Imbalance of Powers: Constitutional Interpretation and the Making of American Foreign Policy

By Gordon Silverstein | Go to book overview

10
Conclusion

The early chapters of this book argued that the executive prerogative interpretation was a radical departure from the founders' constitutional understanding and generally shared by most elected officials up to the world wars. This is not to say that constitutional interpretation was stagnant in that period, far from it. But there was a shared sense that the Constitution established certain parameters and divided power among the branches in such a way that the government was capable of energetic action, and yet unable to obliterate liberty. As Madison argued in Federalist 37, one of the hardest tasks facing the founders was their need to combine "the requisite stability and energy in government with the inviolable attention due to liberty and to the republican form." 1 This delicate balance was achieved in part by a complicated set of checks and balances, as well as by explicit limitations on each branch of government. This same delicate balance, which Woodrow Wilson referred to as the founders' mechanical theory of government, 2 was more than a simple set of procedures. The Constitution's mechanical process facilitated substantive objectives, imposing explicit as well as implicit limits and constraints. While the Constitution had to be interpreted and adapted to times and circumstances, there was a general understanding that those limits and substantive commitments did matter. When Jefferson reluctantly agreed to proceed with the Louisiana purchase despite his conviction that the national government lacked the constitutional authority to do so without an Amendment, he refused to adjust the Constitution through interpretation. He went ahead and made an exception, but made no effort to stretch the Constitution to fit his objective. Jef

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