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president

president, in modern republics, the chief executive and, therefore, the highest officer in a government. Many nations of the world, including the United States, France, Germany, India, and the majority of Latin American nations, have a president as the official head of state. However, the actual power of the presidency varies considerably from country to country. In Germany the presidential power is relatively weak. True executive power rests with the chancellor, and all acts of the president must have his approval or the approval of one of his ministers. The presidential power in India is similarly subordinated to a cabinet of ministers and restricted primarily to ceremonial functions. By contrast, France (under the Fifth Republic), the United States, and some Latin American countries have given the office of the president considerable authority. In Latin America heads of state have not infrequently assumed dictatorial powers, while retaining the title president. The power of the French president is such that he may dissolve parliament at any time, although not more than once a year, and may veto parliamentary bills. He is commander in chief of the armed forces and possesses extraordinary emergency powers. In the United States, Article II of the Constitution provides for the office of the presidency, which is held for four-year terms and filled by election through the electoral college. The president is given full responsibility for the execution of the laws and is therefore the head of all executive agencies. With the consent of Congress he appoints cabinet members and any other executive officials he sees fit. As commander in chief of armed forces the president has control over the military, although Congress tried to limit his war-making power with the War Powers Act of 1973. He is also responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, although his treaties and appointments must be approved by the Senate and his expenditures by the House of Representatives. To be eligible for the presidency one must be a native-born citizen, over 35 years old, and at least 14 years resident in the United States. The Twenty-second Amendment (1951) limits a president to two four-year terms. For a list of U.S. presidents, see Presidents of the United States, table.

See M. Cunliffe, American Presidents and the Presidency (1972); L. Fisher, President and Congress (1972); F. I. Greenstein, Leadership in the Modern Presidency (1988); L. Fisher, Presidential War Power (1995).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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