The Presidential Power of Veto: Where Did it Come From?

Updated on December 21, 2017
Bibowen profile image

Bill has advanced degrees in education and political science. He has been a political science teacher for over 25 years.

The American presidency, called one of the most powerful offices in the world, was the creation of the framers of the Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. This Convention, often referred to as the “Constitutional Convention” imbued the presidency with selected powers. One of those powers, and perhaps the most famous of them, is the power of veto, the president’s power to reject bills passed by Congress.

A veto is a political weapon; it allows the president to slow down and even kill a bill passed by the Congress. The word “veto” is Latin, which means “I forbid.” The veto is a part of the checks and balances system created by the constitutional framers to limit the powers of Congress, but also to ensure presidential cooperation in carrying out the law. In this essay I look at where the framers of the Constitution got the idea of a presidential veto. Later, I will provide a more modern assessment of the presidential veto since it was created.

Source

The Veto in Europe

Throughout European history, the veto power was exercised in various forms by rulers or elites within a government. In Rome, the tribal leaders of the plebes (the “tribunes”) had the power to reject legislation from the Roman Senate. In medieval England, the King of England was the supreme lawmaker, but governed through agents such as judges and councils like the “Privy Council.” By the 14th century, a Parliament was regularly meeting and advising the crown with written bills on their recommended legislation. Over time, the king lost the authority to make laws and slowly was reduced to ether approving them or rejecting them. His method of rejecting an act of Parliament was to refuse to give the "royal assent."

In 1597 Elizabeth I refused the royal assent to most parliamentary bills. James I, though he rejected no bills in 1606, told the people it was an act of his grace that he spared them. Charles I refused the royal assent for a militia bill which some have said precipitated the 1643 revolution (Parliament enacted the bill anyway). The last English monarch to refuse the royal assent was Queen Anne in 1707.

George Clinton (1739-1812) was the first governor of New York under New York's 1777 Constitution. The New York governor was a model for the power of veto later given to the American president.
George Clinton (1739-1812) was the first governor of New York under New York's 1777 Constitution. The New York governor was a model for the power of veto later given to the American president. | Source

The Veto in America

During the Colonial Era of American history, colonial assemblies made laws that could be vetoed by the royal governor (in royal colonies he had an absolute veto, that is, a veto with no override). Also, both Parliament and the monarch could veto colonial legislation. However, vetoes from across the Atlantic were rare. It is estimated that over 80 percent of laws passed by the colonies went untouched by the king and Parliament.

Over time, the governor’s and Crown’s use of the veto became a grievance to the colonials. When Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence “He [King George III] has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” and “He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance” He was expressing two grievances on the veto power.

During and after the Revolutionary War, most states sought to subordinate their governors (if they had one) to their legislatures. After 1778 and until the Constitutional Convention, no state gave its executive the sole power of veto. Earlier, New York's 1777 Constitution provided an exception in giving their governor broad powers, including a shared veto power.

The New York Constitution allowed for a Council of Revision, made up the governor and judges. This Council had ten days after a bill was passed to consider and revise it. A majority of this council could also veto a bill and return that bill to the house of origin with the objections. The legislature could override the veto with a 2/3 vote of both houses. The New York Constitution of 1777 was the model for the state of Massachusetts’ 1780 constitutional executive veto and was probably the most important document in shaping the veto powers that would later be given to the American presidency in the US Constitution.

Queen Anne (1665  1714) was the last monarch of England to veto an act of Parliament. English monarchs vetoed parliamentary bills by refusing to grant the royal assent.
Queen Anne (1665 1714) was the last monarch of England to veto an act of Parliament. English monarchs vetoed parliamentary bills by refusing to grant the royal assent. | Source

The Veto and the Constitutional Convention

One of the questions considered early at the Constitutional Convention was whether or not the new government would have an executive. It was early decided that the new government would have an executive and that it would be a single executive (as opposed to executive committees which they had used under the Confederation Congress). When the issue of the executive’s powers over legislation was considered, several questions pertaining to the veto were broached:

  • Would the president veto with a council or alone?
  • Could the veto be overridden? And if so, by how much?
  • Could the veto power be held by other members of the national government?
  • Could the executive (or the Congress) veto state laws?

In the end, the framers of the Constitution decided that the veto would be the sole property of the president and this veto would be a qualified one, and not absolute like it had been under the royal governors. Should the president veto an act of Congress, he would also have to offer a veto message to the Congress, explaining why he rejected the legislation. And, like the New York arrangement, the legislature could override the president’s veto with a 2/3 vote. Finally, they decided that the presidential veto would be limited to national laws and could not be used to strike down state laws.

Assessment

In the end, the framers wanted the president to be sufficiently energetic; however, they also did not want a tyrant. They gave the president a formidable weapon against legislation he opposes. But the power is not absolute: Congress can surmount this presidential weapon if a sufficient number of them unite to oppose him.

© 2010 William R Bowen Jr

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Well done, Bibowen, and very informative. I think the veto power of the president is critically important. The founders were very wise men, indeed.

    • Bibowen profile imageAUTHOR

      William R Bowen Jr 

      8 years ago

      Thank you, DM. Best wishes on Hubpages...

    • drmingle profile image

      drmingle 

      8 years ago from United States

      Insightful...good write up.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)