A Proper Energy in the Executive
Five weeks after the Convention completed its work Madison reported to Jefferson that one the Framers' principal problems was to combine "proper energy" in the executive with stability in the legislative branch while maintaining the "character of Republican Government." They were impeded at almost every turn, however, by disagreements over the choice, structure, and powers of this branch because these issues all bore directly on "the independent exercise of the Executive power" and the "defense of the constitutional rights of [this] department" against the "incroachments [sic] of the Legislature..." 1 This definition of the Framers' problem revealed Madison's judgment that the Framers provided for a president so institutionally weak as to be either disinclined or unable to resist congressional erosion of the exercise of executive powers. It is a mistake, however, to leap to the conclusion that this judgment represented the whole of Madison's position. This letter reveals only that at this time and for the next three years or so, Madison's primary concern for the presidency was to strengthen and facilitate the independent exercise of executive powers prescribed by the Constitution.
This problem is endemic to a written constitution. It is peculiar to a republican chief executive-at least, Madison judged it to be so. In fact, the creation of the executive at the Convention provides a classic example of the kind of problems which the science of constitutions was supposed to solve in the eighteenth century. The Framers had to prescribe rules for choosing functionaries and allocating their powers so that each branch of the government would actually exercise in practice, as well as in theory, the powers prescribed in the constitutional text. Provisions granting and limiting powers were at least supposed to predict official behavior within known limits. Constitutional energy, the capacity for authorized action, is derived from this document. Expectations that official behavior would conform to these textual authorizations could be made with confidence, however, only on the assumption that there is an invariable factor, a constant, on which all prediction must rest. For the Framers this constant was, of course, human nature, which they believed to be universal, immutable, and given. This perspective, although not without some challenge, was voiced repeatedly by the more articulate Framers in the debates over the means of infusing the executive branch with the capacity to act. Indeed, it was apparently assumed that these debates would be pointless