History of the House of Representatives

By George B. Galloway | Go to book overview

Chapter Fifteen
RELATIONS BETWEEN CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT IN AMERICAN HISTORY

THE AMERICAN SYSTEM of government operates within a constitutional framework that provides for executive, legislative, and judicial powers and assigns their exercise to separate branches of the government in Washington. Each branch is given some checks on the other two, so that we have a system of separated branches and shared powers coupled with a system of checks and balances. In setting up this system back in 1789, the purpose of our Founding Fathers was to prevent tyranny and the exercise of irresponsible power.

Historically, then, Congress and the President were cast for opposite roles. Not only do they have distinct functions to perform, but they operate at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and seldom come face to face. Alexander Hamilton and his colleagues in Washington's cabinet had expected to submit their reports in person to the House, like parliamentary ministers, but the prompt adoption by the House of Elbridge Gerry's motion that they "report in writing" established a precedent followed ever afterwards. One result was that department heads have appeared before committees of the House rather than the House itself. Another effect, as Justice Story remarked, was: "The Executive is compelled to resort to secret and unseen influences, to private interviews, and private arrangements, to accomplish his own

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