The Federalist Papers Summary No 70: Hamilton
March 15, 1788
In this paper Hamilton begins a discussion of the need for energy in the executive if one is to have good government. He defines energy in the executive as unity, duration, an adequate provision for its support and competent powers. This paper is all about unity in the executive which he defines as having a single person responsible for the execution of the presidency as opposed to any type of shared responsibility. Decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch, are what he considers the characteristics of an effective executive, and these are more likely from a single individual “than the proceedings of a greater number, and in proportions the number is increased these qualities will be diminished”.
Unity can be destroyed in two ways, either having two magistrates of equal authority, or having a single magistrate subject to the control of others who are counselors so him. History, he claims, has little to offer us on this issue except for Roman history apparently with its two consuls which he spends some time discussing and then ends by “quitting the dim light of historical research” to now consider reason and good sense.
Reason and good sense leads us to realize that two or more people engaged in any subject will always have the danger of different opinions which weakens their authority and might split the community into violent factions. Further, people whose opinions have been sought and rejected will oppose the selected path. The legislature with many members will always have lengthy discussion and heated argument which should end once the subject becomes law. This lengthy decision process would likely be the same if there was a plurality of magistrates and rapid decisions particularly where national security is concerned would be hindered.
One of the weightiest objections to a large plurality in the executive is it conceals faults and destroys responsibility. The rest of the paper discusses this issue and well it should for our executive branch has grown so large and complicated that censure and or punishment for misdeeds in office can not be laid at the feet of any individual not the least the President. Hamilton speaking of the fault for executive misdeeds in a large executive branch says “It is shifted from one to another with so much dexterity and under such plausible appearances that the public opinion is left in suspense about the real author”. The plurality of the executive deprives the people of the two greatest securities they have over the delegation of their power. The first is the restraints of public opinion and second the opportunity of discovering the misconduct of the persons they trust either for removal from office or actual punishment.
He concludes this paper on executive unity by mentioning the King of Great Britain who is unaccountable for his administration. But there must be some accountability in government so the King has a council but he is not bound by their resolutions, however the council is answerable for the advice they give. In the United States the chief magistrate should be accountable and the presence of a council would not be necessary as in Great Britain and in fact it would destroy the intended responsibility of the chief magistrate himself. “A council to a magistrate who is himself responsible for what he does are generally nothing better than a clog upon his good intentions; are often the instruments and accomplices of his bad and are almost always a cloak to his faults.”
Summary Written by Donald Mellon
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