J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Defining Mr. President with Ray Raphael

Last month the Washington Post reviewed Ray Raphael’s new book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive:
Article II’s description of the president’s powers was spare. He was commander in chief. He could, with the Senate’s advice and consent, make treaties and appoint ambassadors, judges and other officials. Most sweepingly, he held the nation’s “executive power.”

These unlikely materials have produced the most important job on Earth. In “Mr. President,” historian Ray Raphael explores the birth and early molding of the presidency. The journey is an illuminating one, with wisdom that resonates as the nation prepares to choose its president again.

Raphael incisively explains how damnably difficult the problem was. Revolution-era Americans knew British monarchs and royal governors. They knew foreign kings and emperors. They knew their own flaccid state governors and presidents. They knew the Articles of Confederation of 1781, which created a very weak central government without any executive branch, only a few administrative officials who reported to Congress.

But the world afforded no model of what the convention delegates wanted: an executive with “vigor” who would not threaten republican self-rule. Some wanted multiple executives, some a single president with a long term in office. Others pressed for short terms, with Congress choosing the president. Political conflicts between North and South, between large states and small, complicated the problem. No one much liked the final version of Article II, but time ran out.
And everyone knew who the first chief executive was going to be, anyway: the man chairing the constitutional convention, George Washington.


Old South Meeting House Staff said...

Ray Raphael will give two talks connected to his book "Mr. President" here in Boston this fall.

On Thursday, September 20 at 6 pm, he'll speak on "Partisanship and the Founders" at Old South Meeting House. This talk is free and open to the public. For more information, please email info@osmh,org.

On Monday, September 24 at 6 pm, he'll speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society on "The Curious Invention of the Electoral College.” For more information, visit www.masshist.org/events.

Anonymous said...

This is a very good book. We reviewed it as well. Sometimes I almost wish I lived in your neck of the woods so I could go to some of the talks and what not that you reference.