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The Novelty of Article Two

The Founders had a lot of practical observations about legislatures, both from the colonies and from Parliament. Experience with executive power was more problematic. They knew that they didn’t want an executive with too much power, like the British King, but they were also concerned about an executive with too little power, like many of the colonial governors. Article Two is less specific than Article One but also more novel because the Framers were inventing a new type of executive who could balance the power of the legislative branch. https://youtube.com/watch?v=9tcJxSv1U8Q


Article Two is a challenge for the Framers. They have the example of the British crown as a chief executive, as a commander in chief of the military, as the representative of the nation to deal with other nations. So how the United Kingdom communicated and represented itself in the international arena, but how to translate that into a Republican context where you had an elected leader who they certainly did not want to have the same scope of power that a king had. They certainly worried that any kind of single leader like that could become tyrannical if you were not careful. There's not a simple model that can be carried over into the American context, into a Republican context. And the states were all over the place on this. The colonial experience was not an easy guide. The state experience after the American Revolution was not an easy guide. The states themselves were experimenting with what a chief executive ought to look like. So many of the states, after the American Revolution created governors, but they created very weak governors in their own state constitutions. And part of the experience coming out of that first decade after the American Revolution was the view that the Federalists certainly shared at least, was that those governors are too weak. They didn't have enough power. That too much power had been trusted to the legislature, not enough power had been trusted to the executive branch. So partially when the Federalists are meeting in Philadelphia and starting to think about how to create an independent executive, they know on the one hand they want an independent executive. They don't want an executive who is simply an extension of the legislature. They wanted something that was more independent and powerful. And so they were trying to really figure out based on what they'd seen the states do, based on what they see the British crown doing is to what can be safely constructed into the U.S. Constitution and what had to be modified in various ways in order to make Article Two work. So Article Two turned out to be less specific and detailed than Article One of the Constitution, for example. And Article Two is also much more creative than Article one is in that sense in that they are really feeling their way by themselves without a lot of guideposts to thinking through how do you create a chief executive who can exist in a Republican form of government?

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