Opinion & Analysis

The presidency, national security, and democracy- The case of the US Constitutional project


Is the American Constitutional Project democratic enough? Prof. Amar, a Constitutional Law Professor at Yale, advances interesting arguments that juxtapose the idea that the American Constitutional Project was more democratic from the Crafters imagination to practical revelation and ordainment of the document. 

To begin with, the framers of the American Constitution saw the document as emanating from the people as we see in the preamble a unique phrase such as: “We the people”. We the people of America embracing the democratic involvement of the sovereignty of the American people across every fabric of the society in the Constitutional Project.

“We the people” meant the Constitutional Project involved civic engagements and deliberations on ideas by the very design of the principles and lived experiences and lifestyle of the sovereignty of the American people. The Law emanated from the people and for the people to be ruled by the people.

Again, the document was crafted in simplified language such that the laymen could pick and read and fathom the provisions of the Constitutional Project. It did not carry coded or technical jargons much so well that the ordinary people would have to seek professional aid in order to read, interpret and grasp understanding.

The American Constitutional Project also, factored into consideration national security concerns in crafting the document. By so doing, it became clear in Article I, that Congress defines a pay structure for the Presidency. The Presidency, even though, established through Article II, had it’s pay structure addressed by Congress in Article I.

Initially, George Washington wanted to refuse the idea of him been paid to do the job, but the Founders insisted, and Congress entrenched its role on the topic that it was a must that the President does get paid in order not to compromise national security concerns. So it became a tradition a matter of constitutional requirement that the President receives a salary.

But unlike judges, Congress could not adjust the salary of the President either by increasing or decreasing it because it was thought of that the four term tenure of the Presidency is not so much subject to the micro economic index of inflation unlike judges who could stay in office for a life tenure. Also, the national security and democratic concern was that, if Congress could increase the President’s salary at will, then they could most likely influence the President to assent laws that they wish to pass without exercising the presidential veto power under the Constitution.

Another national security concern factored into the Constitutional Project was Zero Property Qualification. The President didn’t have to be necessarily an affluent or superfluously rich person to stand. Instead, the Office was opened to all talents and the ordinary people of America. In fact, Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Bill Clinton, Obama, and many others came to office as ordinary people without any affiliation to the wealthy class society, even though, they might have achieved personal values for themselves hitherto.

This process was a way of the Founders, trying to prevent the affluent always taking power and rendering the New World into another tyrannical regime as they had just escaped from King George I of the Great Britain.

Another national security consideration was the no religious qualification clause. One did not have to qualify as belonging to some approved religious denomination before, he could mount the presidential seat. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was not attached to any religious sect, Obama was affiliated to a Muslim parents, and presently, President Biden is a Catholic. That is the more reason, why the Constitution does not demand that the President swears the Oath of Office with any religious element, even though, the first President, George Washington, took the Oath of Office with an old King James Protestant Bible.

To ensure, national security measures are in place, the Constitutional Project, leaves the President with the duty of continuity of the government. So he or she is holding the fort (24/7 – 365), unlike Congress that could go on recess or the judiciary.

The President does undertake treaties and negotiations with foreign governments unilaterally, even though, they are later, presented to Congress for senatorial approvals. But the national security concerns in this practice is that the President must defend, protect and preserve the Constitution, and that involves, protecting the county from external aggression and invasion.

Unilateral decisions by the President in such instances, where judicious discretion is required to prevent the Constitution from being subverted is crucial. President Thomas Jefferson took such unilateral actions to negotiate with Napoleon on the sale of Louisiana until Congress later approved the payment budget because at the time Congress was not in session, and yet for national security interest in making sure that a formidable territorial boundary is established against foreign aggression and invasion of the New World, the action was unilaterally undertaken in the Supreme national security interest of the Union.

The Constitutional duty of Presidential pardons also, help achieve national security. As the Commander-In-Chief of the US Army, the President wields control and influence over Pentagon, though State Militias are not subject to such Presidential controls. But with the Power of Pardon, whether convicted, indicted or on pre-trial, the President could help save a national security crisis through the power of pardon. He could bait the militia to put down the arms in exchange for pardon where insurrection is eminent.

Andrew Jackson, who was a prodemocracy, proslavocracy and an egalitarian General, fought the 1812 war of the New Orleans- a kind of second civil war to defend the national security interest of the Union.

Either coming from unilateral Foreign negotiations to a solo decision to go to war in the supreme interest of the national security of the State and to protecting, defending and preserving the Constitution, democracy is entrenched and never compromised. In Article I, Congress declares war and in Article II the President goes to war, but where judicious discretion is required, the President might take the bull by the horn to protect, preserve and defend the Constitution, and prevent it from been subverted – that is equally a democratic acceptability under the norms and practices.



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