“The Real Character of the Executive” highlights Hamilton’s quelling of fears that the executive branch and the President might amass too much unlimited power and in the end make the new United States of America resemble the kingdom of Britain. What made the president different was the fact that he would be elected for a four year term compared to Britain’s ruler who relied on patrimony and family ties. His argument is that asking for more power for the executive branch does not amount to tyranny.
Unlike the King of Britain, the president could be impeached for treason, corruption or bribery. Hamilton wanted to prove that even though the executive branch had the right and power to make war or peace, their powers were limited compared to those of the former British master. The bills put forward by the President needed two thirds of the legislature approval. Thus the House and Senate both needed to approve the president’s bills by a two thirds majority.
Hamilton also argued that the President had the power to make treaties. These treaties however needed the consent of two thirds of the senate. The president can also appoint ambassadors and ministers of government. By contrasting the President with the king of Britain Hamilton shows that even though the President will be powerful, he would not be able to be the head of commerce, the head of the church and “the sole possessor of the power to make treaties” like the king of Britain (Hamilton n.p.). By likening the power of the President to that of the governor of New York, Hamilton proves that the executive will be another branch of government with no imperial powers.
If I was living during Hamilton’s time, I would have embraced Hamilton’s idea about how the Presidency differed from the British monarchy, I would however have objected to limitless Presidential terms. Without a limit to Presidential terms, chances of a country slipping into dictatorship are high. Even though he acknowledged the need for the President to work with the legislature, he seemed distrusting of the majority and wanted more power for the President (Mitchell, 1987).
With how polarized and dysfunctional Congress is today, some level of presidential power to act in times of crisis is needed. I would have welcomed Hamilton’s views on how the President should act when it comes to national security and even issues like health care. A more detached Presidency wouldn’t be able to deal with the kinds of threats that we witness today especially terrorism which does not have a state to direct prevention and aggression. The Iraq war is an example of how difficult it can be for the executive to make informed decisions.
Lately there have been arguments on the power of the President in the United States. The current President, Barack Obama has been accused of imperial presidency due to the passing of the Affordable Care Act and a number of executive orders like the deportation relief on illegal immigrants. The current executive branch denies that it is overriding constitutional limitations. It has had to take to the courts in trying to find constitutional legitimacy on most of thorny issues like health care reform.
Hamilton’s ideas on war would better describe President George W Bush’s war against Iraq and Afghanistan. Hamilton favored an aggressive foreign policy. By calling for energy in the executive branch Hamilton might also have been calling for a more involved executive branch which most people despised then and still despise now. The distrust in government now makes it less impossible to call any president for action.
Hamilton Alexander. (1788). The Federalist No. 69: The real character of the executive branch.
Constitution Society. Retrieved from http://www.constitution.org/fed/federa69.htm
Mitchell, Broadus. (1987). Alexander Hamilton, Executive Power and the New Nation.
Presidential Quarterly, 17.2: 329-343.