On Democracy’s Front Lines | Brennan Center for Justice


This article was first published in the journal Demo­cracy.

At the Consti­tu­tional Conven­tion in 1787, the Founders talked up a storm. But when it came to the pres­id­ency, they were tongue-tied, with a long and embar­rass­ing stretch of silence. George Wash­ing­ton, after all, was sitting right there. They all knew that Wash­ing­ton would be the first Pres­id­ent, and he would never be a tyrant, they reas­sured each other, never a “Crom­well” or a “Caesar.” So they voted to create an office with few limits and few defined powers. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jack­son later called their outline for the pres­id­ency “almost as enig­matic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to inter­pret for Pharaoh.”

The Consti­tu­tion did include one major check on poten­tial pres­id­en­tial tyranny:…

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