For this reason, he included the following warning in his Farewell Address:

“If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpations; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”

Concentrating of unconstitutional power creates a President more powerful than a king

The concentrating of all this power in the executive department may have been done with the best of intentions and with glowing promises. However, experience is demonstrating that this theory of “problem solving at the center” has turned out to be as counter-productive as the Founders warned it would be. Not only has it failed to fulfill its promises in the United States, but similar experiments have failed all over the world. It is what the Founders would call a “failure formula.”

There is a gradual consensus developing on all fronts that this approach has four major drawbacks.

  1. It is unbelievably expensive. Many things cost from double to a hundred times more when done by the federal government than they do when assigned to a competitive private contractor. The twenty-year old Grace Commission report demonstrated the destructive and destabilizing extent of the cost factor in government today.
  2. By its very nature, the Founders warned, government is sluggish and inefficient. There are some things it must do, but the Founders said these chores should be kept to a minimum because of the inefficiency factor.
  3. It places billions of dollars at the disposal of the President and his agencies which can be (and have been) used to intimidate both the members of Congress and the states.
  4. It is impossible for one human being, no matter what political party he belongs to, to effectively administer all of the things we have assigned to the President of the United States.

Let’s be True to the Constitution-Word for Word

During February we celebrate Presidents Day. What greater tribute could we pay to all our presidents, especially our founding presidents, than to read the Constitution of the United States, understand its real meaning, and recommit ourselves, with our new president, to “.preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States?”

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