On this day. 1789: Congress officially approved the title of "president" for the leader of the federal government's executive branch. You may be wondering why America, which was born on July 4, 1776, didn't have a president for more than a dozen years — after all, George Washington, our first president, didn't take office until April 30, 1789. So how was the country run — and by whom — during that time?
For years, we didn't have a president because the founding fathers — which included men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington — doubted that America needed one. The American Revolution was sparked by resentment of a powerful central figure — England's King George III — so it was decided that the new nation wouldn't have one. Any single person with too much individual power, they feared, would become like George: A tyrant.
Sounds good, but just one problem: It didn't work. There was no clear leader to establish priorities, set the tone or unify the fractious nation.
And the Articles of Confederation — America's first Constitution — turned out to be weak. Congress could do some things, but in general, was feeble. Squabbling lawmakers couldn't collect taxes, finance an Army or Navy, or tackle large national issues.
By the mid-1780s, the founding fathers had had enough. The nation was being torn apart by regional and partisan division; it was decided that the Articles of Confederation had to be replaced. A new Constitution was drawn up — providing for, among other things, a president of the United States.
On this day. 1804: On President Jefferson's instructions, Lewis and Clark began their expedition to explore from the Louisiana Purchase to the Pacific Coast.
On this day. 1948: President Truman recognized Israel; the U.S. was the first nation to do so (de facto recognition).
On this day. 1999: President Clinton apologized to China's President for the accidental NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Clinton told Jiang Zemin that the bombing — which killed three people and injured 20 — was a terrible mistake. China claimed it was a deliberate act.
Quote of the day
"If you look for the bad in people expecting to find it, you surely will." -Abraham Lincoln
More from West Wing Reports...
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why China's Communist Party is headed for collapse
- How to make perfect fried rice in 6 easy steps
- Why the poor's investment of choice is so alarming
- Obama doesn't have a manhood problem — but conservatives certainly do
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- Why Antonin Scalia was right to defend a drug dealer
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why we need a maximum wage
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- The sexual politics of Game of Thrones just got enormously worse
Subscribe to the Week