The Separtion Of Powers POLITICAL SCIENCE COURSEWORK THE SEPARATION OF POWERS It has proved true, historically, that there is a natural tendency of governments to assume as much power as possible. To prevent this from happening in the United States, the framers of the Constitution divided the functions of the federal government among three branches: the executive branch, legislature or the lawmaking branch and the judiciary. These should be separate and enjoy equal power and independence. This separation of powers is in direct contrast to the government in Britain. Their Parliament is the single governing unit.
Members of the executive–the Cabinet and the Prime Minister–are members of Parliament. The highest court of appeal is the House of Lords. The separation of powers was also in contrast to the government under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles provided for no separate executive branch. The president was the presiding officer of the Congress. There was no national court system at all.
The framers of the Constitution decided on a government in which the three main functions would be held by three separate branches. The Congress was empowered to make laws. The president was empowered, through the departments and agencies of the executive branch, to enforce the laws. The president is thus the head of the bureaucracy–the non-elected officials of government. The Supreme Court was established as the highest judicial authority.
John Adams referred to this three-part arrangement as a system of checks and balances that protect the people from authoritarian or arbitrary rule. In addition to distributing power among the three branches of the federal government, the Constitution also distributes it among the states and the people. The Tenth Amendment specifically reserves all powers not delegated to the United States to the States respectively, or to the people. Within each state there are many other governmental units. Each local government, from the smallest village to the largest city, has its necessary powers.
There are taxing bodies, such as school districts, that have the authority they need in order to operate. Before continuing to mention how the separation of powers is applied in the United States presidential system, let me briefly explain the structure of the presidential system. The Presidential System United States Government The federal government of the United States was created by the Constitution, which went into operation in 1789 when the first Congress convened and George Washington took the oath of office as president. The government is called federal because it was formed by a compact (the Constitution) among 13 political units (the states). These states agreed to give up part of their independence, or sovereignty, in order to form a central authority and submit themselves to it.
Thus, what was essentially a group of 13 separate countries under the Articles of Confederation united to form one nation under the Constitution. When the Declaration of Independence was issued in 1776, it used the term United States of America. Until the Constitution was adopted and ratified, however, the 13 states did not really form one nation. They each held onto so many powers individually, including conducting foreign policy and trade negotiations, that the Continental Congress could only do what the states allowed. The Articles were never the law of the land to the extent that the Constitution is.
In essence, the United States as a nation did not come into existence until the Constitution began to function as the framework of the government. Once the Constitution was in place, tension between the states and the federal government did not automatically cease. Many political thinkers believed that the states were really the supreme authority. According to this viewpoint, states could nullify acts of the federal government that were disagreeable to them. One of the strongest proponents of this view was John C. Calhoun, senator from South Carolina.
His chief opponent was Chief Justice John Marshall. Calhoun’s position, called states’ rights, has persisted to the present. It was seriously undermined, however, by the American Civil War. Since that war the federal government has gained much power at the expense of the states. The best known characteristic of the presidential system is the separation of powers.
The three principal functions of the government are the formal promulgation of the law, its administration, and its adjudication. These are established in separate and co-ordinate branches. We call them the legislative, the executive and the judicial; they are independent of one another, but are at the same time made interdependent. (The judicial branch enjoys a considerable degree of independence in all nations subscribing to the Anglo-American tradition of jurisprudence, regardless of whether they have adopted the presidential system.) CONGRESS: The Legislation Branch One of the most difficult debates in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 centred on representation. The large states desired representation in proportion to population in the proposed national legislature.
This would, of course, have allowed them to control legislation because they would have had more legislators than small states. The small states, conversely, wanted equal representation. On June 11, 1787, delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the plan that was eventually adopted. It called for a bicameral, or two-house, legislature in which one house has proportional representation and the other equal representation. Thus the small states were placated by having equal representation and the large states with proportional representation. After much wrangling among the delegates, the plan was adopted on July 16.
The Congress was created by Article I, section 1, of the Constitution: All legislative powers herein shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. Chief among the powers of congress is the power to assess and collect taxes, for it is this authority that makes running the whole government, including the other two branches, possible. The power to decide how to spend money lies in both houses, but only the House of Representatives has the authority to originate bills for raising revenue. Each house, because it is the judge of the qualifications of its own members, may punish its members for misbehaviour. Members can be expelled by a two-thirds vote. House of Representatives The House of Representatives was intended by the framers of the Constitution to reflect the popular will.
Its members therefore are directly elected by the people. The number of representatives from each state is proportional to the size of the state’s population. No state, however, has less than one representative. Representation is reapportioned after every census. After the states receive their quota of seats, the states themselves determine the boundaries of the congressional districts.
In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled that population sizes within each district must be approximately equal. The special powers of the House are two: the right to originate revenue bills and the right to begin impeachment proceedings. Senate The Senate has 100 members, two for each state. Since 1913, when the 17th Amendment was ratified, senators have been directly elected by the people. Prior to that year they were elected by state legislatures.
When vacancies occur between elections, state governors appoint replacements. The Senate has some special powers not accorded to the House. It approves or disapproves of presidential appointments; it can approve treaties, by a two-thirds vote; and it is the court for impeachment trials. To become a senator an individual must be at least 30 years of age, a citizen of the United States for nine years, and a resident of the state from which elected. The full term of a senator is six years. The terms of one third of the members expire every two years.
The presiding officer of the Senate is the vice-president of the United States. It is the only duty for that official prescribed by the Constitution. In his absence the presiding officer is the president pro tempore, meaning for the time being, who is elected by the membership. As in the House, there is a majority leader and a minority leader. The Senate majority leader is often a powerful figure in government, especially if the president is of the other party.
The Senate, in its floor debates, has more freedom of action than does the House. As a rule, debate on a measure continues until every senator has had a chance to say everything he wishes on it. Freedom of debate is occasionally abused by a filibuster, a device by which a senator can talk endlessly to prevent a bill from coming to a vote. Senate rules provide for stopping a filibuster by the application of cloture, or closing debate, which requires the support of two thirds of the members present and voting. The cloture rule was adopted in 1917. EXECUTIVE BRANCH Just as the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had differences over the nature of Congress, so too were there sharp disagreements on the nature of the Executive Office.
Should there be one president or three? Should he serve for life or for a limited term? Was he eligible for re-election? Should he be elected by the people, by the governors of the states, or by Congress? The outcome of the debates was Article II of the Constitution, outlining the office of the president. The presidency would consist of one individual holding office for four years but eligible for re-election. Because the delegates did not trust the people to elect a president directly, they established an indirect method. Electors chosen by state legislatures (and eventually by the voters) voted for candidates for the presidency. To be eligible for the presidency a person must be a native-born citizen, 35 years of age, and must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.
Based on the example set by George Washington, successive presidents did not seek more than a second term until Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for office and was elected four times, beginning in 1932. The 22nd Amendment, ratified in 1951, limits the term of office for presidents. The Constitution gives many specific powers to the president. Other powers have accrued to the office through laws passed by Congress, …