What Should a President Do?

  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Imagine being locked in a hot room with 54 other people. Your head sweats under your powdered wig as you think about the work ahead of you, creating the job of President of the United States.

Creating the presidency was one of the toughest parts of writing the Constitution. First, the 55 delegates had to decide on the number of presidents. Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia feared that a single president might turn into a king. He wanted three presidents!

James Wilson of Pennsylvania said that three presidents would argue too much. Most delegates agreed and voted for a single president.

How should the president be elected? Robert Sherman of Connecticut thought the legislature should elect the president.

No good, said Wilson. A president elected by the legislature would have to do everything the legislature asked. Wilson wanted a president elected directly by the people.

The delegates voted 60 times on this issue. They finally decided that each state would choose special delegates to elect the president.

How long should a president serve? For life, said Alexander Hamilton of New York.

This was too much like a king for most delegates. They decided on a seven-year term. Then, late in the Convention, they changed that to the four-year term we have today.

Should the president be rich? Charles Pinckney of South Carolina thought so. He suggested that no one could become president who was worth less than $100,000! (That's about $1 million today.) This suggestion was so ridiculous that George Washington didn't even bother to call a vote on it.

James Madison of Virginia argued that, whether rich or poor, the president should be paid. The delegates agreed and decided on a salary of $25,000 a year.

The delegates made the president Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy. They gave him the power to make treaties with other countries and to appoint federal judges.

The delegates spent 21 days creating the Presidency. But their time and hard work paid off. The office they created in 21 days has lasted 200 years!

Adapted from Scholastic Newstime.

  • Subjects:
    The Presidency
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