United States: Notes

Part 1: Office Styles: President of the United States

The Constitution of the United States of 1787 entrusts the executive power to a President of the United States of America.

Art. II. § 1. The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.

Source: Statutes at Large, 1:15.

In all further references to the same office, the Constitution speaks of the President or President of the United States. The latter style is mentioned in the oath of office:

Before he enter on the execution of his office, he shall take the following oath or affirmation:

"I do solemnly swear, (or affirm,) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Source: Statutes at Large, 1:16.

A Concurrent Resolution of the U.S. Congress of 14 May 1789 approved the use of President of the United States as an officially accepted alternative to President of the United States of America:

From a decent respect for the opinion and practice of civilized nations, whether under monarchical or republican forms of government, whose custom is to annex titles of respectability to the office of their Chief Magistrate; and that, on intercourse with foreign nations, a due respect for the majesty of the people of the United States may not be hazarded by an appearance of singularity, the Senate have been induced to be of opinion, that it would be proper to annex a respectable title to the office of President of the United States; but the Senate, desirous of preserving harmony with the House of Representatives, where the practice lately observed in presenting an address to the President was without the addition of titles, think it proper, for the present, to act in conformity with the practice of that House:

Therefore, Resolved, That the present address be "To the President of the United States," without addition of title.

Source: Senate Journal, 1st Congress, 1st Session, 25.

Part 2: Terms of Office: President and Vice President of the United States

The Constitution of the United States of 1787 provides for the election of a President of the United States of America for the term of four years.

Art. II. § 1. The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years, and together with the Vice President, chosen for the same term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress; but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.

Source: Statutes at Large, 1:15-16.

A Concurrent Resolution of the U.S. Congress of 18 May 1790 defined the commencement of terms of the first President and Vice-President of the United States, retrospectively counted from 4 Mar 1789:

Resolved, That this House do agree to the said report, amended to read as followeth:

That the terms for which the President, Vice President, Senate, and House of Representatives of the United States, were respectively chosen, did, according to the Constitution, commence on the fourth of March one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine: And so the Senators of the first class, and the Representatives, will not, according to the Constitution, be entitled, by virtue of the same election by which they hold seats in the present Congress, to seats in the next Congress, which will be assembled after the third of March, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-one: And further, That whenever a vacancy shall happen in the Senate or House of Representatives, and on election to fill such vacancy, the person elected will not, according to the Constitution, be entitled, by virtue of such election, to hold a seat beyond the time for which the Senator or Representative in whose stead such person shall have been elected, would, if the vacancy had not happened, have been entitled to hold a seat.

That it will be advisable for the Congress to pass a law or laws, for determining, agreeable to the provision in the first section of the second article of the Constitution, the time when the electors shall, in the year which will terminate on the third of March, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three, and so in every fourth year thereafter, he chosen, and the day on which they shall give their votes, for declaring what officer shall, in case of vacancy, both in the office of President and Vice President, act as President; for assigning a public office, where the lists mentioned in the second pant. graph of the first section of the second article of the Constitution, shall, in case of vacancy, in the office of President of the Senate, or his absence front the scat of Government, be in the mean time deposited; and for directing the mode in which such lists shall be transmitted.

Source: House Journal, 1st Congress, 2nd Session, 218-219.

For further years and prior to enactment of the 20th Amendment to the United States Constitution (23 Jan 1933), the term of office of President of the United States was considered to have begun on March 4 in accordance with An Act relative to the Election of a President and Vice President of the United States, and declaring the Officer who shall act as President in case of Vacancies in the offices both of President and Vice President (passed 1 Mar 1792):

Sec. 12. And be it further enacted, That the term of four years for which a President and Vice President shall be elected shall in all cases commence on the fourth day of March next succeeding the day on which the votes of the electors shall have been given.

Source: Statutes at Large, 1:239-241.

The Act of 1792 omitted any reference to precise time of expiration of terms of President and Vice President and one may assume that the terms ended at midnight March 3/4. In fact, the debate in the Senate 3 Mar 1851 reflected the existence of such views. However, the actual practice proved that on many occasions President and Vice President continued to exercise their functions on March 4, at least until the moment when a successor was sworn in. For instance, it was a common practice between 1861 and 1933 that the outgoing Vice President of the United States administered an oath of allegiance to his successor before the Senate adjourned sine die on March 4.

Part 3: Election: President of the United States

A condition frequently overlooked in proceedings of the Congress and related literature is that the basis for a majority necessary for election of President of the United States is the number of appointed electors, not the number of electoral votes cast. Such requirement is included in the Constitution of the United States and supported by its Twelfth Amendment:

Art. II. § 1. (...) The Person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed;

Source: Statutes at Large, 1:16.

For instance, in the elections of 1789 and 1793, three electors did not vote, thus reducing the number of those voted to 69 and 132 respectively; most sources overlook the Constitutional requirement based on the number of appointed electors and erroneously cite 35 and 67 as the number of votes required for a majority. See also "The Number of Electors Necessary for the Election of a President", by Edwin Meese III, Todd F. Gaziano, and Matthew Spalding, Ph.D. (web site, web site)

Last updated on: 17 Jul 2009 01:43:57