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National Constitution Center exhibit examines how different U.S. Presidents wielded, tested powers of office

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By Brian Bingaman
bbingaman@21st-centurymedia.com
@brianbingaman on Twitter

In honor of the election year, “Powers of the President” recently opened at the National Constitution Center, joining the revamped “Race to the White House” exhibit.
“Powers of the President” features original documents from the National Archives and the Presidential Libraries of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; highlights the key presidential powers defined in the U.S. Constitution; and summarizes how they’ve been exercised since 1789.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER George Washington’s “Acts of Congress” is part of the “Powers of the President” exhibit at the National Constitution Center.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL CONSTITUTION CENTER
George Washington’s “Acts of Congress” is part of the “Powers of the President” exhibit at the National Constitution Center.

The Constitution Center’s president and CEO, Jeffrey Rosen, said in a press release: “As America selects a new president, this exhibit explores what the Constitution actually says about presidential powers and how they have been interpreted over time. We are thrilled to have assembled significant original documents about executive power from the National Archives and other lenders across America.” That includes George Washington’s “Acts of Congress” and his personally annotated copy of the Constitution.
In each exhibit case, there are key documents connected with famous presidential actions, as well as important actions by lesser-known presidents, demonstrating the impact they all have had while holding the nation’s highest office.

But it’s not just a collection of old, dusty papers, is it?
The exhibit also features media and interpretive graphics to showcase how presidents have been defining and redefining the office, while testing the boundaries of presidential power over time. Highlights include clips of speeches from every president since Calvin Coolidge, with examples of times presidents used the power of their office to address the nation and sway public opinion (Theodore Roosevelt once referred to it as the “bully pulpit”).

Tell me more.

“Powers of the President” points out that it’s Article II of the Constitution that outlines the presidential veto power, the power to issue pardons, the appointment and removal of federal officers (such as Supreme Court justices), as well as the powers that come with being the government’s chief executive, America’s chief diplomat and the military’s commander in chief.
You can see actual presidential vetoes from Reagan, Herbert Hoover, Andrew Johnson, and a crucial 1832 veto of the rechartering of the Second National Bank by Andrew Jackson.
The exhibit also examines how being both the leader of defense and diplomacy can test the limits of presidential powers against the other branches of government. Eleventh President James K. Polk’s 1846 declaration of war on Mexico can be seen, as can a reproduction of Harry Truman’s order to desegregate the armed forces.
Did you know presidential pardons are not subject to congressional or judicial review? Although there are limitations, some presidents granted as many as a thousand of them while in office. Some famously controversial ones represented are Carter’s “Pardon of Vietnam Era Draft Dodgers” and Ford’s 1974 pardon of President Richard Nixon, who had resigned rather than face impeachment for his role in the Watergate scandal.
Speaking of keeping the president in bounds, check out tickets from the impeachment trials of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

How long do I have to see it?

“Powers of the President” is on view through Jan. 20.

Where is the National Constitution Center?

525 Arch St. on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

How much are tickets?

Admission is $14.50; $13 for seniors 65+, students and youths 13-18; $8 for children 4-12; free to active duty military and children 3 and under.

And for more information, I can …?

Call (215) 409-6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.

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