Ken Burns Classroom

How Much Power Is Enough?

Ken Burns Film: The Roosevelts

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: Government

Grade Level: 7-12

Run Time: 1 class period


Both President Theodore Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt believed the executive branch was granted any power it needed so long at it wasn’t prohibited in the Constitution. This interpretation gives the president the power to act quickly in times of national emergency or rapidly changing conditions. It also obligates the president to “do the right thing” and not abuse the power.


Is this interpretation of constitutional power in the executive branch a good thing? Have students work in small groups and list situations where the president might need such powers to carry out his or her responsibilities. You can have students examine the Preamble to the Constitution as a source for presidential responsibilities. Then have them identify where in such circumstances there may be an abuse of power by the president. Have them identify which of the two other branches of government would be responsible for checking the potential abuse of power.

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