Lesson 1: The President Under the Articles of Confederation

… the executive authority, with few exceptions, is to be vested in a single magistrate. This will scarcely, however, be considered as a point upon which any comparison can be grounded; for if, in this particular, there be a resemblance to the king of Great Britain, there is not less a resemblance to the … khan of Tartary, to the Man of the Seven Mountains....


—Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers #69 on the EDSITEment reviewed website Avalon Project at the Yale Law School

if you adopt this government, you will incline to an arbitrary and odious aristocracy or monarchy…


—Anti-Federalist Paper Cato #5 Executive Power on the Constitution Society website, a link from the EDSITEment resource Internet Public Library

At the time the Founders were shaping the future of a new country, John Adams suggested the President should be addressed as "His Excellency." Happily, others recognized that such a title was inappropriate. Though the proper form of address represents only a small detail, defining everything about the Presidency was central to the idea of America that was a work-in-progress when the nation was young.

Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson as part of the curriculum unit Before and Beyond the Constitution: What Should a President Do? or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment curriculum units Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy and Lost Hero: Who Was Really Our First President?

Students with an understanding of the fears of the Founders regarding a powerful executive will benefit the most from this lesson. (See curriculum unit, Background on the Patriot Attitude Toward the Monarchy). When discussing the structure of the Executive sketched in the Articles of Confederation, you may want to refer back to the complaints of the colonists as summarized by Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. This review will help students understand why and how the Founders were cautious. Consult the following EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 for more information on:

Guiding Questions

How was the role of "President" defined in the Articles of Confederation?

What were the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation regarding the role of the President?

Learning Objectives

After completing the lesson in this unit, students will be able to: Discuss the powers and responsibilities of the President as defined by the Articles of Confederation.