The Provision For The Support of the Executive, and the Veto Power 
From the New York Packet
Friday, March 21, 1788.

Author: Alexander Hamilton

To the People of the State of New York:

THE third ingredient towards constituting the vigor of the executive authority, is an adequate provision for its support. It is evident that, without proper attention to this article, the separation of the executive from the legislative department would be merely nominal and nugatory. The legislature, with a discretionary power over the salary and emoluments of the Chief Magistrate, could render him as obsequious to their will as they might think proper to make him. They might, in most cases, either reduce him by famine, or tempt him by largesses, to surrender at discretion his judgment to their inclinations. These expressions, taken in all the latitude of the terms, would no doubt convey more than is intended. There are men who could neither be distressed nor won into a sacrifice of their duty; but this stern virtue is the growth of few soils; and in the main it will be found that a power over a man’s support is a power over his will. If it were necessary to confirm so plain a truth by facts, examples would not be wanting, even in this country, of the intimidation or seduction of the Executive by the terrors or allurements of the pecuniary arrangements of the legislative body.

It is not easy, therefore, to commend too highly the judicious attention which has been paid to this subject in the proposed Constitution. It is there provided that “The President of the United States shall, at stated times, receive for his services a compensation WHICH SHALL NEITHER BE INCREASED NOR DIMINISHED DURING THE PERIOD FOR WHICH HE SHALL HAVE BEEN ELECTED; and he SHALL NOT RECEIVE WITHIN THAT PERIOD ANY OTHER EMOLUMENT from the United States, or any of them.” It is impossible to imagine any provision which would have been more eligible than this. The legislature, on the appointment of a President, is once for all to declare what shall be the compensation for his services during the time for which he shall have been elected. This done, they will have no power to alter it, either by increase or diminution, till a new period of service by a new election commences. They can neither weaken his fortitude by operating on his necessities, nor corrupt his integrity by appealing to his avarice. Neither the Union, nor any of its members, will be at liberty to give, nor will he be at liberty to receive, any other emolument than that which may have been determined by the first act. He can, of course, have no pecuniary inducement to renounce or desert the independence intended for him by the Constitution.

The last of the requisites to energy, which have been enumerated, are competent powers. Let us proceed to consider those which are proposed to be vested in the President of the United States.

The first thing that offers itself to our observation, is the qualified negative of the President upon the acts or resolutions of the two houses of the legislature; or, in other words, his power of returning all bills with objections, to have the effect of preventing their becoming laws, unless they should afterwards be ratified by two thirds of each of the component members of the legislative body.

The propensity of the legislative department to intrude upon the rights, and to absorb the powers, of the other departments, has been already suggested and repeated; the insufficiency of a mere parchment delineation of the boundaries of each, has also been remarked upon; and the necessity of furnishing each with constitutional arms for its own defense, has been inferred and proved. From these clear and indubitable principles results the propriety of a negative, either absolute or qualified, in the Executive, upon the acts of the legislative branches. Without the one or the other, the former would be absolutely unable to defend himself against the depredations of the latter. He might gradually be stripped of his authorities by successive resolutions, or annihilated by a single vote. And in the one mode or the other, the legislative and executive powers might speedily come to be blended in the same hands. If even no propensity had ever discovered itself in the legislative body to invade the rights of the Executive, the rules of just reasoning and theoretic propriety would of themselves teach us, that the one ought not to be left to the mercy of the other, but ought to possess a constitutional and effectual power of self defense.

But the power in question has a further use. It not only serves as a shield to the Executive, but it furnishes an additional security against the enaction of improper laws. It establishes a salutary check upon the legislative body, calculated to guard the community against the effects of faction, precipitancy, or of any impulse unfriendly to the public good, which may happen to influence a majority of that body.

The propriety of a negative has, upon some occasions, been combated by an observation, that it was not to be presumed a single man would possess more virtue and wisdom than a number of men; and that unless this presumption should be entertained, it would be improper to give the executive magistrate any species of control over the legislative body.

But this observation, when examined, will appear rather specious than solid. The propriety of the thing does not turn upon the supposition of superior wisdom or virtue in the Executive, but upon the supposition that the legislature will not be infallible; that the love of power may sometimes betray it into a disposition to encroach upon the rights of other members of the government; that a spirit of faction may sometimes pervert its deliberations; that impressions of the moment may sometimes hurry it into measures which itself, on maturer reflection, would condemn. The primary inducement to conferring the power in question upon the Executive is, to enable him to defend himself; the secondary one is to increase the chances in favor of the community against the passing of bad laws, through haste, inadvertence, or design. The oftener the measure is brought under examination, the greater the diversity in the situations of those who are to examine it, the less must be the danger of those errors which flow from want of due deliberation, or of those missteps which proceed from the contagion of some common passion or interest. It is far less probable, that culpable views of any kind should infect all the parts of the government at the same moment and in relation to the same object, than that they should by turns govern and mislead every one of them.

It may perhaps be said that the power of preventing bad laws includes that of preventing good ones; and may be used to the one purpose as well as to the other. But this objection will have little weight with those who can properly estimate the mischiefs of that inconstancy and mutability in the laws, which form the greatest blemish in the character and genius of our governments. They will consider every institution calculated to restrain the excess of law-making, and to keep things in the same state in which they happen to be at any given period, as much more likely to do good than harm; because it is favorable to greater stability in the system of legislation. The injury which may possibly be done by defeating a few good laws, will be amply compensated by the advantage of preventing a number of bad ones.

Nor is this all. The superior weight and influence of the legislative body in a free government, and the hazard to the Executive in a trial of strength with that body, afford a satisfactory security that the negative would generally be employed with great caution; and there would oftener be room for a charge of timidity than of rashness in the exercise of it. A king of Great Britain, with all his train of sovereign attributes, and with all the influence he draws from a thousand sources, would, at this day, hesitate to put a negative upon the joint resolutions of the two houses of Parliament. He would not fail to exert the utmost resources of that influence to strangle a measure disagreeable to him, in its progress to the throne, to avoid being reduced to the dilemma of permitting it to take effect, or of risking the displeasure of the nation by an opposition to the sense of the legislative body. Nor is it probable, that he would ultimately venture to exert his prerogatives, but in a case of manifest propriety, or extreme necessity. All well-informed men in that kingdom will accede to the justness of this remark. A very considerable period has elapsed since the negative of the crown has been exercised.

If a magistrate so powerful and so well fortified as a British monarch, would have scruples about the exercise of the power under consideration, how much greater caution may be reasonably expected in a President of the United States, clothed for the short period of four years with the executive authority of a government wholly and purely republican?

It is evident that there would be greater danger of his not using his power when necessary, than of his using it too often, or too much. An argument, indeed, against its expediency, has been drawn from this very source. It has been represented, on this account, as a power odious in appearance, useless in practice. But it will not follow, that because it might be rarely exercised, it would never be exercised. In the case for which it is chiefly designed, that of an immediate attack upon the constitutional rights of the Executive, or in a case in which the public good was evidently and palpably sacrificed, a man of tolerable firmness would avail himself of his constitutional means of defense, and would listen to the admonitions of duty and responsibility. In the former supposition, his fortitude would be stimulated by his immediate interest in the power of his office; in the latter, by the probability of the sanction of his constituents, who, though they would naturally incline to the legislative body in a doubtful case, would hardly suffer their partiality to delude them in a very plain case. I speak now with an eye to a magistrate possessing only a common share of firmness. There are men who, under any circumstances, will have the courage to do their duty at every hazard.

But the convention have pursued a mean in this business, which will both facilitate the exercise of the power vested in this respect in the executive magistrate, and make its efficacy to depend on the sense of a considerable part of the legislative body. Instead of an absolute negative, it is proposed to give the Executive the qualified negative already described. This is a power which would be much more readily exercised than the other. A man who might be afraid to defeat a law by his single VETO, might not scruple to return it for reconsideration; subject to being finally rejected only in the event of more than one third of each house concurring in the sufficiency of his objections. He would be encouraged by the reflection, that if his opposition should prevail, it would embark in it a very respectable proportion of the legislative body, whose influence would be united with his in supporting the propriety of his conduct in the public opinion. A direct and categorical negative has something in the appearance of it more harsh, and more apt to irritate, than the mere suggestion of argumentative objections to be approved or disapproved by those to whom they are addressed. In proportion as it would be less apt to offend, it would be more apt to be exercised; and for this very reason, it may in practice be found more effectual. It is to be hoped that it will not often happen that improper views will govern so large a proportion as two thirds of both branches of the legislature at the same time; and this, too, in spite of the counterposing weight of the Executive. It is at any rate far less probable that this should be the case, than that such views should taint the resolutions and conduct of a bare majority. A power of this nature in the Executive, will often have a silent and unperceived, though forcible, operation. 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.

This qualified negative, as has been elsewhere remarked, is in this State vested in a council, consisting of the governor, with the chancellor and judges of the Supreme Court, or any two of them. It has been freely employed upon a variety of occasions, and frequently with success. And its utility has become so apparent, that persons who, in compiling the Constitution, were violent opposers of it, have from experience become its declared admirers. [1]

I have in another place remarked, that the convention, in the formation of this part of their plan, had departed from the model of the constitution of this State, in favor of that of Massachusetts. Two strong reasons may be imagined for this preference. One is that the judges, who are to be the interpreters of the law, might receive an improper bias, from having given a previous opinion in their revisionary capacities; the other is that by being often associated with the Executive, they might be induced to embark too far in the political views of that magistrate, and thus a dangerous combination might by degrees be cemented between the executive and judiciary departments. It is impossible to keep the judges too distinct from every other avocation than that of expounding the laws. It is peculiarly dangerous to place them in a situation to be either corrupted or influenced by the Executive.


1. Mr. Abraham Yates, a warm opponent of the plan of the convention is of this number.

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


The Powers of the President, From the New York Packet (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

In Federalist 69, Hamilton responds to the charge by the Constitution’s opponents that the president is an American king. He compares the powers of the “president of confederated America” (interesting phrasing) under the Constitution with those of the king of Great Britain and the governor of New York. He chooses the latter for several reasons. First, the essays of Publius are written during the pendency of the New York and Virginia ratifying conventions and were obviously intended in the first instance to influence those closely-fought skirmishes.

Second, Hamilton was deeply involved in state politics as a member of the downstate faction that favored both the Constitution and, later, the Federalist Party. Though it is hard to believe today, New York City politically was, in many ways, a Tory town. It was a hotbed of Loyalist sentiment during the Revolutionary War, so much so that the British made it their headquarters. Hamilton was intimately familiar with the operation of his state’s government and, given the emerging significance of the city and state, would  find New York’s system more important than others’.

Third, the governor of New York was a rather strong chief executive compared to the state governors at the time. Comparing the president’s powers favorably to those of a republican American state executive would resonate particularly well with the persuadable delegates by avoiding charges that comparing the prerogatives of the president to those of the British monarch was irrelevant to the cause, as no American king was to be crowned.

But there is one more reason. The governor of New York, George Clinton, was the presiding officer at the convention and a staunch Antifederalist. He was also a member of the upstate Albany faction politically opposed to Hamilton. Clinton is the likely author of potent attacks on the Constitution in  “Letters of Cato.” Many historians believe that it was the publication of some of those letters that induced the Constitution’s supporters to organize the effort that became The Federalist. The executive was one of Cato’s particular concerns. In an essay published four months before Federalist 69, Cato labeled the president the “generalissimo of the nation,” assailed the scope of the president’s powers, compared those powers alarmingly with those of the king of Great Britain (especially the war power), and warned, “You must, however, my countrymen, beware that the advocates of this new system do not deceive you by a fallacious resemblance between it and your own state government [New York]….If you examine, you…will be convinced that this government is no more like a true picture of your own than an Angel of Darkness resembles an Angel of Light.” Hamilton had no choice but to respond.

The result is a brief comparative overview, the particulars of which do not matter much today, as the king’s prerogatives, already circumscribed then, are virtually non-existent now. The essay does provide an introduction to various powers of the president, most of which are in Article II of the Constitution. Hamilton will delve into greater detail of various of them over the course of Federalist 73 to 77.

The Framers saw Congress as the most dangerous branch, and the one most likely to encroach on the domain of the others. While there were dangers in an independent and powerful executive, the lessons from the Revolutionary War and life under the Articles showed the need for just such an officer. The turbulence of state governments with weak and dependent executives only proved the point. Most agreed that a strong, independent executive was needed. But, how strong?
What is significant for us is the dog that does not bark, the constitutional clauses that are not mentioned by Publius. Not long after the Constitution was approved, Hamilton used the occasion of Washington’s Neutrality Proclamation in 1793 to advance a broad theory of implied executive powers. His position, vigorously challenged by Madison during the Pacificus-Helvidius debates, was that the president has all powers that are not denied to him under the Constitution either expressly or by unambiguous grant to another branch. That approach has been used by subsequent presidents to fuel the expansion of executive power.

Article II is rather short, and the president’s powers few and specific. Beyond that, the boundaries are vague. It was broadly understood that George Washington would be the first president. The general recognition of his propriety and incorruptibility meant that he would have discretion to define the boundaries of the office. Indeed, Washington was expected to do so, and he was well aware of that responsibility. In addition to the oath of office, there are three clauses whose text suggests room for discretion. Those three, the executive power clause, the commander-in-chief clause, and the clause that the president “shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” have proved to be generous reservoirs of necessary implied executive powers.

Publius spends little time on the commander-in-chief clause, and essentially none on the others. He portrays the role of the president as if he would be confined to leading the troops in military engagements. While Washington, with Hamilton as his aide, actually dressed in military regalia and mounted up to lead troops during the Whiskey Rebellion, they soon delegated that project to General “Light Horse Harry” Lee. That is the least likely role of the president today. Indeed, even during the ratification debates, that was a questionable view not usually advocated, as it frightened republicans by blurring the line between civilian control and military command and was thought likely to lead to the election of “military chieftains.”

The executive power clause is the principal source for the president’s implied or inherent powers, those that the president’s detractors would disparagingly call royal or prerogative powers. The textual significance is that, while Article I says that, “All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress …,” Article II declares that, “The executive power shall be vested in a President …”[italics added]. That affirmative grant to the president has to mean something, and –unlike Article I regarding Congress–it has to mean more than the powers mentioned later in the text. The question ever since has been, “Just what does it mean?” Presidents have massaged that ambiguity and the flexibility of the other elastic clauses mentioned to act unilaterally, as necessity demands, usually in military affairs, foreign relations, and national security matters. Executive unilateralism came under particular scrutiny by Congress, the courts, the academy, and the media during the Bush(43) administration, though interest in that topic has slackened since the election of 2008–perhaps not coincidentally.

Not surprisingly, as advocate for the Constitution’s adoption, Hamilton does not spend time defending, or even recognizing, the theory of implied executive powers that he embraced soon thereafter. The enumeration of specific limited presidential powers and Hamilton’s soothing interpretations in Federalist 69 do not give due credit to the possible sweep of the executive office. His next essay presents a more forthright defense of the need for an energetic executive.

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


Federalist No. 73 begins the examination of the powers of the Presidency, with a discussion of the President’s role in the legislative process, specifically, the veto.  In writing about the veto power, Publius travels back to Article I of the United States Constitution, the section of the Constitution dedicated to the legislative branch.  Nowhere in Article II, the section of the Constitution dedicated to the Executive branch, is the veto power mentioned.

“Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law.”–Article I, Section 7, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution

“Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.”–Article I, Section 7, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution

Article II, the portion of the Constitution describing the executive branch function, states the President’s obligation to provide the Congress information through the State of the Union, recommend proposals for their consideration, convene both Houses in extraordinary circumstances, or adjourn both Houses in the case of disagreement between them with respect to the time of adjournment:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper….”–Article II, Section 3

The Presidential veto is one of the most important checks and balances in our system of government. By requiring 2/3’s vote in both Houses to override a presidential veto, the Constitution ensures that controversial bills must have overwhelming support of the people, through their representatives in Congress, to become law.

It is interesting that the President’s important power of the veto, never mentioned by the name “veto” in the United States Constitution, is located in Article I, the article describing powers of the legislative branch.  The President, as head of the executive branch, has the power to execute, or carry out the laws of the United States, through the various Departments and agencies.  But through Article I, Section 7, Clauses 2 and 3, he also has the power to enact legislation in two ways:

1. Sign the bill        OR

2. Refuse to sign or return the bill within 10 days (not counting Sundays), when the Congress is in session.

The President has the power to disapprove legislation in two ways:

1. Return the bill “with objections,” (his veto) OR

2. Fail to return or sign the bill within the ten day window during which an Adjournment occurs (known as a pocket veto).

The legislative process and veto power of the President was so important to the framers that they devoted unusual specificity to this subject, detailing the number of days the President has to make his decision to sign, return, or not act, even exempting Sundays in the 10 day period!!!  The 2/3’s required to override the presidential veto is also a well thought out measure addressed in Federalist No. 73:

“It is to be hoped that it will not often happen that improper views will govern so large a proportion as two thirds of both branches of the legislature at the same time; and this, too, in spite of the counterposing weight of the Executive. It is at any rate far less probable that this should be the case, than that such views should taint the resolutions and conduct of a bare majority.”

Professor Rowley brings up the issue of the line item veto, within the context of the “qualified veto.”  I have been a supporter of the line item veto for many years, ever since President Reagan called for this power in his State of the Union in 1986:

“And tonight, I ask you to give me what 43 Governors have — give me a line-item veto this year. (Applause.) Give me the authority to veto waste, and I’ll take the responsibility, I’ll make the cuts, I’ll take the heat.”

President Clinton finally received the power of the line item veto, but the Supreme Court has since ruled it unconstitutional.  It seems that the only way for the president to have the power of the line item veto would be with a constitutional amendment.  And given the forethought the framers put into devising the structure of the veto, as well as the specificity they devoted describing the process, a constitutional amendment would be the most appropriate way to grant the president this power.

Governors across America have found the line-item veto to be an invaluable tool in cutting spending.  And with the Congress’s propensity to pass 3,500 page pork-laden bills, I believe the line item veto would be a useful tool for the president to have.  I respect Professor Rowley’s arguments against it, however, and am thankful for this forum in which we can discuss policy options in a civil and respectful manner.  Thank you also to Professor Rowley for your ongoing blog comments, and your reminder of the inspiration of George Washington, his crossing of the Delaware, and his appeal to the spirit of Americans!

Thank you to all of you for your well thought out blog comments! Each of you sheds a little more light on the issues at hand with the insights you share!

Good night and God Bless,

Cathy Gillespie
Friday, August 6th, 2010


Howdy from Texas! Are we not the luckiest people in the world to have these precious Federalist Papers archived and at our disposal? Is it not remarkable that our founding fathers wrote 85 essays for print in their local newspapers explaining the Constitution? Are we not so very fortunate to have this guidebook to the United States Constitution? Is it not worth recognizing that our founding father’s believed in the genius of the people and viewed them with the respect that prompted them to write these papers?

Is it not worth mentioning that the people wanted to know about it, read about it and demanded it?

Why do many of our representatives not want to coherently lay out the laws for us today? Is it that they do not believe in the genius of the people? Is it that they do not care to be truly open and forthright due to intrigue and manipulative measures? Is it because they do not read the laws and thus do not have the wherewithal to write about them? Or is it that they would rather spin the web by witnessing with words?

The written word is not permeable. The written word requires time and thought and tenacity and truth. The written word does not lie.

Speaking of the written word, today’s reading of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 73 exhibits our founding father’s savvy. What our founding fathers truly understood, in an astonishing way, was human nature. They studied the temptations that befell the psyche of men and recognized the vulnerabilities that weaken even the best-intentioned individual.

Alexander Hamilton gives a mesmerizing breakdown in regard to a scenario where a President may be wary do the right thing in certain circumstances because he fears the perception of it. Having thought of this potentiality the founders of the Constitution gives the President a way to both make the right choice and save face.

“A man who might be afraid to defeat a law by his single VETO, might not scruple to return it for reconsideration; subject to being finally rejected only in the event of more than one third of each house concurring in the sufficiency of his objections. He would be encouraged by the reflection, that if his opposition should prevail, it would embark in it a very respectable proportion of the legislative body, whose influence would be united with his in supporting the propriety of his conduct in the public opinion. A direct and categorical negative has something in the appearance of it more harsh, and more apt to irritate, than the mere suggestion of argumentative objections to be approved or disapproved by those to whom they are addressed. In proportion as it would be less apt to offend, it would be more apt to be exercised; and for this very reason, it may in practice be found more effectual.”


Alexander Hamilton also sums up the rationale for the Constitution’s checks and balances, the cement of its foundation, in one concise, astute and profound paragraph.

“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.”

This is the crux of the creed.

Man is subjected to the pull of evil vices – power, greed, shortsightedness, impatience, imprudence.

The Constitution is the conscience of America, Americans and its leaders.

The Constitution is the governor upon the men who govern.

God Bless,

Janine Turner
Friday, August 6th, 2010


Guest Essayist: Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D., Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia

Federalist # 73 continues with a discussion of the President, dealing particularly with the independence of the executive branch of government and the relevance of the veto power.  As readers will know, Hamilton, more than any other Founding Father, believes in the importance of centralized authority within the federal system, even to the extent of flirting with monarchy.  Although he is writing as PUBLIUS, and reflects to a certain degree, the views of his colleagues, John Jay and James Madison, let me forewarn readers of concerns that most particularly should exercise our minds when reviewing the powers of any centralized presidential authority.

“In constraining any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no better end in all his actions, than private interest” (David Hume, 1752).  “It is better to keep the wolf out the fold, than to trust to drawing his teeth and claws after he shall have entered” (Thomas Jefferson 1782).  “The very principle of constitutional government requires it to be assumed that political power will be abused to promote the particular purposes of the holder; not because it always is so, but because such is the natural tendency of things, to guard against which is the especial use of free institutions” (John Stuart Mill 1861). So we have been warned!

Now let us review Hamilton’s reasoning in Federalist # 73 in the light of subsequent experience.  As to the issue of support, I have no problem.  Hamilton correctly defends Article II, Section 1, clause 7 of the proposed constitution confirming that the President’s compensation for his services shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which he has been elected, and shall constitute his sole emolument from the United States or any individual state.  This protection and constraint is essential to avoid excessive pressure being placed on the President by Congress to pursue goals that others are determined to achieve.  What could not be foreseen, in the late eighteenth-century, is the degree to which the promise of high post-presidential monetary returns may influence the behavior in office of any sitting president.  Presidential libraries, for example, play a significant role in determining the evaluated legacy of any president.  Such libraries are exorbitantly expensive to establish and to maintain.  And no United States president, in recent times, has died in relative poverty – this in sharp contrast to many prime ministers in parliamentary systems of government.

Hamilton’s discussion of Article 1, Section 7 of the proposed constitution is much more interesting.  For here Hamilton balances the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed qualified negative (or veto) power of the President with respect to acts or resolutions of the two houses of the legislature.  In defending this power, Hamilton walks a tight-rope between his belief in strong central authority and his recognition that all political power must be checked and balanced if a republic is long to survive.

In rejecting outright any notion that the president should serve devoid of veto power, Hamilton displays – not without considerable justice in the light of subsequent events – his grave misgivings about the potential for bad behavior of any legislative branch of government.  Instinctively, he recognizes that a largely self-serving legislature would succumb to the temptation to impose its will upon a defenseless president in the absence of presidential armor.  The question, for Hamilton, is only whether that armor should be absolute or qualified.

At this point, in my judgment, Hamilton blinks when confronting the likely true nature of a president’s political role.  Surely he acknowledges some force in the argument that it is ‘not to be presumed a single man would possess more virtue and wisdom than a number of men; and that unless this perception should be entertained, it would be improper to give the executive magistrate any species of control over the legislative body.’  However, he dismisses this concern on the ground that the more significant danger emanates from the predatory ambitions of the legislature.  At the time, the Founders had in mind the name of George Washington, as their most preferred first president.  And few would deny that George Washington was a man of wisdom, impeccable personal integrity, and high honor.  But would one feel as comfortable in making those suppositions about a Ulysses S. Grant, an Andrew Jackson, a Franklin Roosevelt, or a Richard Nixon?  I do not think so.

In any event, thankfully, Hamilton comes down in favor of a qualified-over an absolute-veto, albeit by faulty analysis, and almost certainly because he is writing as PUBLIUS and not as Hamilton.  Hamilton’s concern is not at all over the prospect that an absolute-veto power would be sorely abused – which surely would have proved to be the case – but rather that such a power might be under-utilized by presidents whose scruples might hold them back from exercising powers of such a magnitude.  History advises us that homo politicus pervades the executive branch of government just as much as he pervades the legislative branch.  Presidents would have deployed absolute-veto power quite unscrupulously, as if to the manner born.

The central issue in Federalist # 73 thus centers on the degree to which the veto power is to be qualified.  Hamilton defends the requirement of a two-third majority in each house of the legislature to override a presidential veto and to pass a vetoed-bill into law.  This super-majority, of course, is arbitrary, but, in principle can be justified.

In viewing the legislative process from an economic perspective, it is useful to reflect upon two expected costs of any kind of collective choice.  On the one side, are aggregated expected external costs that collective actions may impose on individual electors.  Expected external costs decline as the requisite vote super-majority increases.  On the other side, are the expected costs of reaching legislative decisions.  These costs increase as the requisite vote-majority increases.  A rational vote-mechanism will try to minimize the joint expected external and decision-making costs.  Evidently, as the salience of an issue rises, so the super-majority vote-requirement should increase.  If, in general, presidents contemplate the veto more with respect to major than to minor bills, then the qualified majority rule is economically justified, because expected external costs are higher in such a situation.

The debate over Hamilton’s defense of the qualified-negative naturally focused on analogies with the British monarchy, with many commentators noting that the unjustifiable rights and privileges of the British monarch should vehemently be denied to any United States president.  For the most part, Hamilton claimed that the veto power was defensive in nature, allowing the president to defend the People against excessive legislative zeal, not to allow the president to impose his own will on the People.  Such arguments prevailed in the ratification process.

With hindsight, however, Hamilton was wrong in this assessment.  The qualified-veto power has provided presidents with considerable opportunities to exercise a third-chamber role in the legislature.  The knowledge, ex ante, that a president will veto an unacceptable bill, forces the legislature to logroll with the president when formulating major bills, in order to anticipate and to frustrate the application of a veto.  Increasingly, unscrupulous presidents have taken advantage of this recognition to shift from defense into aggression in the legislative process not always, by any means, to the advantage of the People.

As the regulatory authority of the executive branch increased – most notably since the Civil War – so the legislative powers of the presidency have advanced, to the extent that, arguably, they now exceed those enjoyed by any British monarch even at the peak of the Divine Right principle.  Health care reform, fiscal stimulus, cap and trade, card-check, and immigration policies have been driven and fashioned, since January 2009, much less by the Democrat-controlled Congress, than by the administration of President Obama.  These policy initiatives, in many respects, may turn out to be inimical to the underlying interests of the People.

Predictably, public officials imbued with power constantly ask for more.  That is the true nature of homo politicus.  Instinctively, therefore, the People – who by nature cherish their lives, liberties and properties – should recoil instinctively from any attempt to extend such power.  The line-item veto is just such an example.

The line-item veto, or partial veto, is the power of an executive authority to nullify or cancel specific provisions of a bill – usually a budget appropriations bill – without vetoing the entire legislative package.  Such line-item vetoes are usually qualified by legislative override provisions.  In 1986, President Ronald Reagan, in his State of the Union Address, asked the Congress for such an authority: “Give me the authority to veto waste, and I’ll take the responsibility, I’ll make the cuts, I’ll take the heat.”  The Congress refused this overture, not least because the Democrat-majority in the House of Representatives sensibly anticipated that much more than waste would be vetoed by this president on the social side of the budget.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton repeated this request in his State of the Union address.  An unwise Congress granted his request in the Line Item Veto Act of 1996.  President Clinton deployed this power 82 times in 11 budget bills, until the United States Supreme Court correctly determined, in 1998, that unilateral amendment or repeal of only parts of a statute violate the Presentment Clause of the Constitution.  Ambitious presidents ceaselessly search for such additional authority.  President George W. Bush once again requested a line-item veto power in 2006, this time setting out a complex process designed to avoid the Supreme Court ruling.  Fortunately, the loss of any Republican-majority in Congress intervened to deny him this dangerous privilege.

The executive branch currently enjoys excessive power in the United States political process, threatening the replacement of the separation of powers by the imposition of an Imperial Presidency.  The People will be wise indeed to constrain, rather than to extend, the powers of the executive branch – not least by revisiting the expansive interpretations of the General Welfare and the Commerce clauses by the Supreme Court – if our precious constitutional republic is long to survive repeated attempts to subvert its original design.

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Charles K. Rowley, Ph.D. is Duncan Black Professor of Economics at George Mason University and General Director of The Locke Institute in Fairfax, Virginia.  He is co-author (with Nathanael Smith) of Economic Contractions in the United States: A Failure of Government. The Locke Institute (#).  He blog s- at #.