Summary and Analysis Section XI: Need for a Strong Executive: Federalist No. 67 (Hamilton)



This group of eleven essays discusses and defends, one by one, the extensive powers to be bestowed on the president under the proposed constitution.

No part of the proposed constitution had been more difficult to arrange than that dealing with the executive, and no part was being "inveighed against with less candor, or criticised with less judgment," Hamilton protested.

Critics were playing on the "aversion of the people to monarchy." Some were picturing the intended president as having the power to make himself a despot, "with the diadem sparkling on his brow, and the imperial purple flowing in his train. . . . seated on a throne surrounded with minions and mistresses." Some had gone so far in imagination as to equip him with a harem.

Critics contended that the Constitution gave the president power to fill vacancies in the United States Senate. That was not true, Hamilton pointed out. The power to fill temporary vacancies in the Senate was expressly" allotted to the executives in the individual states.

As to making appointments to vacancies in major government posts while the Senate was in recess, the president would have the power to fill such vacancies by granting temporary commissions, such commissions to run only to the end of the next Senate session. By that time, hopefully, the Senate would have considered and either approved or disapproved of such commissions. There was here no danger of presidential power-grabbing.


Hamilton was right in observing that no part of the proposed constitution was being more severely criticized than the broad strong powers to be exercised by the executive. The popular and fiery Patrick Henry, perhaps the most influential leader of the opposition, spoke for a large number of thoughtful men in saying of the Constitution that, "among other deformities, it has an awful squinting — it squints toward monarchy. And does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American? Your president may easily become King. . . . Where are your checks in this government?"

Incidentally, as evidence of widespread monarchical leanings, an organized movement had already proposed that Washington declare himself king, a suggestion that Washington angrily denounced.

Hamilton failed to mention another major objection to the Constitution, either here or later. The strong powers of the national government were spelled out at length, but there was not a word about the rights of states and the liberties of individuals. There was no Bill of Rights guaranteeing religious freedom, liberty of the press, the right of popular assembly, trial by jury, and other "sacred rights." Anti-Federalists took a strong stand that the proposed constitution should not be adopted until it had been revised to include a Bill of Rights. It was the possibility that the Philadelphia document might be sent back for revisions that most frightened the Federalists. They had convinced themselves that adoption of the present draft was of vital necessity.

Anti-Federalists made a strong case and soon won their point. One of the first acts of the new national government was passage of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, our long (and rightly) celebrated Bill of Rights, increasingly the heart of our democratic society. The amendments were largely drafted and pushed to adoption by Madison, who soon became an Anti-Federalist, joining with Jefferson in putting together varied groups in the first organized opposition, the Republican-Democratic party.