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Examining the Constitution: Article II

Page 2 of the U.S. Constitution Containing the Bulk of Article II
Public Domain

Article II is the second longest and arguably second most important article in the U.S. Constitution, as far as the structure of the United States government is concerned. It establishes the office of the President of the United States and outlines many of the aspects of said office. It is shorter than Article I, though some of the rules regarding the Executive Branch are contained in amendments, so it cannot be said to encompass the entirety of the office as we know it today.

Read the entire Article here.

It is quite noticeable to those even with just a passing knowledge of the Executive Branch of the U.S. government that a number of things are not specific in Article II. When the office was conceived of, the framers had George Washington in mind. In fact, he was already known as Mr. President as presiding officer at the Philadelphia Convention. It was somewhat expected that he would be the model for the role and that proved true.

In the Articles of Confederation, the office of the President of the United States was not separate from Congress. In fact, the closest thing it had to a president was the presiding officer of Congress. With Article II, the president becomes not the president of Congress, but the president of the new country. This means he is not just at work when Congress is in session. This office is a constant job. In other words, the President of the United States has to be, and is, available to work for every second of his term(s).

Speaking of terms, Article II gives the president 4-year terms. Under the core of the Constitution, he may be re-elected perpetually until his death. This is common in political offices at the time. However, George Washington stepped down after two terms and it became something of a tradition for presidents to do the same. Some would step down and then run again in a future election. Some ignored the tradition completely. Interestingly, this was viewed negatively, in spite of the lack of a legal standard for it, so Congress passed a new amendment making Washington's example the standard for the president.

The office of the Vice President is also established in Article II. It states that if the president should be unable to perform the duties of his office, is dead or has resigned, the Vice President is to take the place of the president. In what might been seen as a lapse in foresight, not much was said about what should be done about the office of the VP in this cases. Therefore, there have been times that the country has been without one. This has been remedied in the Amendments.

The controversial Electoral College is established by Article II of the U.S. Constitution in the setting forth of election standards for the office. This too has been amended, but was done so in one of the earlier Amendments set forth by the founding generation. The framers also added a clause regarding compensation for the office, namely that a president will be given such. Washington didn't want it, but fearing the precedent that would set, Congress urged him to take it. To do otherwise may have made the office only attainable for already wealthy candidates.

Article II names the original restrictions, responsibilities and abilities of the President of the United States. A few noteworthy items include that the president must be 35 years old and a natural-born citizen. There are no property or religious qualifications for the office, though there has historically been pressure on the president to proclaim himself of some Christian denomination or another. Nonetheless, it is quite clear that people of any denomination or lack thereof are welcome to the office, if elected. The president gets a veto pen and pardon powers. He is to handle certain aspects of foreign relations, such as treaties. Again, this is much more power than the office had under the Articles of Confederation.

Along with the Presidential Oath, Article II covers everything the fledgling country needed to establish and fill the Executive Branch. While there have been several changes, the presidency remains recognizable as the office George Washington took more than 200 years ago.

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