Constitutional Origins of the Presidency

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  • 0:01 United States Presidency
  • 1:37 Qualifications for President
  • 2:58 Term and Tenure
  • 4:28 Succession Order
  • 6:36 Impeachment and Removal
  • 8:16 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The U.S. presidency originates from the U.S. Constitution. Constitutional provisions outline the president's qualifications, term and tenure, succession order, and grounds for impeachment. This lesson explores those provisions.

United States Presidency

George Washington became our nation's first president in 1789. He wrote to James Madison, 'As the first of every thing, in our situation will serve to establish a precedent…it is devoutly wished on my part, that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.' He knew he was breaking new ground. But how did he know what to do? Did the office come with some sort of an instruction manual?

It kind-of did. Our framers purposely divided our United States federal government into three separate, but equal, branches. The three branches must work in cooperation with one another in order for the government to properly function. Our United States President is set out as the nation's chief official and head of the executive branch of government. You can think of our president as the manager or director of our federal government. The president is the CEO and works to ensure that our government runs smoothly, efficiently, and according to the law.

In a corporation, the CEO operates under the rules provided through the corporation's bylaws. In our system of government, the president operates under the rules provided through the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution serves as the president's instruction manual. Let's take a look at some of the main constitutional provisions affecting or instructing the presidency.

Qualifications for President

First, our framers set certain qualifications for who could serve as president. Not just anyone can be president. Article II of our Constitution details the qualifications and powers of the U.S. presidency.

In order to be eligible for the office, a presidential candidate must be:

  • At least 35 years old
  • A natural-born U.S. citizen
  • Have at least 14 years of residency in the U.S.

Though candidates can be as young as 35, our youngest so far was 42. That was Teddy Roosevelt's age when he assumed the office after President McKinley's assassination. President John F. Kennedy was the youngest to be elected, at 43.

Also note that the Constitution doesn't define natural-born citizen. This requirement came under special scrutiny during President Barack Obama's campaign. 'Natural-born' includes anyone born on U.S. soil and might also include those born on foreign soil to American citizen parents. Obama's mother was a U.S. citizen, but his father was Kenyan. But since Obama was born in Hawaii, his father's citizenship is moot.

Term and Tenure

Next, our framers set limitations on the president's term, but not on the president's tenure. Tenure refers to how long an official holds a particular office.

Article II specifies that the president's term lasts four years. However, the Constitution doesn't say how many terms the president may serve. George Washington set the precedent by limiting himself to two terms, or an eight-year tenure. For more than a century, all presidents followed suit. That was, until Franklin D. Roosevelt.

President Franklin Roosevelt was an unusually popular president who served during the Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented four consecutive terms. But not everyone was pleased with his long tenure. His lengthy presidency led to the enactment of the 22nd Amendment, which officially limits the United States presidency to no more than two elected terms.

Franklin Roosevelt is our longest-serving president, with 13 years. He died just a few months into his fourth term. President William Henry Harrison is our shortest-reigning president. He died in 1841 after contracting pneumonia just 32 days into office.

Succession Order

That brings us to our next issue. What happens when a president dies or becomes disabled while in office? Under Article II, the vice president's chief duty is to assume the presidency should the president die, leave office, or otherwise become incapable of performing his or her duties. You might think this provision is rarely used, but vice presidents have moved into the office of the presidency during the president's term on nine separate occasions. Eight presidents died and one resigned.

Notably, on eight occasions, the vice president has died or resigned while in office. This left a need for further clarification as to what happens when either the presidency or vice presidency is vacated. The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1967, largely in response to President Kennedy's assassination. It clarifies the procedure for filling both the presidency and the vice presidency should either of those offices become vacant due to death, disability, removal, or resignation.

Congress retains the power to determine presidential succession, or the order in which officials will replace the office of the presidency. According to the Succession Act, the presidential succession order is:

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