On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 70 was published. Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) begins a more detailed examination of the presidency. Some of you will really dislike the next few papers! Publius lays out the arguments for a strong executive.
Maybe it will help to remember two things: (1) Generally speaking, when the Founders spoke of a strong executive or a strong government, they meant something different than what we would mean today. The founding generation was emerging from life under the Articles of Confederation: That document created a government that was much too weak. We have the opposite problem today. (2) Hamilton wants the Chief Executive to be strong in the areas where he has been delegated power. That does NOT mean that he wants him to be strong in other areas, in which he has NOT been delegated power.
Hamilton acknowledges the arguments of anti-Federalists that a “vigorous executive is inconsistent with the genius of republican government.” But he counters that a “feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government.” Hamilton thinks the question isn’t whether to have an “energetic executive.” Such energy is “essential” during “foreign attacks” and for the “steady administration of the laws.” The real issue is how to keep the President accountable to the people. In Publius’s words: How can energy in the executive be “combined with those other ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense?”
Hamilton outlines the ingredients needed for an energetic executive: “first unity, secondly duration, thirdly an adequate provision for its support, fourthly competent powers.” Safety is provided by: “Ist. a due dependence on the people, secondly a due responsibility.”
This paper defends the first ingredient: unity. We have one President, not multiple Presidents. Nor is our President subject to the control of an executive council.
Unity in the executive avoids the problems of differences of opinion, “personal emulation and even animosity, and “bitter dissentions,” all of which “lessen the respectability, weaken the authority, and distract the plans and operations” of the executive branch. Moreover, “they might impede or frustrate the most important measures of the government, in the most critical emergencies of the state.” Perhaps worse, the community could be split into the “most violent and irreconcilable factions,” each supporting a different President.
Hamilton acknowledges that some of these “inconveniencies” must inevitably exist in a legislature; however, “it is unnecessary and therefore unwise to introduce them into the constitution of the executive.” In the legislature, differences of opinion “promote deliberations and circumspection; and serve to check excesses in the majority.” But no such benefits are to be found in the executive function.
To the contrary, “plurality in the executive . . . tends to conceal faults, and destroy responsibility.” A President would be too apt to make excuses, such as “I was overruled by my council.” The council, of course, would blame the President.
Thus, a plural executive would “deprive the people of the two greatest securities they can have for the faithful exercise of any delegated power; first, the restraints of public opinion . . . ; and secondly, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of the persons they trust.”
In short, if you don’t know who to blame, how can you know who to punish or remove from office?
There are slightly different versions of this text. I have relied upon the version in the Hamilton Papers.
70 argues in favor of the
created by Article II of the United States Constitution. According to Alexander Hamilton, a unitary executive is necessary to: ensure accountability in government. enable the president to defend against legislative encroachments on his power.
No provision in the proposed constitution was more “judicious” than this, said Hamilton: The president would receive for his services a compensation “which shall neither be increased nor diminished, during the period for which he shall have been elected, . . . and shall not receive within that period any other emolument from the United States or any of them.” This would make the president financially independent and free to move as his judgment dictated.
The president should have the power to exercise a qualified negative over the acts of the two legislative bodies. He could return all bills he objected to so that they could not become laws unless subsequently passed again, this time by a two-thirds vote in both houses of Congress. This would protect the president from having his powers whittled away by the legislature, and be a safeguard against hasty and ill-considered legislation. This would tend toward greater stability in government. To avoid a clash with the legislature, the president would be inclined to use his qualified veto cautiously.
In Chapter 74, among other requisite powers, the president was to be commander-in-chief of all regular United States military forces and of the state militias “when called into the actual service of the United States.” The propriety and reasons for this were so obvious, said Hamilton, that there was no need to discuss them.
As to unity, Hamilton argued (largely to himself), that executive powers should be concentrated in a single chief magistrate, and not in a council or anything of that sort. The history of Rome and the ancient Greek republics proved this, as well as the operations under various state governments. As chief magistrate, the president should bear sole responsibility for his acts. There was no need of a “council to the executive.”
In Chapter 70, there were some who argued that a vigorous executive was inconsistent with republican principles. All men of sense agreed, said Hamilton, about the “necessity of an energetic executive.” That necessary energy would come from unity, duration, adequate provision for its support, and competent powers. The first need was “due dependence on the people”; the second, due responsibility.
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There can be no need, however, to multiply arguments or examples on this head. A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.
Responsibility is of two kinds — to censure and to punishment. The first is the more important of the two, especially in an elective office. Man, in public trust, will much oftener act in such a manner as to render him unworthy of being any longer trusted, than in such a manner as to make him obnoxious to legal punishment. But the multiplication of the Executive adds to the difficulty of detection in either case. It often becomes impossible, amidst mutual accusations, to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or series of pernicious measures, ought really to fall. It is shifted from one to another with so much dexterity, and under such plausible appearances, that the public opinion is left in suspense about the real author. The circumstances which may have led to any national miscarriage or misfortune are sometimes so complicated that, where there are a number of actors who may have had different degrees and kinds of agency, though we may clearly see upon the whole that there has been mismanagement, yet it may be impracticable to pronounce to whose account the evil which may have been incurred is truly chargeable.
It is evident from these considerations, that the plurality of the Executive tends to deprive the people of the two greatest securities they can have for the faithful exercise of any delegated power, first, the restraints of public opinion, which lose their efficacy, as well on account of the division of the censure attendant on bad measures among a number, as on account of the uncertainty on whom it ought to fall; and, second, the opportunity of discovering with facility and clearness the misconduct of the persons they trust, in order either to their removal from office or to their actual punishment in cases which admit of it.
The experience of other nations will afford little instruction on this head. As far, however, as it teaches any thing, it teaches us not to be enamoured of plurality in the Executive. We have seen that the Achaeans, on an experiment of two Praetors, were induced to abolish one. The Roman history records many instances of mischiefs to the republic from the dissensions between the Consuls, and between the military Tribunes, who were at times substituted for the Consuls. But it gives us no specimens of any peculiar advantages derived to the state from the circumstance of the plurality of those magistrates. That the dissensions between them were not more frequent or more fatal, is a matter of astonishment, until we advert to the singular position in which the republic was almost continually placed, and to the prudent policy pointed out by the circumstances of the state, and pursued by the Consuls, of making a division of the government between them. The patricians engaged in a perpetual struggle with the plebeians for the preservation of their ancient authorities and dignities; the Consuls, who were generally chosen out of the former body, were commonly united by the personal interest they had in the defense of the privileges of their order. In addition to this motive of union, after the arms of the republic had considerably expanded the bounds of its empire, it became an established custom with the Consuls to divide the administration between themselves by lot — one of them remaining at Rome to govern the city and its environs, the other taking the command in the more distant provinces. This expedient must, no doubt, have had great influence in preventing those collisions and rivalships which might otherwise have embroiled the peace of the republic.
A little consideration will satisfy us, that the species of security sought for in the multiplication of the Executive, is unattainable. Numbers must be so great as to render combination difficult, or they are rather a source of danger than of security. The united credit and influence of several individuals must be more formidable to liberty, than the credit and influence of either of them separately. When power, therefore, is placed in the hands of so small a number of men, as to admit of their interests and views being easily combined in a common enterprise, by an artful leader, it becomes more liable to abuse, and more dangerous when abused, than if it be lodged in the hands of one man; who, from the very circumstance of his being alone, will be more narrowly watched and more readily suspected, and who cannot unite so great a mass of influence as when he is associated with others. The Decemvirs of Rome, whose name denotes their number, 3 were more to be dreaded in their usurpation than any ONE of them would have been. No person would think of proposing an Executive much more numerous than that body; from six to a dozen have been suggested for the number of the council. The extreme of these numbers, is not too great for an easy combination; and from such a combination America would have more to fear, than from the ambition of any single individual. A council to a magistrate, who is himself responsible for what he does, are generally nothing better than a clog upon his good intentions, are often the instruments and accomplices of his bad and are almost always a cloak to his faults.
What are the main points of Federalist 70 quizlet?
- Author. Alexander Hamilton.
- Main idea of Federalist 70. An energetic and forceful president is essential to good government.
- Hamilton’s Reasoning for a single president. An energetic executive branch must be characterized by unity, sufficient powers, and a certain degree of secrecy.
What is Federalist 70 AP Gov?