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The American Presidency

A Very Short Introduction

By Charles O. Jones
10-minute read
Audio available
The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction by Charles O. Jones

The American Presidency (2007) offers an introduction to the US presidency and the unique role each president must play in world politics. Find out what kind of thinking went into the creation of this job and how it has changed over the years. America’s Founding Fathers created a uniquely experimental government when they broke free from British influence; even today, their experiment continues to surprise us.

  • Readers interested in American history
  • Students of politics or public policy
  • Frustrated voters trying to understand the electoral college

Charles Jones is a political scholar who works at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, as well as the Governmental Studies Program at The Brookings Institution. He is the author of many books, including Separate But Equal Branches: Congress and the Presidency and An Introduction to Public Policy.

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The American Presidency

A Very Short Introduction

By Charles O. Jones
  • Read in 10 minutes
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  • Contains 6 key ideas
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The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction by Charles O. Jones
Synopsis

The American Presidency (2007) offers an introduction to the US presidency and the unique role each president must play in world politics. Find out what kind of thinking went into the creation of this job and how it has changed over the years. America’s Founding Fathers created a uniquely experimental government when they broke free from British influence; even today, their experiment continues to surprise us.

Key idea 1 of 6

The American presidency was part of an experimental concept of governance.

In 1783, rebel forces in the New World of America defeated the British monarchy and won their independence. After this victory, it fell to a group of men commonly referred to as the Founding Fathers to come up with a constitution and set the rules of government for the newly established republic.

It took some time, but in 1787, they unveiled the new structure for the United States government – a constitutional democracy with a president occupying the highest executive position.

The president was to be somewhat like a monarch, somewhat like a prime minister. He would lead the government, and take care of day-to-day decision-making, as well as be the face of the nation.

The creation of this position was an experiment in governance, and so rather than the old title of “governor,” which had been tainted by British colonials, they chose the more neutral “president.” This stems from the Latin term praesidere, meaning “to preside,” so it was free of any British association.

The Founding Fathers also wanted to move away from the system of British nobility. So, to appoint this new kind of leader, they came up with an experimental new electoral system.

They based the system on the principle of separating to unify – that is, they divided power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, so that no single individual or organization could ever seize control and establish a monarchy or some other despotic form of government.

But disagreement arose over how this system should operate. There were two ideological camps. On the one hand, there were the Anti-Federalists. They wanted power to be given to the states, and suggested the president be elected by whichever party had the most state representatives in Congress. On the other hand were the Federalists. Who wanted the president to be elected by the people. They believed this process would match the centralized, executive authority of the presidency.

In the end, a compromise was made in the form of the electoral college.

This experimental institution is made up of members, or “electors,” who are chosen by the citizens of the state. Each state is permitted a number of electors proportional to its population. The presidential candidate who wins the majority of the electoral votes wins the election. If no candidate wins a majority, the vote moves to congress.

This is the process that was agreed upon in the original Constitution, and it’s still in place today.

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