The American Presidency | Charles O. Jones

Summary of: The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction
By: Charles O. Jones


Embark on a journey through the labyrinth of American politics as we explore the engrossing narrative of ‘The American Presidency: A Very Short Introduction’ by Charles O. Jones. This book summary sheds light on the foundations of the United States government and the role of the president within this complex framework. Discover how the Founding Fathers grappled with the balance of power, ultimately creating a system of checks and balances to prevent tyranny. Learn about the evolution of presidential elections, with the establishment of the electoral college and the gradual adjustments made to the electoral process. Gain a clearer understanding of the collaborative and often challenging relationship between the president, Congress, and the Judicial branch while highlighting key turning points in American politics.

The Birth of American Democracy

The book delves into the process that led to the birth of American democracy. The Founding Fathers, after winning the war, had to create a system of governance that was free from British influence. They eventually settled on a constitutional democracy with a president as the highest executive position.

The President was to lead the government and take care of day-to-day decision-making, freeing the legislative and judicial branches to focus on their duties. The Founding Fathers created the position to act as a unifying force in the country and to move away from the British nobility system.

However, there were disagreements on how to appoint the President. The Anti-Federalists wanted the power given to the states, while the Federalists wanted the people to have a say in the election. The compromise they reached was the creation of the electoral college, an experimental institution that is still in use today.

The system is made up of electors chosen by the citizens of the state, with each state allowed a number of electors proportional to its population. The presidential candidate with the majority of electoral votes wins the election. If no candidate wins a majority, the vote moves to Congress. The book highlights the compromise that led to the creation of the electoral college and how it helped shape American democracy.

The Birth of Washington, DC and the Separated Presidency

The story of the creation of the US capital, Washington, DC, and the role of the separated presidency in the US government.

In 1790, a separate capital city was needed for the new United States, where the president could reside in a grand house that reflected their position. Washington, DC was created through the Residency Act, and the central land between Maryland and Virginia became its new location along the Potomac River.

The three branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial, were divided and housed separately in their respective branches, the White House representing the executive branch, the Capitol Building home of Congress and the legislative branch, and the Supreme Court forming the highest level of the judicial branch.

During the drafting of the Constitution, three different ideas were considered for the role of the presidency in the new system: the presidential presidency, congressional presidency, and separated presidency. The last option, the separated presidency, allowed for collaboration but also independence between the president and Congress, without either overpowering the other.

The benefits of this system were to avoid tyranny and maintain efficiency without branches of government relying on one another. The key tools of the system of checks and balances were the power of veto and the confirmation process, where presidential appointments required congressional approval.

The White House was initially known as the President’s House before being referred to as the White House following its restoration after being damaged during the War of 1812. The Constitution explicitly states the importance of the separation of powers and the clear role of the president within the US government.

The separated presidency remains a crucial part of the US system of governance, ensuring that no one branch or individual maintains too much power and preventing abuse of power.

Evolution of the US Election Process

The US election process has undergone numerous changes over the years since the adoption of the first government. The process for electing the vice president was one of the initial wrinkles, resolved via the Twelfth Amendment, where both roles were put on the same ballot. Further changes came when the responsibility of candidate nomination was passed to delegates of political parties, and the first major political conventions were held in 1831. The process continued to develop, and by 1901, the first presidential primary was held as an effort to determine popular candidates. As a result, by the 1950s, campaigning during the primaries was crucial to increase chances of winning the presidency nomination.

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