The Expansion of Presidential Power

Presidential executive orders have become much more commonplace in government today. Historically, presidents generally used these orders to manage and direct federal agencies through laws already passed and arranged by Congress, and clearly not to create, or vaguely interpret, laws for expanding executive control.

Presidents since George Washington have used executive orders, or “directives”, although for a good period of time they were not officially recorded. For example, George Washington established a national day of Thanksgiving, and ordered subordinates to prepare reports on the various state of affairs in the U.S., etc. James Madison actually criticized Washington’s “Neutrality Proclamation”, which stated that the U.S. would hold neutral, friendly relations toward the countries of Britain and France, for overstepping the bounds of the executive branch! Executive orders were debated pretty heavily and certainly were not everyday events in the young days of our republic.

While some may trust the executive branch to do well with this incredible power, history has shown a different path. On April 5, 1933, Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6102 into law, effectively confiscating gold from the American people because of the continuing “national emergency in banking”. People were given less than one month to deliver their gold to a Federal Reserve bank or branch.

Seeing how personal freedom, and the right to property, could be stomped on through the order of the president is exactly why it is vital that executive orders aren’t ignored. Even if the majority of the orders go unnoticed or make little, if any, difference in our personal lives; the less attention we pay to these executive decisions, the more at risk our individual liberties and freedoms will be in both the short-term and the long run. Executive Order 9066, signed by Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, led to the relocation and internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans, Germans, and Italians. In total, Roosevelt issued 3,435 Executive Orders throughout his twelve years in office, more than one order every other day.

It is in times of war or “emergency” when the federal government, and executive branch in particular, most expands its power by leaps and bounds. This is what leads to the destruction of individual freedom, one piece at a time, and inevitably will strengthen the central government, and lessen the direct representation of the people. At heart, strong central power, as we are seeing now, is nothing more than a move towards socialism, where a select few try to pound society into a shape that is to their liking.

The Founders never meant to give the executive branch the potential of such massive power. The Constitution was created to limit the federal government arguably as much as possible, because the people had directly seen what tyranny could come from a strong executive leader, King George.

The federal government was meant to deal with as few issues as possible. Issues not specifically delegated to the federal government, or prohibited to the States, were handed over to the power of the States and the people, through the 10th Amendment. The possibilities of corruption, deceit, and plunder greatly increase with a strong central government. Thus, the 1787 Constitutional Convention delegates gave the most power of the three branches making up the federal government (legislative, judicial, executive) to the legislative branch, because it was the branch designed to be closest to the people.

Congress has had a history of neglecting its power and responsibility by giving it up to the executive branch, which has largely contributed to the growth and irresponsibility of the federal government over the past century. This has played a key part in the increasing grip executive orders have clenched over government and society. In short, executive orders are a continuation of the expansion of the federal government’s power. Recently we have seen this power expansion through the “emergency” bailout of the auto industry ordered in December, 2009, by former president George W. Bush. One question: where does the authority for the president to even bailout an industry, let alone through an “emergency” order, come from?

We have not only drifted away from the principles of individual responsibility, free markets, and equal justice that make up a free society; today we are moving in the completely opposite direction by letting the power of the executive branch continue to expand. Remember, it is not the government that is supposed to regulate people, it is the people who are supposed to regulate government. And this regulation is much more easily, effectively, and efficiently achieved on a local scale than nationally.

“Never waste a good crisis.” – Hillary Clinton

“Never allow a crisis to go to waste.” – White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel

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