One of the great challenges of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was to create a form of government that would preserve the gains of national independence, create unity among the colonies which had fought together to win the war against Great Britain, and provide the American people with an efficient and just representative republic to ensure the happiness and prosperity of its citizens.
The world presently acknowledges that anyone who is elected President of the United States automatically becomes the leader of the free world. Thus, it is very important that the American people choose a president who will not only lead the United States but will be a force for good in the world. He or she will be expected to promote American ideals of individual and economic freedom throughout the world by way of the nation's moral power and international policies. That, at times, military power may have to be used simply acknowledges that the United States has enemies that threaten it with destruction, and the first duty of the U.S. government is to protect the American people from its known enemies.
Those who framed the Constitution came up with a scheme of divided government that would make it virtually impossible for a single tyrant to take power and rule as a dictator. That is why we have a Congress, a Judiciary, and a President.
One of the great shortcomings of the Confederation that preceded the Union was its lack of an executive who could unite the country through his persuasive but limited powers. When the executive branch was written into the Constitution, the framers were thinking of a man like George Washington to be the first one to fill it. They didn't quite know what to call the executive. The choice of the word "President" was an indication that the last thing they wanted was a king or Kaiser or Czar or emperor. President - -the man who presides - sounded benign, fatherly, and effective, and the men who have filled that position have in general been benign, fatherly, and effective as national leaders.
We have come to revere the position of the Presidency because of some of the great men who have filled that position: George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan.
Party divisions have created great divisions of sentiment regarding our Presidents, because when they become President they also become the leader of their political party. Because political parties are facts of life in America, and because our Presidents rise out of their political parties, it is guaranteed that the nation will be divided ideologically as long as the present system exists. Thus, calls for "unity" among the American electorate simply ignore that basic divisive political structure of our republic. That divisiveness is also a guarantee that the nation will not be ruled exclusively by one ideology.
The present division in America is between left and right. The Democrat Party and its candidates almost exclusively represent the policies of the left. The Republican Party's official platform still reflects many policies of the right, although once in office increasingly Republicans implement policies and practices of the left. This has left those on the right torn between voting for the "lesser of two evils" or supporting third-party candidates. Complicating the situation is that, in this current primary cycle, many Democrats registered Republican to vote for John McCain, and many Republicans registered Democrat to vote for Hillary Clinton. Still, each party hopes that its Presidential candidate will forcefully represent his or her party's philosophy of government. And that is why the position of President has taken on so much importance over the decades. The results of the final election will inform the world which way the American people are leading ideologically.
Each President of the past has had to deal with the specific problems of the time. Washington had to put the new Constitution into effect. He had to prove that the new form of government could work well and fulfill the nation's needs. Jefferson expanded his powers as President unilaterally by his Louisiana Purchase, in the face of much opposition from the Federalists. Lincoln assumed extraordinary powers in order to wage war against the Confederacy, abolish slavery, and preserve the Union. Franklin Roosevelt led the nation victoriously through World War II, although he died in office before it actually ended. Ronald Reagan brought the Cold War to a successful end by forcing the Russians to give up their communist system and its aim of world domination.
History does not stand still. It is being made every day in every place on the globe. And that it why the American Presidency has so great a meaning for the American people. The year 2008 will bring a new President into the White House. Hopefully, he or she will be one of those who brings credit to that great office.
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