Presidential Independence and Isolation
The delegates’ aspirations for a stronger national government and a republican government collided on the problem of defining the executive’s power. Republican theory offered no clear guidance about whether the president should be completely subservient to the popular will as embodied in Congress, or enjoy the independence and muscle to check Congress. Republican ideas required the separation of the executive from other institutions, but they did not stipulate how separate institutions would restrain one another. The delegates worked out these issues piece by piece, trying to balance executive powers with constraints.
By incremental steps, the delegates gradually increased the president’s independent authority, and at the same time they isolated him within the government and established checks on his powers. The president must share powers with institutions that are independent of his authority. But the precise extent of this authority, and the limits on his powers, remained unclear and ambiguous.
After the Connecticut Compromise, the struggle for executive independence spilled over into decisions about the president’s term, removal, successor, appointment power, and veto. The delegates agonized over the length of the president’s term because it would help determine the autonomy of the office. Presidential impeachment, succession, appointments, and veto authority each required the compromises to fine-tune the balance between presidential and Congressional power.
How long should the president serve in office? If a president served for a fixed term but could be reelected for an additional term, he would focus on securing reelection and scheme to win it. If a president served a longer term, he could be more independent—but he also could become settled in office, a potential tyrant who would refuse to leave office and use his powers to subvert the republic.