By- Angela Padrón
The president of the United States of America has several unofficial titles as well— “Leader of the Free World,” “Commander in Chief,” and “POTUS,” to name a few. Being president takes great restraint, patience, intelligence, levelheadedness, and the ability to think strategically. But how does one become the president of the United States? The Founding Fathers wanted to avoid having their new country ruled by a tyrant or king, so they outlined certain rules in the United States Constitution about how one becomes president.
Here are some facts the highest office in the land:
- A person running for president must be a natural-born citizen of the United States. This means he or she must have been born in one of the fifty states or in the U.S. territories, which include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam. There is some controversy as to what constitutes a “natural-born citizen,” however, due to the specific wording in the Constitution. Some believe that a child born overseas to parents who are U.S. citizens should be considered natural born. An amendment to the Constitution would be needed to clarify this—but since this has not been an issue in any of the more recent presidential elections, a change has not been made.
- The person running for president must have been a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.
- A candidate must be at least thirty-five years old. The youngest president elected in history so far, though, was John F. Kennedy, who was forty-three years old when he became president in 1960. The youngest person to serve as president, however was Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley’s vice president. Roosevelt took over the office of president at forty-two years old when McKinley was assassinated in 1901.
- The Constitution does not specify that only certain genders, races, or religions can become president. Even though the Constitution does not discriminate, however, so far, almost all of the U.S. presidents have been white, Protestant men. The only two exceptions have been Barack Obama, who is of mixed race and was elected in 2008, and John F. Kennedy, who was Catholic.
- There are two major political parties in the United States—the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. In the past, the parties would nominate their candidates for the presidential race. Since 1972, however, the public has chosen the candidate they wish to represent each party through primary elections. The candidates elected in each party’s primary then go on to hold debates and campaign to be the next president. Each party and candidate conducts a lot of campaigning to try to convince voters to cast their ballots for them.
- The candidates for president choose a “running mate”— a person who will be the nominee for vice president. Many times this is a strategic decision made in order to win votes from a particular group of people, whether in a specific geographical region of the country or because of their gender, race, or ideological platforms.
- In the general election, which takes place every four years in November, the decision on who will be president is ultimately made by the “Electoral College.” The candidate that receives the majority of electoral votes in the Electoral College will be the president. The Founding Fathers put this system in place because they felt such an important decision should be left up to “more experienced, wiser people” and not directly left up to the people to decide.
Each state is assigned a certain number of electors based on the state’s total number of members of Congress, with a minimum of three electoral votes. These electors pledge their loyalty to a particular party and its chosen candidate and they cast their votes faithfully for their party’s candidate. Some states, like Nevada and Maine, divide their electoral votes based on how many votes were received for each candidate. All other states have a winner-take-all approach, however, with all of the electoral votes going to the majority winner in the state on election day.
- Most of the time, the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote wins the Electoral College as well. However, five times in history, the person who won the popular vote did not win the Electoral College.
- If none of the candidates wins the majority of the Electoral College, the deciding vote is then cast by the House of Representatives. This has only happened once in history, when John Quincy Adams was chosen over Andrew Jackson, despite Jackson winning the popular vote and more electoral votes than any other candidate—just not a majority of electoral votes.
- It used to be that presidents could continue running for several terms, as was the case with Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four consecutive terms. In 1951, however, the Twenty-Second Amendment of the Constitution was ratified, allowing for a president to serve only two terms, or to be elected only twice.
- If the president leaves office prior to the end of his term, the vice president then becomes president. The next person in line to take over the presidency would be the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
It is clear that becoming president is not an easy task. The position comes with great responsibility, but the Founding Fathers installed a system of checks and balances so that one part of government (including the president) would not have more power than another. The system is not perfect, however, and over the years, amendments have been added to the Constitution in order to “perfect our union” even more. The United States is seen as a strong democracy around the world, though, and a place where all things are possible: the land of the free and the home of the brave!