James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights

By Robert J. Morgan | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Supporting and Restraining the Executive

Before the opening of Congress in 1789, Madison had no opportunity to expound publicly the need for the president to be both supported and restrained constitutionally, the position which he took at the Constitutional Convention. The pressure under which the debates over the executive took place during the fourth month of the Convention precluded all but fragmentary speeches defining and defending his conception of executive power and its proper distribution. The division of labor between Madison and Hamilton in writing essays for The Federalist was such that Madison contributed nothing to the explanations of the executive branch, whereas Hamilton provided thirteen essays on this subject. Madison's first opportunity to express any views on this subject was postponed until May, 1789, when the House debated bills to establish three executive departments. Subsequently, Hamilton's bills to fund the remaining war debts and to charter the Bank of the United States appeared to Madison to lay the foundation for rule by a minority consisting of military and financial interests, but the circumstances were such that Madison was constrained to deal suggestively rather than directly with this matter in a number of essays published in 1791-92. Finally, President Washington's Proclamation of Neutrality of 22 April 1793 and Hamilton's expansive justification of it gave Madison the occasion to expound rather fully his understanding of the constitutional restraints placed on executive power over foreign policy. These essays reflected his theory that the tendency of every government and especially the executive branch is to be self-directed because of wars or threats of them. This tendency toward autonomy is purchased, Madison argued, at the cost of both accountability to the electorate and strict adherence to the terms of the written constitution.


A RESPONSIBLE AND ACCOUNTABLE PRESIDENT

Two issues raised in May, 1789, illustrate the difficulties Madison faced in precisely calibrating the scope and limits as well as the supports and restraints on an institutionalized rather than charismatic presidency. One set limits on the sources of its authority and the other one secured its independent, but accountable exercise. On 11 May the House debated the Senate's proposal to address the President with an inflated honorific title. Madison ridiculed it, knowing that John Adams was one of the

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James Madison on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Legal Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • Notes xvii
  • Part I - Power 1
  • Chapter 1 - To Improve and Perpetuate the Union 3
  • Notes 28
  • Chapter 2 - A Proper Energy in the Executive 31
  • Notes 51
  • Chapter 3 - The True Principles of Republican Government 55
  • Notes 79
  • Chapter 4 - Supporting and Restraining the Executive 83
  • Notes 111
  • Part II - Rights 115
  • Chapter 5 - Political Liberty 117
  • Notes 128
  • Chapter 6 - A Few Obvious Truths 131
  • Notes 159
  • Chapter 7 - The Very Essence of Free and Responsible Government 163
  • Notes 185
  • Chapter 8 - The Framers' Muse 189
  • Notes 202
  • Selected Bibliography 205
  • Index 213
  • About the Author 219
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