Previous essays in this series explored why the Constitution is ineffective at restraining federal officials today, and illustrated how members of the present generation must come to view their relationship to the Constitution if it is to be of service in effectively limiting federal overreach. The most recent essay highlighted current efforts to amend the Constitution through an Article V convention. The series now concludes with another largely untried weapon in the citizen’s arsenal today; issue-based legislative accountability.

A Deaf Congress

In 2014, researchers at Princeton University released the results of an exhaustive study that analyzed more than twenty years of federal policy. The study evaluated various actors and the effect that they had on public policy. After examining literally thousands of laws and how those laws came to be made, they were forced to admit that ‘the number of American voters for or against an idea has literally no impact on the likelihood that Congress will make it law.’ Specifically, they concluded that “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a miniscule, near zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that the level of political sincerity possessed by the average American today is miniscule, near zero, statistically insignificant.

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The Same Subject Continued, and Re-Eligibility of the Executive Considered
From the New York Packet
Friday, March 21, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE administration of government, in its largest sense, comprehends all the operations of the body politic, whether legislative, executive, or judiciary; but in its most usual, and perhaps its most precise signification. it is limited to executive details, and falls peculiarly within the province of the executive department. The actual conduct of foreign negotiations, the preparatory plans of finance, the application and disbursement of the public moneys in conformity to the general appropriations of the legislature, the arrangement of the army and navy, the directions of the operations of war, these, and other matters of a like nature, constitute what seems to be most properly understood by the administration of government. The persons, therefore, to whose immediate management these different matters are committed, 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 ought to be subject to his superintendence. This view of the subject will at once suggest to us the intimate connection between the duration of the executive magistrate in office and the stability of the system of administration. To reverse and undo what has been done by a predecessor, is very often considered by a successor as the best proof he can give of his own capacity and desert; and in addition to this propensity, where the alteration has been the result of public choice, the person substituted is warranted in supposing that the dismission of his predecessor has proceeded from a dislike to his measures; and that the less he resembles him, the more he will recommend himself to the favor of his constituents. These considerations, and the influence of personal confidences and attachments, would be likely to induce every new President to promote a change of men to fill the subordinate stations; and these causes together could not fail to occasion a disgraceful and ruinous mutability in the administration of the government.

With a positive duration of considerable extent, I connect the circumstance of re-eligibility. The first is necessary to give to the officer himself the inclination and the resolution to act his part well, and to the community time and leisure to observe the tendency of his measures, and thence to form an experimental estimate of their merits. The last is necessary to enable the people, when they see reason to approve of his conduct, to continue him 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.

Nothing appears more plausible at first sight, nor more ill-founded upon close inspection, than a scheme which in relation to the present point has had some respectable advocates, I mean that 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. This exclusion, whether temporary or perpetual, would have nearly the same effects, and these effects would be for the most part rather pernicious than salutary.

One ill effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good behavior. There are few men who would not feel much less zeal in the discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantages of the station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of OBTAINING, by MERITING, a continuance of them. This position will not be disputed so long as it is admitted that the desire of reward is one of the strongest incentives of human conduct; or that the best security for the fidelity of mankind is to make their interests coincide with their duty. Even the love of fame, the ruling passion of the noblest minds, which would prompt a man to plan and undertake extensive and arduous enterprises for the public benefit, requiring considerable time to mature and perfect them, if he could flatter himself with the prospect of being allowed to finish what he had begun, would, on the contrary, deter him from the undertaking, when he foresaw that he must quit the scene before he could accomplish the work, and must commit that, together with his own reputation, to hands which might be unequal or unfriendly to the task. The most to be expected from the generality of men, in such a situation, is the negative merit of not doing harm, instead of the positive merit of doing good.

Another ill effect of the exclusion would be the temptation to sordid views, to peculation, and, in some instances, to usurpation. An avaricious man, who might happen to fill the office, looking forward to a time when he must at all events yield up the emoluments he enjoyed, would feel a propensity, not easy to be resisted by such a man, to make the best use of the opportunity he enjoyed while it lasted, and might not scruple to have recourse to the most corrupt expedients to make the harvest as abundant as it was transitory; though the same man, probably, with a different prospect before him, might content himself with the regular perquisites of his situation, and might even be unwilling to risk the consequences of an abuse of his opportunities. His avarice might be a guard upon his avarice. Add to this that the same man might be vain or ambitious, as well as avaricious. And if he could expect to prolong his honors by his good conduct, he might hesitate to sacrifice his appetite for them to his appetite for gain. But with the prospect before him of approaching an inevitable annihilation, his avarice would be likely to get the victory over his caution, his vanity, or his ambition.

An ambitious man, too, when he found himself seated on the summit of his country’s honors, when he looked forward to the time at which he must descend from the exalted eminence for ever, and reflected that no exertion of merit on his part could save him from the unwelcome reverse; such a man, in such a situation, would be much more violently tempted to embrace a favorable conjuncture for attempting the prolongation of his power, at every personal hazard, than if he had the probability of answering the same end by doing his duty.

Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts, and sighing for a place which they were destined never more to possess?

A third ill effect of the exclusion would be, the depriving the community of the advantage of the experience gained by the chief magistrate in the exercise of his office. That experience is the parent of wisdom, is an adage the truth of which is recognized by the wisest as well as the simplest of mankind. What more desirable or more essential than this quality in the governors of nations? Where more desirable or more essential than in the first magistrate of a nation? Can it be wise to put this desirable and essential quality under the ban of the Constitution, and to declare that the moment it is acquired, its possessor shall be compelled to abandon the station in which it was acquired, and to which it is adapted? This, nevertheless, is the precise import of all those regulations which exclude men from serving their country, by the choice of their fellow citizens, after they have by a course of service fitted themselves for doing it with a greater degree of utility.

A fourth ill effect of the exclusion would be the banishing men from stations in which, in certain emergencies of the state, their presence might be of the greatest moment to the public interest or safety. There is no nation which has not, at one period or another, experienced an absolute necessity of the services of particular men in particular situations; perhaps it would not be too strong to say, to the preservation of its political existence. How unwise, therefore, must be every such self-denying ordinance as serves to prohibit a nation from making use of its own citizens in the manner best suited to its exigencies and circumstances! Without supposing the personal essentiality of the man, it is evident that a change of the chief magistrate, at the breaking out of a war, or at any similar crisis, for another, even of equal merit, would at all times be detrimental to the community, inasmuch as it would substitute inexperience to experience, and would tend to unhinge and set afloat the already settled train of the administration.

A fifth ill effect of the exclusion would be, that it would operate as a constitutional interdiction of stability in the administration. By NECESSITATING a change of men, in the first office of the nation, it would necessitate a mutability of measures. It is not generally to be expected, that men will vary and measures remain uniform. The contrary is the usual course of things. And we need not be apprehensive that there will be too much stability, while there is even the option of changing; nor need we desire to prohibit the people from continuing their confidence where they think it may be safely placed, and where, by constancy on their part, they may obviate the fatal inconveniences of fluctuating councils and a variable policy.

These are some of the disadvantages which would flow from the principle of exclusion. They apply most forcibly to the scheme of a perpetual exclusion; but when we consider that even a partial exclusion would always render the readmission of the person a remote and precarious object, the observations which have been made will apply nearly as fully to one case as to the other.

What are the advantages promised to counterbalance these disadvantages? They are represented to be: 1st, greater independence in the magistrate; 2d, greater security to the people. Unless the exclusion be perpetual, there will be no pretense to infer the first advantage. But even in that case, may he have no object beyond his present station, to which he may sacrifice his independence? May he have no connections, no friends, for whom he may sacrifice it? May he not be less willing by a firm conduct, to make personal enemies, when he acts under the impression that a time is fast approaching, on the arrival of which he not only MAY, but MUST, be exposed to their resentments, upon an equal, perhaps upon an inferior, footing? It is not an easy point to determine whether his independence would be most promoted or impaired by such an arrangement.

As to the second supposed advantage, there is still greater reason to entertain doubts concerning it. If the exclusion were to be perpetual, a man of irregular ambition, of whom alone there could be reason in any case to entertain apprehension, would, with infinite reluctance, yield to the necessity of taking his leave forever of a post in which his passion for power and pre-eminence had acquired the force of habit. And if he had been fortunate or adroit enough to conciliate the good-will of the people, he might induce them to consider as a very odious and unjustifiable restraint upon themselves, a provision which was calculated to debar them of the right of giving a fresh proof of their attachment to a favorite. There may be conceived circumstances in which this disgust of the people, seconding the thwarted ambition of such a favorite, might occasion greater danger to liberty, than could ever reasonably be dreaded from the possibility of a perpetuation in office, by the voluntary suffrages of the community, exercising a constitutional privilege.

There is an excess of refinement in the idea of disabling the people to continue in office men who had entitled themselves, in their opinion, to approbation and confidence; the advantages of which are at best speculative and equivocal, and are overbalanced by disadvantages far more certain and decisive.


Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

Federalist 68 to 72 address the election and structure of the Presidency. Who better to address that than Alexander Hamilton, whose knowledge of executive power combines with an affinity for it that caused much suspicion during his political career?

The first essay is a brief foray into the Electoral College. The matter excited so little passion during the ratification debates that Hamilton barely gets his writing hand limbered up. He allows himself to wax poetic and substitute a couplet edited from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man for some of the acerbic put-downs of his preceding efforts as Publius. Yet, the frivolity of the approach should not obscure the delicate political balances reflected in the constitutional settlement of the President’s election. The Framers’ had rejected direct popular election (an easy call due to its profound conflict with the idea of the United States as a confederated republic), election by Congress, election by the state legislatures, and election by electors selected by regional electors elected by the people (Hamilton’s multi-layered proposal).

The Framers wanted at once to have an energetic executive and to prevent the emergence of an American Caesar. The first would be accomplished by unity in the office, the latter through, among other things, care in the selection of the person. They also were deeply fearful that some foreign power might place a Manchurian Candidate among the presidential contenders. Hamilton mentions that concern in his defense of the system, a concern also reflected in the requirement that the President be a natural-born citizen. This was no small matter to the Framers. There were various plots and other connections between foreign agents and American politicians and military officers (the Wilkinson/Burr cabal with Spain, for example). Moreover, these kinds of intrigues to place a foreigner in executive office were familiar, both because they were common abroad, and because of the Confederation Congress’s offer in 1786, quickly withdrawn, to the republican-minded Prince Henry of Prussia to become regent of the U.S.

The Framers faced several practical problems. Every efficient electoral system has to provide for a means of nominating and then electing candidates. Moreover, civil disturbances over what is often a politically heated process must be avoided. There must be no taint of corruption. The candidate elected must be qualified.

As to the first, the Electoral College would, in many cases, nominate multiple candidates. Electors would be chosen as the legislatures of the states would direct. Though the practice of popular voting for electors spread, not until South Carolina seceded from the Union in 1860 did appointment by the legislatures end everywhere. Once selected, the electors’ strong loyalties to their respective states likely would cause the electors to select a “favorite son” candidate. To prevent a multiplicity of candidates based on state residency, electors had to cast one of the two votes allotted to each for someone from another state. It was expected that several regional candidates would emerge under that process. There likely would be no single majority electoral vote recipient, at least not after George Washington. The actual election of the President then would devolve to the House of Representatives, fostering the blending and overlapping of powers that Madison extolled in Federalist 51.

That last step corresponded to the Framers’ experience with the election of the British prime minister and cabinet, and with the practice of several states. However, consistent with the state-oriented structure of American federalism, such election in the House had to come through a majority of state delegations, not individual Congressmen. Though modified slightly by the Twelfth Amendment as a result of the deadlock of 1800, this process is still in place.

The Electoral College also was to be the mediating device that would balance the desire for popular input with the realistic concern that a direct popular vote would promote candidates with “talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity.” Hamilton, a skilled in-fighter, possessed very sharp elbows politically, but lacked those particular talents and despised them in others. As John Jay writes in Federalist 64, the Constitution’s system would likely select those most qualified to be President. Augmented by the Constitution’s age requirement for President, the electors are not “liable to be deceived by those brilliant appearances of genius and patriotism, which, like transient meteors, sometimes mislead as well as dazzle.”

Having the voters select a group of electors, rather than the President directly, would also calm the political waters. By making that election something other than a vote about particular candidates, the process would encourage reflection and deliberation by voters about the capacity for reasoned judgment of the electors chosen. The smaller number of wise electors, in turn, would exercise that judgment free from popular passion.

There is also the problem of corruption of the electors. Every polity must address that. The Republic of Venice had a truly byzantine system of election and selection by lot of those whose sole responsibility it would be to elect the Doge (the executive). The sheer number of participants and the unpredictability of the eventual identity of the Venetian electors made vote-buying, influence-peddling, and intimidation impractical. In Federalist 68, as well, Hamilton assures the reader that, in the American system, corruption and the influence of faction are avoided by the temporary and limited duty of the electors, the disqualification of federal office holders to serve, the large number of electors, and the fact that they meet in separate states at the same time. Presumably, those protections fall away when the House elects the President. But Congressmen have to worry about re-election and, thus, want to avoid corrupt bargains that are odious to the voters.

Though the constitutional shell remains, much of the system operates differently than the Framers hoped. The reason is the evolution of the modern programmatic party, that bane of good republicans, which has replaced state loyalties with party loyalties. The Framers thought they had dealt adequately with the influence of factions in their finely-tuned system. As modern party government was just emerging in Britain and—in contrast to temporary and shifting political factions—unknown in the states, the Framers designed the election process unprepared for such parties.

Today, the nominating function is performed by political parties, while election is, in practice, by the voters. Elections by the House are still possible, if there is a strong regional third-party candidate. But the dominance of the two parties (which are, in part, coalitions of factions) suppresses competition, and the last time there was a reasonable possibility of electoral deadlock was in 1968, when Alabama Governor George C. Wallace took 46 electoral votes. Mere independent national candidacies, such as that of Ross Perot in 1992, have roughly similar levels of support in all states and are unlikely to siphon electoral votes and block the usual process.

Parties have had a beneficial effect in that they have prevented repetitions of the debacles of 1800 (when, due to the tie vote between Jefferson and Burr, it took the House 36 ballots and probable political intervention by Hamilton on the former’s behalf to resolve the election) and of 1824 (when the election dominated by just the regional candidacies anticipated by the Framers was thrown into the House and extensive bargaining precipitated charges of corruption that stymied the J. Q. Adams presidency). Had parties not emerged to provide necessary lubrication, the creaky constitutional machinery well might have had to be reformed. Though they have smoothed the process, parties arguably also have promoted the very evils (other than foreign intrigue) that Publius assured his readers were avoided under the electoral system designed by the Framers.

At the same time, the emergence of modern political parties has not made the Electoral College obsolete, as it still promotes important values. It reinforces the founding principle that the U.S. is a confederated republic and not a consolidated national government, as analyzed so persuasively by Madison in Federalist 39. Despite the occasional misfire, as in the election of 2000, the Electoral College often gives the narrow victor in the popular vote a mandate through a significant electoral college majority. The need to find a lot of electoral votes to overturn such a result reduces the likelihood of persistent challenges. Elections such as 1948, 1960, 1968, and 1992 come to mind. Proposals to change or abolish the Electoral College have appeared frequently since the Constitution’s adoption and are of predictable types. But they always lose steam, as there has been no showing that they will serve republican values better than the current system. Indeed, efforts to change the system have declined in the last half century, even after the contested election of 2000, a testimony to the enduring legitimacy of the Electoral College.

Friday, July 30th, 2010

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law.  Prof. Knipprath has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums.  His website is


Greetings from Long Beach Island New Jersey!  What fun I’ve been having reading the Federalist Papers on the beach! And what interesting looks I get from passersby who take the time to glance at the cover of my book.

Federalist Papers 68-77 are especially interesting to me personally, as I have been fascinated by the Presidency for as long as I can remember. My first “political” experience was writing to President Nixon when I was in grade school, telling him I was praying for him during his struggles.  In Junior high, I begged my father to take me to SMU, in Dallas near where I grew up, to stand in a rope line in order to catch a glimpse of President Gerald Ford.  I voted for the first time in 1980, proudly casting my ballot for Ronald Reagan.  My first college course in political science at Texas A&M was taught by an expert in the Presidency, and although regretfully I can’t remember his name, I loved the course so much, I switched my major from business to political science that semester!

During the last decade, I got an even closer look at the Presidency through my husband’s work with President George W. Bush, and opportunities our family had to interact with him.  I had always admired President Bush’s steady leadership, and his unwavering commitment to certain values and principles, most notably keeping America safe. But getting to know him personally, I admired the way he carried the office of the Presidency.  When you are President, you are always President, whether relaxing in a small group or at public events.  President Bush respected the office, and lived every day in a way that could make our country proud.

Thank you to Professor Joerg Knipprath for your enlightening and thorough essays on Federalist Papers No. 69 (The Real Character of the Executive ) and 70 (The Executive Department Further Considered ).  The historical background you provide gives a useful prism from which to view these two papers that explore the President’s powers versus those of the British Monarch and the New York Governor, and the decision of the founders to have a unified executive, versus two or more heading that branch.

In Federalist No. 69 Publius makes a convincing argument that the United States Presidency, while powerful enough to head the country, is not as powerful as the King, or even the New York Governor (with the exception of the power to make treaties).  This is a fascinating comparison, and reveals the founders’ thought process on why the Presidency of our country is vested with certain powers and limited in others.

Some of the President’s powers originally outlined by the founders have waned, while others have increased. The President’s term in office still remains at four years, but is now limited to two terms by the twenty-second Amendment.

The President’s power to

“nominate, and, WITH THE ADVICE AND CONSENT OF THE SENATE, to appoint ambassadors and other public ministers, judges of the Supreme Court, and in general all officers of the United States established by law, and whose appointments are not otherwise provided for by the Constitution,”

has been expanded over the years by the President’s ability to create “Czar” positions.  These “Czar” positions sound eerily similar to the power Publius ascribes to the King, and denies the President having:

The king of Great Britain is emphatically and truly styled the fountain of honor. He not only appoints to all offices, but can create offices.”

Time Magazine provides an interesting history of “Czars” in the United States at this link:,8599,1925564,00.html

Time states the first Czar existed in President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet during World War I, when Wilson appointed Bernard Baruch to head the War Industries board, and was known as the Industry Czar.  This must have been the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, as the use of “Czars” has mushroomed from that point forward.

In Federalist No. 70, Publius defends the decision of the founders to have a single executive in the office of the Presidency head the executive branch, versus two or more individuals.  The benefits of a unified executive make an extraordinary amount of sense, especially in protecting the people’s liberty through transparency, and accountability.  As difficult as it was to pinpoint blame in Watergate, for example, imagine how much more difficult it might have been had there been two Chief Executives.  Professor Knipprath quotes Harry Truman’s famous line, “the buck stops here,” and that indeed is one of the most important attributes of the United States Presidency.

The founders’ grasp of history, as they detail the failures of past plural executives, such as the Achaens, or the dissensions between the Consuls and the military Tribunes in Roman history once again illuminates their arguments.  And their grasp of human nature is equally as profound –

“Wherever two or more persons are engaged in any common enterprise or pursuit, there is always danger of difference of opinion. If it be a public trust or office, in which they are clothed with equal dignity and authority, there is peculiar danger of personal emulation and even animosity.”

“Men often oppose a thing, merely because they have had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted, and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes, in their estimation, an indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motives of personal infallibility, to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon contrary to their sentiments. Men of upright, benevolent tempers have too many opportunities of remarking, with horror, to what desperate lengths this disposition is sometimes carried, and how often the great interests of society are sacrificed to the vanity, to the conceit, and to the obstinacy of individuals, who have credit enough to make their passions and their caprices interesting to mankind. Perhaps the question now before the public may, in its consequences, afford melancholy proofs of the effects of this despicable frailty, or rather detestable vice, in the human character.”

Our United States Presidency is a unique institution, crafted thoughtfully and skillfully by our founding fathers!

On to Federalist #71!

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010


Howdy from, cooler because we had a mighty storm, Texas!

Federalist Papers No. 71 and 72 are fascinating as they represent Alexander Hamilton’s perspectives regarding the Constitutional lack of term limits for the office of the Presidency. Even with the lack of limits, it is amazing, upon reflection, that only one of our Presidents ever surpassed two terms and even then, it was due to the  Great Depression and World War II. George Washington seems to have, once again, paved the way. By stepping down after two terms, he set the pace.

I don’t consider the readings of Federalist Papers No. 71 and 72 redundant, however. There are always pearls of wisdom within these hallowed pages. Federalist Paper No. 71 makes an interesting statement regarding maintaining the balance of the constitution.

“The tendency of the legislative authority to absorb every other, has been fully displayed and illustrated by examples in some preceding numbers. In governments purely republican, this tendency is almost irresistible. The representatives of the people, in a popular assembly, seem sometimes to fancy that they are the people themselves, and betray strong symptoms of impatience and disgust at the least sign of opposition from any other quarter; as if the exercise of its rights, by either the executive or judiciary, were a breach of their privilege and an outrage to their dignity. They often appear disposed to exert an imperious control over the other departments; and as they commonly have the people on their side, they always act with such momentum as to make it very difficult for the other members of the government to maintain the balance of the Constitution.”

This is a thought-provoking paragraph especially when I size it up to the relevancy of today. Our forefathers were greatly concerned about the power of the legislature. Yet, it appears that the legislature, the people’s representative branch, is being diminished by a more powerful executive branch and competing with the judicial branch  – a branch that is more and more regularly legislating from the bench instead of merely interpreting the law.

Thus, the question is: how is the “balance of the Constitution” faring?

There is another statement that I find intriguing in Federalist Paper No. 71. It is stimulating in its simplicity.

“What but that he might be unequal to the task which the constitution assigns him.”

This is the maxim for all representatives of all branches to remember. Their mission, their task, is to serve their terms in relation to what the constitution assigns them.

The Constitution is to be their conscience.

The Constitution is the conscience of America.

One of the most important elements of the Constitution is the balance of power. If a representative in any branch of the government, whether elected or administrative, is not abiding by this preeminent principle of the Constitution then that representative is disregarding the constitution for his/her own benefit – which would be for none other than that all encompassing vice – power.

As for Federalist Paper No. 72, Alexander Hamilton prophesies a modem of operandi that is ever present within every changing of the guard in our country and is not always to our best interest.

“To reverse and undo what has been done by a predecessor, is very often considered by a successor as the best proof he can give of his own capacity and desert;”

Rare is the President who can say, “My predecessor did this very well, to him I give due credit and continue its course.”

Ego – the undoing of greatness.

To close, I underscore a statement of Alexander Hamilton’s, from Federalist Paper No. 72, that is both pertinent and amusing.

“Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts, and sighing for a place which they were destined never more to possess?”

Hamilton had a sense of humor, yet this passage is painted with profundity. The peace of the community is best served when a former President leaves the country in the hands of the new one – for his legacy as President will be either be reduced or redeemed by history not by “wandering among the people like a discontented ghost.”

God Bless,

Janine Turner

Thursday, August 5th, 2010


Greetings from Mt. Vernon, Virginia!

Once again, I write from ground that belonged to our first President of the United States, and once again, George Washington is a leader, by example, on the item under discussion!

Federalist Papers 71 and 72 deal with the President’s Term in Office, and the idea of Presidential Term Limits.

Through the four year Presidential term, the framers strike the perfect balance – enough time for a President to enact his priorities, yet not endanger the liberty of the people:

“As, on the one hand, a duration of four years will contribute to the firmness of the Executive in a sufficient degree to render it a very valuable ingredient in the composition; so, on the other, it is not enough to justify any alarm for the public liberty.”

The debate about Presidential term limits in Federalist No. 72 is a serious one, and one in which the brilliant amendment process ultimately prevailed.  Hamilton argues that the imposition of term limits takes away the incentive for the President to do his or her best for the people:

“One ill effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good behavior. There are few men who would not feel much less zeal in the discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantages of the station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of OBTAINING, by MERITING, a continuance of them.”

For many years, tradition began by President Washington held that Presidents stepped down after two terms.  Once this tradition was broken by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, momentum gathered to codify what had previously been informally honored.

Eight years is a very long time for an individual to be subject to the stresses and daily intensity of the office of President of the United States. Even though the world moved at a slower pace two centuries ago, the stress of the office was and still is, immense.  We have all observed the photos of the youthful President on inauguration day, and eight years later, wondered at the grey hair and added lines on his face.

In the book, The Real George Washington, by Parry Allison Skousen (a present given to me by my friend and Constituting America Co-Chair Janine Turner), President Washington is quoted at the end of his eight years in a letter to John Jay:

“Indeed, the troubles and perplexities, ….added to the weight of years which have passed over me, have worn away my mind more than my body.”

An observer is quoted in the book as describing Washington after eight years in office this way, “The innumerable vexations he has met with….have very sensibly impaired the vigor of his constitution and given him an aged appearance.”

Since the ratification of the 22cnd amendment, Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush were all elected for two terms, and limited by the 22cnd amendment from running for a third. The above description of President Washington after eight years in office could have easily applied to any of these Presidents.  The office of the Presidency has a way of aging its occupant, and eight years is a sufficient time for any man or woman to bear the responsibility.

Hamilton had also worried that too many ex-Presidents would be a distraction to the country:

“Would it promote the peace of the community, or the stability of the government to have half a dozen men who had had credit enough to be raised to the seat of the supreme magistracy, wandering among the people like discontented ghosts, and sighing for a place which they were destined never more to possess?”

Contrary to Hamilton’s prediction, in modern times, our country and world have benefitted from the wisdom and stature of ex-Presidents. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Clinton headed a Tsunami Relief Fund, President Clinton champions many humanitarian efforts and charities, Former Presidents George W. Bush and Clinton head a Haiti Relief Fund, and Former President Jimmy Carter has greatly raised the profile and success of Habit for Humanity, among other causes.

However, no former President has conducted himself with more dignity, grace and class than Former President George W. Bush.  Former President Bush, referenced almost daily by the current White House as the source of all the country’s problems, has quietly and respectfully stood by, and let our current President lead.  He has refrained from criticism of any elected officials, all the while working steadily to develop the Bush Institute, the arm of his Presidential Library dedicated to the promotion of freedom throughout the world.

Term limits for Presidents have ensured that our country not fall into a “monarchy mentality,” and that at least every eight years, those at the highest levels of government leave to make way for new leaders to serve.

Despite Hamilton’s ominous warnings, term limits for Presidents finally came to the United States Constitution through the process set up by the framers for change: the amendment process.  The founding fathers were brilliant men, whose insights continue to light our path today, but they knew they were not perfect, and could not always predict the future.

That is the beauty of our United States Constitution. When the people see a need for change, the demand is urgent enough, and felt commonly enough to bring about the 2/3’s for proposal and 3 /4’s necessary for ratification, there is a structure and process in place to legitimately and peacefully make a change.   The 22cnd Amendment is one of those changes that has bettered our system of government.

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Guest Essayist: Kelly Shackelford, President/CEO of the Liberty Institute

Federalist No. 71 and 72 deal with the Office of the Executive, specifically how long the President remains in office and his re-eligibility to continue to serve in the same capacity.  While Federalist 71 takes an in-depth look at the four-year duration of the Presidential term, Federalist 72 addresses the question of a sitting President’s re-eligibility, or ability to be re-elected to subsequent terms.

In Federalist 72, Publius, in this case Alexander Hamilton, cites the two factors that the Framers of the Constitution believed should determine whether a President is eligible for re-election, and defends the Framers’ rejection of either temporary or perpetual term limits for a President.

According to Hamilton, the only two factors that should be weighed in considering the ability of a President to be re-elected are the quality of his performance as President and the approval of the voters. The four years of a President’s term should give the voters enough time to judge the abilities of a President, and the prospect of being re-elected should give the President the motivation to do a good job. In other words, Hamilton argued that the voters themselves should be the only judges of a President’s eligibility by refusing to re-elect him when his performance is no longer satisfactory.

In arguing that the voters should be the only limits on the extension of a man’s Presidency, Hamilton cites five disadvantages of excluding a sitting President from re-eligibility. The first disadvantage is that a President who is excluded from seeking office again is hampered not only in his ability to work but also in his desire to act in such a way that the voters would re-elect him given the opportunity, described by Publius as “dimunition of the inducements to good behavior.” The “lame-duck” President’s motivations to act uprightly and for the benefit of the people are severely diminished.

The second disadvantage of imposing term limits in the Executive that Hamilton pointed out in Federalist 72 is that a President with no chance of being re-elected may be tempted to usurp his office for personal gain, with an eye to the day when he will no longer serve as President. Worse, an ambitious man, forbidden to seek re-election, could resort to violence in an attempt to prolong his time in the Presidency.

Hamilton’s third and fourth disadvantages of term limits both relate to the experience that a person gains while serving as President. In short, good experience in serving as President is valuable and should not be lightly thrown aside. The good of the country demands that the people capitalize on the leadership of those who already have the experience gained from years of leading the nation.  Additionally, during times of war or crisis, continuity of leadership in the Executive may be particularly important to the safety of the nation.

Finally, Hamilton’s fifth argument against term limits is that they create constitutionally-sanctioned instability. When a new President is elected, the change in administrations creates transitional instability as the new administration must gain the experience already possessed by the outgoing administration. Moreover, the new President, seeing his election as the people’s endorsement of his ideas over his predecessors, takes responsibility for nominating many of those in charge of day-to-day operations, naturally generating instability during the transition of leadership. Consequently, Hamilton argued that one key factor in the stability of our government is the length of time that the President serves; instead of being viewed as a threat to liberty, a voter-approved extension of a President’s service is a benefit because of the increased experience of the administration.

While arguing against term limits, Hamilton points out two possible advantages to having Presidential term limits: “greater independence in the magistrate” (executive office) and “greater security to the people.” The greater independence of the executive office turns out to be easily manipulated, as a President, excluded from re-eligibility, could choose to relinquish the office to a hand-picked successor, effectively remaining a powerful voice in the administration. Additionally, a President who anticipates leaving his office of President may be less interested in fighting over important issues and making political enemies than preserving friendships and allies.

As to the people’s security, while Hamilton recognizes that the influence of a overly-charismatic President can be lessened by term limits, Hamilton points out that forcing a truly good leader out of office may be regarded as a hindrance to security and a “danger to liberty.” Taken to an extreme, it could even cause the people to reject the Constitution in favor of the leader, removing all constitutional protections granted to the people.

Since George Washington, the first President under the Constitution, stepped down after two terms in office, Americans have commonly accepted two terms as a sufficient amount of time in office for any President. Only a few Presidents have sought a third term, and only one has been successful: Franklin D. Roosevelt, our thirty-second President. Serving throughout the Great Depression and most of World War II, President Roosevelt was elected four times to the office of the President, but passed away in 1945, months after beginning his fourth term. His Presidency was unique in that the people sought the continuity of his leadership through two disasters, and supported him as President for what would have totaled sixteen years.

Following President Roosevelt’s four terms in office, the American people decided that the advantages of term limits in limiting the power of any one President outweighs the five disadvantages that Alexander Hamilton laid out in Federalist 72. In 1947, Congress passed the Twenty-second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, limiting a President to two terms in office. The Amendment was ratified in 1951, and only two states, Oklahoma and Massachusetts, opposed the Amendment.

Today, very little debate exists over the Twenty-second Amendment and executive term limits, though various members of Congress occasionally propose legislation to repeal the Amendment.  Even now, two hundred years after President Washington stepped down after his second term, Americans generally accept the two-term limit as an adequate amount of time for a President to serve.

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

Kelly Shackelford, President/CEO of Liberty Institute, is a constitutional scholar who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts across the country and has testified before both houses of the U.S. Congress.  Jennifer Grisham is director of media at Liberty Institute.  The Institute fights for First Amendment and Constitutional freedoms in the courts and legislature, has won significant landmark victories on religious liberty, and currently represents over 4 million veterans and all the major veterans’ groups in the famous Mojave Desert Memorial Cross case.  For more, visit