Friday, October 28, 2011

Hamilton on the Presidency

In late October 1787, as the states were beginning to consider whether to ratify the recently drafted Constitution, the first of 85 essays by "Publius" started appearing in the Independent Journal in New York and other newspapers. Collectively they are known as The Federalist Papers or The Federalist, and they state the case for the Constitution.

Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote the essays. In Federalist No. 70, Hamilton extolled the virtues of a strong executive, alluding to the example of Rome, which resonated with educated readers of the time.

"Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy.

"Every man the least conversant in Roman story, knows how often that republic was obliged to take refuge in the absolute power of a single man, under the formidable title of Dictator, as well against the intrigues of ambitious individuals who aspired to the tyranny, and the seditions of whole classes of the community whose conduct threatened the existence of all government, as against the invasions of external enemies who menaced the conquest and destruction of Rome.

"... 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."

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