An office desired "by an enlightened and reasonable people"
The presidency of the United States was intended from the outset as an office to command attention and respect. Writing in The Federalist, the papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay expounding the Constitution and of which Jefferson once remarked there was "no better book" respecting the practice of constitutional government, Hamilton defended so powerful an office in a republic. The basis of his argument was that it should and would be occupied by "characters pre- eminent for ability and virtue."1 Even in anticipation, the quality of the men in the presidency was thought critical to the success of the position. In certain ways the inclusion of a single magistrate designed to exercise a wide range of executive power was a daring proposal. Memories of "the royal brute and tyrant," "the sullen hardfisted pharoah," as Tom Paine described George III in Common Sense, were vivid and troubling.2 Patriot indictments of the king had gone a long way toward making Americans suspicious of monarchs or those who might be made to look like them. It was against "the images of Asiatic despotism and voluptuousness" conjured by opponents of the Constitution that Hamilton was moved to write of what his countrymen might expect in their president.3 In the various Federalist essays dealing with the presidency that appeared over the signature of Publius in the New York Packet during March and April 1788, Hamilton both destroyed the charges levied at Article Two of the Constitution, the Executive Article, and explained in reassuring fashion the nature, powers, and purpose of the presidency. In his judgment "well directed men," those of "understanding," would grace the presidency, men "disposed to view human nature as it is, without either flattering its virtues or exaggerating its vices." Finally, Hamilton envisioned the presidency as an office that would be desired "by an enlightened and reasonable people," exhibiting in their choice the attributes that were to be the distinctions of a responsible chief executive.4
Reading The Federalist papers that treat the presidency, thoughts of the
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Publication information: Book title: The Learned Presidency:Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson. Contributors: David H. Burton - Author. Publisher: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. Place of publication: Rutherford, NJ. Publication year: 1988. Page number: 19.
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