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The Federalist Papers: No. 69

On this day in 1788, Federalist Paper No. 69 is published. Alexander Hamilton (a.k.a. “Publius”) begins his discussion of the “real characters of the proposed Executive.” Americans had just broken free from a tyrannical Monarch. The powers given to the American President would be among their chief concerns.

Publius spends some time defending aspects of the presidency that now seem perfectly normal to us: We have ONE President, not two or three executives. The President is elected for a term of four years and can be re-elected. Maybe you’ll find it interesting that some people in the late 1700s found it dangerous to give the entire executive power to one person, and they worried about the length of his term in office. But Publius notes that, in these regards, the President is like the Governor of New York, then electable to multiple 3-year terms.

Moreover, the President stands in contrast to the King of Great Britain: The President is elected. The King holds a hereditary position. The President can be impeached. The King cannot. The President’s veto can be overruled by a supermajority of Congress. The King has an absolute negative.

The President is commander-in-chief. He can grant pardons. He can convene or adjourn Congress on occasion. He can recommend measures to Congress. He is to ensure that the laws are “faithfully executed.” In these areas, his powers are similar to the King or the Governor of New York, but there are a few notable differences:

First, the President “will have only the occasional command of such part of the militia of the nation as by legislative provision may be called into the actual service of the Union.” The King and Governor have the “entire command of all the militia” within their jurisdictions. Second, the President’s commander-in-chief power does not extend to the “DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies.” The King’s power does. Third, the President cannot pardon in cases of impeachment, which is a power that even the New York Governor has. Fourth, the President may adjourn Congress only “in the single case of disagreement about the time of adjournment.” By contrast, the King can dissolve Parliament, and the New York Governor can discontinue sessions for limited periods of time.

The President has the power to make treaties but a supermajority of Senators must concur in his decisions. By contrast, the King is the “sole and absolute representative of the nation in all foreign transactions.”

The President can appoint ambassadors, public ministers, judges, and officers of the United States, but he can do so only “WITH THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE.” The King not only has the power to make these appointments single-handedly, but he can create new offices: “He can confer titles of nobility at pleasure; and has the disposal of an immense number of church preferments.” Even the New York Governor has greater power than the President in this area.

Having summarized all these differences between the King and the President, Publius concludes: “What answer shall we give to those who would persuade us that things so unlike resemble each other? The same that ought to be given to those who tell us that a government, the whole power of which would be in the hands of the elective and periodical servants of the people, is an aristocracy, a monarchy, and a despotism.”



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