Article II, Section 1: The Executive Branch – President’s Term of Office, Election, Qualifications, Vacancy in the Presidency, Compensation, and Oath of Office
Section 1 begins with a declaration that “the executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America” and that the term of office of both the President and the Vice President is four years.
NOTE: As written at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, there was no limit on the number of four year terms a President could serve. George Washington established the precedent that a President would only serve two terms when he declined to seek a third term. This remained true until Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for and was elected to a third term in 1940 and a fourth term in 1944.
Section 1 then describes how the President and the Vice President will be elected.
NOTE: In doing so, it makes no mention of the popular vote in choosing the President and Vice President nor does any other part of the Constitution.
Section 1 creates a body called the Electoral College comprised of individuals called electors which elects the President and Vice President. Each state chooses a number of electors who cast electoral votes in whatever way each state’s legislature decides. The number of electors (electoral votes) to which each state is entitled is equal to the number of U. S. Senators from the state (two from each state as provided in Article I) plus the number of U. S. Representatives from the state (as provided in Article I, at least one from each state and the number above one determined by the state’s population). Thus, each state has at least three electors (electoral votes). No U. S. Senator or U. S. Representative or person holding an office of profit or trust under the U. S. can serve as an elector.
NOTE: The following paragraph describing the presidential election process was replaced in 1804 when the Twelfth Amendment was added to the Constitution.
As written at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, electors met in their individual states and voted for two individuals, at least one of whom could not be from the same state as the electors. After the state’s electors voted, the results were sent to the President of the Senate who in the presence of the Senate and House opened and counted the votes. The individual with the largest number of the electoral votes, if it was a majority of the whole number of electoral votes, became President. If more than one person had a majority and there was a tie, the House would choose the President. If no individual had a majority of the electoral votes, the House, voting by states with each state having one vote, would choose the President from among the top five electoral vote winners. To win this election in the House, the winning candidate would need a majority of the states’ votes. After the President is chosen, the individual with the greatest number of electoral votes would be the Vice President, but if two or more have the same number of electoral votes, the Senate chooses the Vice President.
Section 1 specifically spells out only three qualifications which an individual must possess to serve as President: (1) a “natural born citizen” of the United States; (2) 35 years of age; and (3) a resident of the United States for fourteen years.
NOTE: There is general agreement among constitutional scholars that “natural born citizen of the U. S.” means that at birth one must be a citizen of the U. S., not that one must have been born on the soil of the U. S. However, this requirement has never been tested in the courts, and therefore, there is no court ruling on its meaning. What it does clearly mean is that naturalized citizens of the U. S. are ineligible to be President or Vice President, although they are eligible to hold any other position in American government.
NOTE: The following paragraph regarding a presidential vacancy was changed when the Twenty-Fifth Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1967.
Section 1 also provided for what happened if the President were removed from office, died, resigned, or was unable to discharge his duties. In such a situation, the Vice President would become President. If both the President and the Vice President should be unable to perform the duties of the office of President for any reason, Congress by law would decide who would then act as President.
Section 1 also provides that the President shall be compensated for his service and that this compensation cannot be increased or decreased during the period for which the President is elected. Finally, it prescribes the oath or affirmation that the President must take before he assumes the office of President.
NOTE: These powers are fairly few in number, but they are written in very vague language and thus capable of interpretation and argument. Recall that important legislative powers are given to the President in Article I, Section 7.
One of the most important powers granted the President is that of Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States and of the militia of the several states when called into service for the United States.
NOTE: The President, among other things, chooses who occupies command positions in each branch of the armed forces. At the same time, the President can remove individuals from command positions as President Harry Truman did when he removed General Douglas MacArthur as Commander of American Forces during the Korean War.
NOTE: As has occurred several times in American history, the President can commit American troops abroad and involve them in conflict even though Congress has not formally declared war.
The President grants reprieves or pardons for offenses committed against the United States, but he cannot pardon an individual who has been impeached.
NOTE: The President cannot issue pardons for offenses against a state. The President has the power to make treaties with other nations, but these treaties must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate.
NOTE: Presidents have gotten around this requirement for Senate approval of treaties by negotiating what are called “executive agreements” instead of treaties. These do not require Senate approval.
The President has the power to appoint ambassadors, other public ministers, and justices of the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Article II, Sections 3 and 4: Duties of the President, Impeachment of the President/Vice President/and Other Officers
The President is authorized on extraordinary occasions to convene either or both houses of Congress, and where the two houses disagree on the time of adjournment, the President can adjourn them at a time he thinks proper.
The President receives foreign ambassadors and other public ministers.
NOTE: The President’s power “to receive foreign ambassadors” means the President has an important power called “recognition.” When he “receives” an ambassador from a foreign nation, the President “recognizes” on behalf of the United States the government of that nation which the ambassador represents as the legitimate, rightful government of that nation.
The President must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
NOTE: The President is thus authorized to take whatever action deemed necessary to enforce the laws of the U. S.
Section 4 of Article II provides that the President, the Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States can be removed from office if impeached for, and convicted of, “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
NOTE: What exactly “other high crimes and misdemeanors” means has been a subject of debate and controversy, and no one is certain about exactly what it means. The House of Representatives brings impeachment charges against an official by a majority vote of the House. Conviction and removal from office on the charges voted by the House requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
NOTE: In the nation’s history, the House of Representatives has successfully voted impeachment charges against three Presidents – Andrew Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump. A fourth President – Richard Nixon – resigned before the House could vote impeachment charges against him. In 2021, Donald Trump became the only President in U. S. history to have been impeached twice by the House of Representatives. The U. S. Senate has never convicted and removed from office any President.