A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIV
THE NATURE OF THE POWERS OF CONGRESS

Congress, the Chief Organ of the National Government

Despite their fear of a powerful legislature engendered by the exof the Revolutionary state legislatures the framers of the Constitution made Congress the fundamental organ of the Federal government. No one challenged Roger Sherman in the Constitutional Convention when he spoke of the legislature as "the depository of the supreme will of society," for he was only expressing the prevailing opinion on that matter. Colonial developments had given the legislature a commanding position in the thirteen colonial governments and, through its absolute control of public finance in each colony, had reduced the colonial governor to the necessity of begging at its door for needed appropriations. By 1787 legislatures had come to be regarded as peculiarly the people's own organs. To an extraordinary extent Congress is, consequently, the master of the major functions of the Federal government. The Constitution was by no means self-executing, and few indeed are the powers of any branch of the Federal government that are not more or less dependent upon preliminary congressional legislation. Congress determines, authoritatively, what the major public policies will be, creates the agencies for their execution, prescribes the manner of their administration, determines the number and qualifications of the personnel to be employed and its compensation. The manner of the organization of all the Federal courts and the assignment of their jurisdictions, except the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, are determined by Congress. Over all this Congress holds the power of life and death through control of the purse since not a dollar in the Federal treasury can be paid out to any official "but in consequence of appropriations made by law." The overwhelming bulk of the long list of powers of the president has been vested in him by acts of Congress, and without them he would be a much

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