The Balance of Power between the Legislative and Executive Branches70 min
- Students will evaluate how the growth of an administrative state in the United States has affected constitutional principles.
- Students will evaluate the shift of power from the legislative to executive branch in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- Students will analyze legislation to determine the ways in which it may have increased executive power and will understand the effects of such policies.
- Handout A: Background Essay – The Balance of Power between the Legislative and Executive Branches
- Handout B: Excerpts from the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887
- Handout C: Excerpts from the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
- Handout D: Excerpts from the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933
- Handout E: Excerpts from the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
- Handout F: Comparing Legislation Graphic Organizer
- Administrative state
- Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933
- Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914
- Economic Opportunity Act of 1964
- Enlightened administrator
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Interstate commerce
- Interstate Commerce Act of 1887
- Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
- Hepburn Act of 1906
- National Industrial Recovery Act of 1934 (NIRA)
- National Recovery Administration (NRA)
- Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935)
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)
- War Industries Board
- As homework, have students read Handout A: Background Essay—The Balance of Power Between the Legislative and Executive Branches and answer the questions that follow.
- In class, discuss students’ answers to the questions as a large group and introduce the key terms for the lesson.
- Break students into four groups. Assign each group one of the following pieces of legislation:
- Students will work in groups to complete the column for their specific legislation on Handout F: Comparing Legislation.
- They should then create a visual representation of the legislation by developing a PowerPoint presentation, video, or skit. Each group’s presentation should explain the information on their graphic organizer on Handout F.
- Students should present their visual representation of the legislation to the class. The class should record the information provided in their graphic organizer.
- Briefly discuss how power has shifted from the legislative to executive branch over time and the pros and cons of such changes as a large group.
- Have students research one of the executive agencies that started in the nineteenth, twentieth, or twenty-first centuries and write a brief essay about their findings. The essay should include:
- The legislation or executive order that started the agency. (Is the agency still open? If not, when was it closed and why?)
- The reason for starting the agency.
- The powers of the agency.
- The actions the agency has taken in its history.
- The effects of agency actions on the balance of power between the branches of government.
- Examples of agencies include:
- Food and Drug Administration
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Federal Emergency Management Agency
- Federal Housing Administration
- Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- United States Customs and Border Protection
- National Recovery Administration
- Interstate Commerce Commission
- Federal Trade Commission
- National Labor Relations Board
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Works Progress Administration
- A list of additional agencies can be found at https://www.usa.gov/federal-agencies/a
Constitutional Principles: Separation of Powers
Do you understand why separation of powers is important for protecting our freedom? This short, engaging video focuses on the constitutional principle of separation of powers. Clear definitions and graphics, an engaging historical narrative, brief scholar interviews, and memorable quotes will make this 6-minute video perfect for use any time of the year!
Separation of Powers with Checks and Balances
The Founders understood the principle expressed by the British historian, Lord Acton, “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Through the complex system of checks and balances developed in the U.S. Constitution, they sought to assure that no person or branch of government could exercise unrestrained power. As James Madison advocated in Federalist No. 51, ambition should counteract ambition in a fashion that advances the public good.
Checks and Balances in Times of Crisis
James Madison wrote in Federalist 51, “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The executive and legislature were designed to battle each other for power, but what does this look like in practice? The federal government is currently shut down as President Trump and Democrats in Congress have been unable to agree on a budget to pass. Specifically, the two sides have so far refused to compromise on the issue of constructing a wall along the southern border.
War and Constitutional Separation of Powers
The U.S. Constitution divides war powers between the president and Congress. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention were focused on creating a government powerful enough to protect liberty, but not so powerful that it would threaten liberty. They worked carefully to craft the war powers of the new government, knowing that history was full of examples of war, so that war powers were necessary, but also of rulers who had abused the power and endangered liberty in order to make war.
International Relations and the Constitutional Separation of Powers
In 1787 the Constitution granted significant new powers to the central government, including those traditionally held by sovereign nations. In response to Anti-Federalist concerns about a too-powerful central government, James Madison explained that the new system of government was designed to work with human nature.