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Limits to Presidential Power

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
100 minutes
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
Students will analyze the boundaries of presidential power through primary sources and complete a performance task.

Student goal is to create a product (pamphlet, poster, podcast, etc.) that will educate the public about presidential power.

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

I want students to better understand the limits of presidential power and be able to apply their understanding to different situations. I also want students to be able to analyze and think critically about sources.

Lesson Objectives - the student will

Understand and explain key limits on presidential power

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

MO: 9-12.GV.3.CC.C: Trace the significant changes in the role, powers and size of the three branches of government over time

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

• Resource for Article II powers: This is referenced within the lesson as an extra resource or key to use when having students fill out the graphic organizer.

• Video on Youngstown v. Sawyer: Students will watch a short segment of this video for an explanation of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed
Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?

Begin by telling students that President Trump recently told an audience of young people at the Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington “I have an Article II, where I have to the right to do whatever I want as president.” Is President Trump correct? How do we know? Discuss with students the importance of understanding the limits to presidential power. What could happen in the absence of popular understanding of presidential boundaries?


Ask students to describe presidential power. Use the following questions to guide student discussion: What powers does the president have? Does the president have the power to declare war? Does the president have the power to take private property? Does the president have the power to make laws? Does the president have the power to interpret laws?


Briefly review separation of powers and remind students of the main powers of each branch. Have students analyze Article II of the Constitution in their textbook or online ( Have students work with a partner to fill out the organizer on presidential power with the expressed powers found in Article II. The organizer is also provided as a PDF attachment. The following can be used as a key/resource:

After students have completed the expressed powers part of the organizer, discuss as a class and go over the implied powers portion together.

Tell students that even though Article II provides some boundaries for presidential power, controversy still often arises when presidents assert their power. This is largely a result of the ambiguous nature of presidential power and the areas in which presidential and congressional power overlap. We see this tension particularly with war powers.


In order to better understand presidential power and its limits, we will be analyzing President Truman’s attempt to seize the nation’s steel mills during the Korean War. Briefly explain or review the Cold War context for students.


For background information, have students perform a close reading of Truman’s 6/27/50 statement on Korea:


Have students answer the following questions as they are reading the document:
1. What are the circumstances that led Truman to order American troops to support South Korea? (North Korea’s invasion of South Korea) 2. Why does Truman think it is important to support South Korea? Be sure to provide evidence from the document. (Preventing communist aggression, demonstrating the strength of the UN, upholding the rule of law)
3. Does Truman mention Congress in this document? Why may that be significant? (He does not mention Congress, and this is significant because Congress has the power to declare war. Discuss with students how Truman does not seek a congressional declaration of war.) After students have answered the above questions, discuss as a class. For background on the Taft-Hartley Act have students watch from 46:08 to 47:00 of the following video: Discuss the following: 1. What did the act propose? (a way to resolve labor disputes by providing an 80 day cooling off period) 2. Why did Truman oppose and veto the bill? (he viewed it as anti-labor because it restricted the workers’ right to strike) 3. How did it limit presidential power during an emergency? (it did not allow for the president seizing an industry)

Next have students analyze Executive Order 10340: Have students answer the following as they are examining the document:

1. When was the EO issued? (4/8/52)
2. Why is President Truman concerned about steel production? (Importance to the economy, war effort, and defense)
3. What is directly threatening the production of steel? (a strike has been called for 12:01 A.M., April 9, 1952)
4. What does Truman order the Secretary of Commerce to do? (Seize and keep the steel companies listed in operation)
5. Truman maintained that it was “by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and as President of the United States and Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States,” that he was issuing his order. Does Article II of the Constitution give him the authority to issue this order? Do the laws of the United States supply the authority? (make sure students understand the importance of Taft-Hartley) What about his role as Commander in Chief? Does it matter that Congress has not declared war?

Explain to students that as a result of Truman’s EO, the steel companies sued, resulting in the court case Youngstown v. Sawyer (1952). The Court ruled that Truman’s seizure of the steel companies was unconstitutional. Have student’s read Justice Jackson’s concurring opinion and summarize his three zones of presidential power.

They are numbered 1-3 in the following primary document: For a shorter excerpt of the opinion see the following:


Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

Presidential Power
Performance Task

Goal: ·
Your goal is to create a product (pamphlet, poster, podcast, etc.) that will educate the public about presidential power.

Role: · You have been hired as a special consultant for the National Constitution Center to create a product that will become the basis for a new exhibit.

Audience: · The audience is visitors to the National Constitution Center.

Situation: · You have been asked to develop a product to educate the public on limits to presidential power. In