Federalist papers #70, 71, 76, and 77

PSCI 110 – Summary Paper #4

Glenn Booker  11/5/2012


Federalist Paper #70 (Hamilton, A., Madison, J., & Jay, J.  (1961) The Federalist Papers.  New York; Signet Classics.) was written by Alexander Hamilton to discuss the executive branch of government.  Hamilton asserts that a strong executive is needed for good government, because it helps defend against foreign attacks, consistent administration of laws, protects property against injustice, and secures liberty from ambition, faction, and anarchy.  Even ancient Rome had to hide behind a dictator at times to protect them from external enemies.

Hamilton then tries to concoct a recipe for a strong energetic executive, which consists of unity, duration, good support, and competent powers.  Unity is needed for decisive action, secrecy, and efficiency; and may be destroyed by splitting the power into either two equal parts or two unequal parts.  Meanwhile the republic depends on dependence on the people and responsibility to ensure its safety.

Hamilton cites the Achaeans and Romans as examples of low executive power due to dividing it among men.  Returning to a logical approach to the problem, having more than one executive produces opportunity for dissension, which weakens the office.  The interests of society can be sacrificed to the vanity of individuals; this is needed in the legislature, but can not be tolerated in the executive branch.  Arguments over decisions are fine in the legislature, but would only weaken the executive, especially in wartime.  A divided executive would hide faults and destroy personal responsibility for decisions made.  At the state level, improper appointments have had blame lost between the governor and his council.  Having more than one executive reduces the influence of public opinion on them, and makes it harder to impeach or punish them.  The king of England has no accountability, so a constitutional council is attached to him to have some point of responsibility, since the king is exempt from accountability.  Based on State constitutions, some wanted a council for the US President, but this would destroy his power for reasons already noted.  Having multiple executives will not give us more security, since a strong leader among them could easily take over the executive branch.  Finally, the cost of multiple executives would be unbearable.  In summary, this Federalist paper justifies having one President, based on historic and logical arguments.

Federalist Paper #71 justifies the term of the President, as written by Alexander Hamilton.  One factor in this duration is that the longer one is in office, the more risks one may take since he has security in his position.  A short term, in other words, will make him less interested in the position and the result will be a term marked by ‘feebleness and irresolution’ (p. 430).  In keeping with republican principles, government should be responsive to the community, but not subject to every whim. Government should serve the public good, but being human they make errors.  Politicians need time for reflection to avoid following stray whims, and stay focused on the public good.  The legislature tends to control the executive and judicial branches, because they believe they are the people and hence should not be argued with.

The duration of the executive office relates to this because a longer term will give the President more confidence to challenge the legislature when needed.  The four year term was chosen though a shorter term would protect better against overly ambitious Presidents, but is long enough to give them confidence in their security, but not so long as to threaten public liberty.

Clearly there is no guarantee of the right answer, but a four year term is the best compromise to balance security, authority, and ensuring liberty.  Federalist Paper #71 justified the four year term of the President.

Federalist Paper #76 defines executive powers, as described by Hamilton.  The President is to nominate, with Senate consent, ambassadors, supreme court judges, and everyone else not already specified in the Constitution.  Congress can vest appointment of inferior officers to the President alone, or courts, or department heads.  But after the Senate is in recess, the President can fill all other appointments on his own.  This approach is a clever way for appointments to be made to fill out the administration.  More generally, appointments can be made by one person, or by an assembly, or by one person with approval of an assembly.

Hamilton makes the unfortunate premise that the President will be “a man of abilities, at least respectable.” (p. 454)  On that basis the President is better able to judge the qualities of candidates than the Senate as a whole.  He will have more direct responsibility for those appointees, and so verify their qualities needed for the job.  He will have fewer personal attachments, and so be less susceptible to nepotism.  He will be less subject to partisan politics and mutual favors for various offices.

Giving the President the power of nomination controls a lot of the process, but keeps him under control by requiring Senate approval.  Hamilton assumes the Senate would not block a nomination often, or the next candidate could be even worse.  Still, the Senate confirmation keeps the President from blatant favoritism, and keeps his administration more stable.  The possibility of rejection will keep the President very careful in his choices, or his reputation will suffer.  The Senate is large enough that the President would not likely be able to influence, corrupt, or seduce them all.  Finally, the Senate is forbidden from being appointed to any civil office, so they can’t approve their own position.   In summary, Federalist paper #76 justifies how the President and Senate fill out the administration through nomination and concurrence of candidates.

Federalist Paper #77,  also by Alexander Hamilton, completes discussion of the President’s appointing powers and discusses other executive powers.  The Senate must also consent to remove officers from the administration, which provides stability in the event of the President’s displacement.  The Senate is more stable than the presidency, hence this helps maintain stability in the government.  The President doesn’t have influence over the Senate, since the latter restrains him.  And the Senate doesn’t influence the executive, since the latter chooses the candidates.  The power to originate is stronger than the power to obstruct.

The blame of a bad nomination falls completely on the President, whereas the censure of rejecting a good candidate would be clearly the fault of the Senate.  If a bad appointment gets made, then both President and Senate are at fault.  In contrast, State appointments are made by a committee of 3-5 people, one of whom is the governor.  While the governor can nominate, no one knows who voted for or against any candidate, and appointments can be made by scheduling the vote when an outcast isn’t available to meet.  The committee is too small to avoid bargaining for votes, where 12-20 men would make that much harder.  Such a committee has been proposed for the Constitution, but it would result in increased expense, favoritism and intrigue, unstable government, and more executive power.  It was also proposed to have the House participate in appointments.  That body is too large and too much in flux to exercise that much power.  Wisely Hamilton recognized that the House could grow to 300-400 people in the next century, and would be completely unwieldy for appointments.

The other powers of the executive branch include giving the state of the union message, recommending legislation, convening Congress when needed, forcing them to adjourn, receive ambassadors, execute laws, and commission officers.  The power to convene could be needed for the Senate to address treaties, for example.  Hamilton addressed the issue of ambassadors in another Federalist Paper.

In summary, these executive powers give them the energy needed to do their job, and maintains safety to exercise their responsibilities well.  The President is subject to impeachment, trial, being dismissed from office or deemed incapacitated, and can be prosecuted under the law.  He remains under the control of the legislative branch.  This should be enough to meet the needs of “an enlightened and reasonable people.’ (p. 463)


Federalist Papers #70 and #71 describe the need for an executive which is singular in number, in power long enough to build confidence to serve the public good and challenge the legislature when needed.

Federalist Paper #76 and #77 describe the executive powers, focusing on the ability of the President to nominate ambassadors, supreme court judges, and many other executive branch positions.  The Senate must consent to these appointments, providing an effective checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches. The President gets power from being able to choose the nominees, and the Senate makes sure those choices are reasonable.  The House stays out of the process since they are too numerous and transient to make effective appointment decisions.  The Senate is needed to remove officers, which keeps the government more stable in the event of a change of President.  Fear of publicly making a poor choice or rejecting a good one constrains both President and Senate, unlike the covert process used at the State level.


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