When Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison decided to write the Federalist Papers advocating stronger federal powers in the late 1780s, they were fighting for more than a few votes and the occasional golf trip to Hawaii. They were fighting for a system in which the entire United States would be subject to the powers of a simple and fair Constitution made by the people and for the people. Hamilton knew the necessity for a stronger rule of governance than found in the Articles of Confederation, and stated in Federalist No. 1 that,
The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the union, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects is the most interesting in the world.
As the eighty-five Federalist Papers were published through mediums like The Independent Journal and The New York Packet, readers were engulfed in a variety of new ideas written by some of the finest minds of the late eighteenth century. With memory of British imperial rule fresh in their minds, however, many American Anti-Federalists were apprehensive that, under a new constitution, the U.S. government could eventually rise to become a similarly tyrannical ruler. Many wondered, how could the federalist system of government differ from King George’s? Under the new constitution, could the power of a single executive aggrandize and ruin all the work and sacrifice of the minutemen, militiamen and Continental regulars?
Alexander Hamilton vigorously opposed the idea of a return to forms of previous rule. Hamilton tirelessly asserted in his writings that, under the new constitution, the single magistrate or “president” would never become like King George. Federalist No. 69 goes so far to state that the President would only,
Possess more of less power than the Governor of New York. And it appears yet more unequivocally, that there is no pretense for the parallel which has been attempted between him and the king of Great Britain.
Hamilton had to convince his countrymen that a King George would not return to the United States, and his labor was for many Anti-Federalists a turning point in their thinking. Hamilton would go on to list the numerous differences between the proposed president and King of England such as term limits, lack of hereditary powers and the promise that the presidency would rest wholly in the hands of the people. He promised a politically small president whose power would be diminished by the rule of the states and a United States Congress, and the American people were won over.
Unfortunately, it is hard to see Alexander Hamilton’s vision in today’s presidency. I doubt many would argue that President Barack Obama possesses equal or less power over the citizens of our country than Governor Mario Cuomo. It is not hard to see why this is not the case. With ever-increasing media attention on the White House, a growing sense that the president is the imperial ruler of the land, if not the world, and the easy availability of executive orders, the presidency has grown vastly in power.
We must hope this will not always be the case. American citizens must re-remember those temperate Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison and give power back to Congress and the states. If the idea was good enough for Hamilton and his learned colleagues, it is surely good enough for us. Publius.
—Russell Dye is a junior studying political science
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