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‘Powers of the President’ opens at National Constitution Center in Philadelphia

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Philadelphia – On Friday, July 22, 2016, the National Constitution Center will open Powersof the President, a timely new exhibit designed to explore the nature of executive power under theConstitution, and how various presidents have exercised it. Powers of the President uses historic documents from the National Archives and the Presidential Libraries of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. The exhibit also includes media and interpretive graphics to showcase how presidents have been defining and redefining the office while testing the boundaries ofpresidential power over time.

The exhibit is timed to coincide with the 2016 presidential election and the Democratic National Convention taking place in Philadelphia this July.

“As America selects a new president, this exhibit explores what the Constitution actually says aboutpresidential powers and how they have been interpreted over time,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center. “We are thrilled to have assembled significant original documents about executive power from the National Archives and other lenders across America.”

The Acts of Congress, 1789 Annotated by George Washington are among the documents to be exhibited as part of "Powers of the President" exhibit. Photo courtesy George Washington’s Mount Vernon

The Acts of Congress, 1789 Annotated by George Washington are among the documents to be exhibited as part of “Powers of the President” exhibit.
Photo courtesy George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Powers of the President explores several presidential powers contained primarily in Article II of the Constitution: vetoing legislation, issuing pardons, the ability to appoint and remove federal officers, and the powers that come with being chief executive, chief diplomat, and commander in chief. The exhibit also examines how presidents have tested the limits of their authority and how they have used the office’s “bully pulpit” to reach the American people. In each exhibit case, key documents present well-knownpresidential actions as well as the actions of lesser-known presidents, demonstrating the impact they all have had while holding the nation’s highest office.

In Powers of the President, visitors will learn more about the veto power. The Constitution authorizespresidents to veto, or reject, any legislation passed by Congress that they do not wish to sign into law. Visitors can view presidential vetoes from Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Andrew Johnson, and the 1832 veto of the rechartering of the Second National Bank from Andrew Jackson which set a precedent future presidents would follow.

Along with leading the executive branch, the president assumes the role of overseeing the nation’s military and foreign affairs. The “chief” powers case highlights the president’s role as chief diplomat, empowering the president to negotiate treaties (with the Senate’s consent) and receive foreign ambassadors, and commander in chief, guaranteeing the American people civilian military control. Taking the lead in defense and diplomacy often tests the limits of presidential powers against the other branches of government.

As part of the exhibit, George Washington’s Acts of Congress will also be displayed. On loan from Mount Vernon, the Acts of Congress contains Washington’s hand-written notes on his personal copy of the Constitution, highlighting the powers and duties of his new office.

Another power of the president, the pardon power, is not subject to congressional or judicial review but there are limitations—they can only be granted for federal offences and cannot be applied to impeachments cases. Presidents can issue an unlimited number of pardons while in office, typically in the hundreds but several have granted a thousand or more. Most go unnoticed but some pardons have reaped considerable attention and provoked controversy. Visitors can view the ceremonial copy of Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon along with a letter from a third grader sent to President Ford three days after the pardon saying “I think you are half right and half wrong.”

The Framers constructed the Constitution to ensure the president’s powers would remain in check, yet allpresidents who serve long enough test the limits of their executive authority. In the tests of power case, visitors learn about the role of “We the People” when it comes to keeping the president in bounds, as well as the role of Congress and the courts. Visitors can see controversial executive orders as well as tickets from the impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.   

Appointment and removal powers—the president’s authority to appoint or remove federal officers—is seen as one of the most potent. Appointing high-ranking officials such as cabinet heads, ambassadors, and Supreme Court justices whose views align with a president’s political philosophy allows them to continue shaping the government even after they leave office. Presidents also consider the removal of federal officers necessary to hold their employees accountable and ensure that they fulfil their constitutional duties. Visitors can view George H.W. Bush’s statement declaring his disappointment over the rejection of cabinet nominee John Tower for secretary of defense.

The exhibit also features a media element exploring how presidents have used the “bully pulpit,” a phrase coined by Theodore Roosevelt. Here, visitors can watch clips of speeches from every presidentbeginning with Calvin Coolidge to see critical times presidents used the inherent power of their office to address the nation and sway public opinion.

The National Constitution Center is located at 525 Arch Street on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. The Center is open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. From July 22 – July 27 the Center will be the hub of PoliticalFest, a nonpartisan festival celebrating history and the election season, during PoliticalFest, the Center will be open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Ticket Information

Powers of the President July 22, 2016 – January 20, 2017

Included in general admission to the National Constitution Center. For more information, call 215-409-6700or visit constitutioncenter.org.

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