Federalist Papers Summary 74
The Federalist Essays Summary No 74: Alexander Hamilton March 25, 1788
This shortest of all the papers continues the discussion of presidential powers beginning with a short mention of being Commander in Chief of the armed forces and then with the rest of the paper on the power to pardon. Being Commander in Chief also extends to the militia of the several states when called into service of the United States. All states delegate this power to the chief executive either singly or with the aid of a council. The reason for this agreement is because in times of war it is necessary that the direction of the war be controlled by a single hand. In Hamilton’s words “The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength and the power of directing and employing the common strength forms an usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority”.
The president is also authorized “to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment”. Because of the severity of the justice system it is necessary that there be a remedy for “unfortunate guilt” or justice would become too cruel. And he argues that this remedy be placed in the hands of a single person rather than a council for the responsibility would be strongest if not divided and therefore inspire scrupulousness and caution.
The president’s power of pardon has only been contested for the crime of treason. The objectors claim that this power should reside with one or both branches of the legislative body for the crime of treason may include the connivance of the Chief Magistrate. But it is not doubted that a single man of prudence and good sense is better fitted to balance the motives of those who plead for remission of the punishment than a numerous body.
Today we think of pardons as some sort of political payback as when Clinton pardoned many of his contributors on his last day in office, but then sedition involving large proportions of the community, as happened in Massachusetts, was the more immediate problem that may require the use of this power. In these cases large fractions of the political parties may be involved and therefore the legislatures composed of members of these parties should not decide the pardons.
The principle argument for giving a single person, the president, the power to pardon is this–” In seasons of insurrection or rebellion there are often critical moments when a well timed offer of pardon to the insurgents or rebels may restore the tranquility of the commonwealth, and which if suffered to pass unimproved, it may never be possible afterwards to recall”. This golden opportunity would likely slip if the legislature had to be convened. Including in the Constitution the power of the president to convene congress for this purpose would be questionable in the limited Constitution and if done it would be seen as weakness and embolden guilt.
Federalist Papers Summary 74 Written by Donald Mellon