Anti-Federalist Patrick Henry, after examining the Executive Branch described by the Constitution declared on 7 June 1788 that the document “squints toward monarchy.”
In Federalist #69, Hamilton countered that there was a world of difference between a typical European King and the American President. Some differences are…
1) the President serves only for four years; a Kingship is permanent until death
2) the Presidency is not hereditary
3) a King has an absolute negative on acts of Parliament; a Presidential Veto, on the other hand, can be overridden by a two-thirds majority of the Congress
4) a King is above the law, is “inviolable;” the President can be punished and disgraced
5) a King has authority to declare war and to raise armies; the President, by himself, possesses neither of these powers, but is limited to command of the armed forces which have been raised [funded] by Congress
6) a King is sole possessor of the treaty-making power; the President has concurrent power with the Senate to make treaties
7) a King has sole authority to make government appointments; the President must seek the advice and consent of the Senate
8) a King can grant privileges of nobility; a President (indeed the whole government together) has not this power
9) a King is head of the State Church; a President has no spiritual jurisdiction over his fellow citizens
Anti-Federalists were concerned that the President could be elected an unlimited number of times. The State Of Virginia proposed on 27 June 1788… “that no person shall be capable of being President of the United States for more than eight years in any term of sixteen.”
Hamilton had no truck with the notion of term limits. “Nothing appears more plausible at first sight, nor more ill-founded upon close inspection,” he wrote in Federalist #72, than the scheme proposed… “of continuing the chief magistrate in office for a certain time and then excluding him from it, either for a limited period or forever after.”
Hamilton felt that the People may legitimately wish to continue the President “in his station in order to prolong the utility of his talents and virtues, and to secure to the government the advantage of permanency in a wise system of administration.” Presidents will spend their first years acquiring an invaluable on-the-job training, explained Hamilton, which “the moment it is acquired” will be lost if they are forced from office by overly cautious term-limit rules which “substitute inexperience for experience.”
In Federalist #71, Hamilton contended that it would take the first four years of a Presidency just “to make the community sensible of the propriety of the measures he might incline to pursue.”
Hamilton, perhaps overly imbued with the idea of kingship, did not much like the idea of Ex-Presidents in general… “Would it promote the peace of the community or the stability of the Government to have half a dozen men” … “wandering among the people like discontented ghosts?,” he asked in Federalist #72.
Hamilton goes on to warn that, if a certain type of person were to be limited to a short term in the Presidential office, he “might not scruple to have recourse to the most corrupt expedients to make the harvest as abundant as it was transitory.”
The Pennsylvania Minority Opinion On Ratification advised, on 18 December 1787, that… “a Constitutional Council be appointed, to advise and assist the President, who shall be responsible for the advice they give.”
In Federalist #70, Hamilton contended that such a Council would only confuse the issue of responsibility.
ON AN INDEPENDENT EXECUTIVE
Hamilton defended the independency of the President from the Legislature on several grounds. For one thing, as he pointed out in Federalist #71, the President, under the Constitution, does not have to be “complacent” to the “humors” of the Legislature, as he would be forced to be if he served at their pleasure. “It is one thing to be subordinate to the laws,” he wrote, “and another to be dependent upon the Legislative body.”
In Federalist #72, Hamilton defended the President’s right to name the officers in the Government he presides over. Those people placed in charge of managing the administration of the Government, wrote Hamilton, “ought to be considered as the assistants or deputies of the chief magistrate, and on this account, they ought to derive their offices from his appointment, at least from his nomination.” And if each new President wants to bring in his own people and turn the old administrators out of office, that is completely acceptable and understandable since the incoming President will have likely obtained the office because of public dissatisfaction with the administration of his predecessor.
ON A PLURAL EXECUTIVE
There were those in the Founding Generation who felt that the Executive should be composed of multiple persons, say, three or five. Hamilton contested in Federalist #70 that such Plural Executives “tend to conceal faults and destroy responsibility.” He considered “vigor and expedition” vital to a good Executive Branch, and felt that dissent within a Plural Executive would tincture the Branch “with a spirit of habitual feebleness and dilatoriness.” In Federalist #15, Hamilton stated that “regard to reputation has a less active influence when the infamy of a bad action is to be divided among a number than when it is to fall singly upon one.”
Unity in the Executive, said Hamilton, brings: decision, activity, dispatch, and the sometimes necessary ability to keep secrets. But, in proportion as the number grows of those sharing Executive power, the benefits of Unity of purpose and action will be diminished.
Continuing in Federalist #70, Hamilton wrote that, if America were to fashion a Plural Executive Council, instead of a Unitary head of Government, each dissension between the Councilmembers would… “lessen the respectability, weaken the authority, and distract the plans and operations of those whom they divide.”
Regarding the Veto power of the President, Hamilton did not foresee that it would be much used– and for a long time, he was correct. Even in modern times, a President working with a Congress controlled by his own Party will is less likely to wield the Veto. According to Hamilton’s statements in Federalist #73, he felt that the Veto was “chiefly designed” so that the President could defend himself against any Legislative encroachment upon the powers of his Office, or “in a case in which the public good was evidently and palpably sacrificed.”
Hamilton thought that merely the threat of Veto would exercise a restraining influence upon the Legislature, for “when men engaged in unjustifiable pursuits are aware that obstructions may come from a quarter which they cannot control, they will often be restrained by the bare apprehension of opposition, from doing what they would with eagerness rush into if no such external impediments were to be feared.”