Federalist Paper 47: The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts

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FEDERALIST No. 47

The Particular Structure of the New Government and the
Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts
For the Independent Journal. 
Wednesday, January 30, 1788. 

MADISON

To the People of the State of New York:

HAVING reviewed the general form of the proposed government and the
general mass of power allotted to it, I proceed to examine the
particular structure of this government, and the distribution of this
mass of power among its constituent parts.

One of the principal objections inculcated by the more respectable
adversaries to the Constitution, is its supposed violation of the
political maxim, that the legislative, executive, and judiciary
departments ought to be separate and distinct. In the structure of the
federal government, no regard, it is said, seems to have been paid to
this essential precaution in favor of liberty. The several departments
of power are distributed and blended in such a manner as at once to
destroy all symmetry and beauty of form, and to expose some of the
essential parts of the edifice to the danger of being crushed by the
disproportionate weight of other parts.

No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is
stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than
that on which the objection is founded. The accumulation of all powers,
legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of
one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective,
may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. Were the
federal Constitution, therefore, really chargeable with the accumulation
of power, or with a mixture of powers, having a dangerous tendency to
such an accumulation, no further arguments would be necessary to inspire
a universal reprobation of the system. I persuade myself, however, that
it will be made apparent to every one, that the charge cannot be
supported, and that the maxim on which it relies has been totally
misconceived and misapplied. In order to form correct ideas on this
important subject, it will be proper to investigate the sense in which
the preservation of liberty requires that the three great departments of
power should be separate and distinct.

The oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject is the
celebrated Montesquieu. If he be not the author of this invaluable
precept in the science of politics, he has the merit at least of
displaying and recommending it most effectually to the attention of
mankind. Let us endeavor, in the first place, to ascertain his meaning
on this point.

The British Constitution was to Montesquieu what Homer has been to the
didactic writers on epic poetry. As the latter have considered the work
of the immortal bard as the perfect model from which the principles and
rules of the epic art were to be drawn, and by which all similar works
were to be judged, so this great political critic appears to have viewed
the Constitution of England as the standard, or to use his own
expression, as the mirror of political liberty; and to have delivered,
in the form of elementary truths, the several characteristic principles
of that particular system. That we may be sure, then, not to mistake his
meaning in this case, let us recur to the source from which the maxim
was drawn.

On the slightest view of the British Constitution, we must perceive that
the legislative, executive, and judiciary departments are by no means
totally separate and distinct from each other. The executive magistrate
forms an integral part of the legislative authority. He alone has the
prerogative of making treaties with foreign sovereigns, which, when
made, have, under certain limitations, the force of legislative acts.
All the members of the judiciary department are appointed by him, can be
removed by him on the address of the two Houses of Parliament, and form,
when he pleases to consult them, one of his constitutional councils. One
branch of the legislative department forms also a great constitutional
council to the executive chief, as, on another hand, it is the sole
depositary of judicial power in cases of impeachment, and is invested
with the supreme appellate jurisdiction in all other cases. The judges,
again, are so far connected with the legislative department as often to
attend and participate in its deliberations, though not admitted to a
legislative vote.

From these facts, by which Montesquieu was guided, it may clearly be
inferred that, in saying "There can be no liberty where the legislative
and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of
magistrates," or, "if the power of judging be not separated from the
legislative and executive powers," he did not mean that these
departments ought to have no PARTIAL AGENCY in, or no CONTROL over, the
acts of each other. His meaning, as his own words import, and still more
conclusively as illustrated by the example in his eye, can amount to no
more than this, that where the WHOLE power of one department is
exercised by the same hands which possess the WHOLE power of another
department, the fundamental principles of a free constitution are
subverted. This would have been the case in the constitution examined by
him, if the king, who is the sole executive magistrate, had possessed
also the complete legislative power, or the supreme administration of
justice; or if the entire legislative body had possessed the supreme
judiciary, or the supreme executive authority. This, however, is not
among the vices of that constitution. The magistrate in whom the whole
executive power resides cannot of himself make a law, though he can put
a negative on every law; nor administer justice in person, though he has
the appointment of those who do administer it. The judges can exercise
no executive prerogative, though they are shoots from the executive
stock; nor any legislative function, though they may be advised with by
the legislative councils. The entire legislature can perform no
judiciary act, though by the joint act of two of its branches the judges
may be removed from their offices, and though one of its branches is
possessed of the judicial power in the last resort. The entire
legislature, again, can exercise no executive prerogative, though one of
its branches constitutes the supreme executive magistracy, and another,
on the impeachment of a third, can try and condemn all the subordinate
officers in the executive department.

The reasons on which Montesquieu grounds his maxim are a further
demonstration of his meaning. "When the legislative and executive powers
are united in the same person or body," says he, "there can be no
liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest THE SAME monarch or senate
should ENACT tyrannical laws to EXECUTE them in a tyrannical manner."
Again: "Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life
and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for
THE JUDGE would then be THE LEGISLATOR. Were it joined to the executive
power, THE JUDGE might behave with all the violence of AN OPPRESSOR."
Some of these reasons are more fully explained in other passages; but
briefly stated as they are here, they sufficiently establish the meaning
which we have put on this celebrated maxim of this celebrated author. 
                                                                
If we look into the constitutions of the several States, we find that,
notwithstanding the emphatical and, in some instances, the unqualified
terms in which this axiom has been laid down, there is not a single
instance in which the several departments of power have been kept
absolutely separate and distinct. New Hampshire, whose constitution was
the last formed, seems to have been fully aware of the impossibility and
inexpediency of avoiding any mixture whatever of these departments, and
has qualified the doctrine by declaring "that the legislative,
executive, and judiciary powers ought to be kept as separate from, and
independent of, each other AS THE NATURE OF A FREE GOVERNMENT WILL
ADMIT; OR AS IS CONSISTENT WITH THAT CHAIN OF CONNECTION THAT BINDS THE
WHOLE FABRIC OF THE CONSTITUTION IN ONE INDISSOLUBLE BOND OF UNITY AND
AMITY." Her constitution accordingly mixes these departments in several
respects. The Senate, which is a branch of the legislative department,
is also a judicial tribunal for the trial of impeachments. The
President, who is the head of the executive department, is the presiding
member also of the Senate; and, besides an equal vote in all cases, has
a casting vote in case of a tie. The executive head is himself
eventually elective every year by the legislative department, and his
council is every year chosen by and from the members of the same
department. Several of the officers of state are also appointed by the
legislature. And the members of the judiciary department are appointed
by the executive department.

The constitution of Massachusetts has observed a sufficient though less
pointed caution, in expressing this fundamental article of liberty. It
declares "that the legislative department shall never exercise the
executive and judicial powers, or either of them; the executive shall
never exercise the legislative and judicial powers, or either of them;
the judicial shall never exercise the legislative and executive powers,
or either of them." This declaration corresponds precisely with the
doctrine of Montesquieu, as it has been explained, and is not in a
single point violated by the plan of the convention. It goes no farther
than to prohibit any one of the entire departments from exercising the
powers of another department. In the very Constitution to which it is
prefixed, a partial mixture of powers has been admitted. The executive
magistrate has a qualified negative on the legislative body, and the
Senate, which is a part of the legislature, is a court of impeachment
for members both of the executive and judiciary departments. The members
of the judiciary department, again, are appointable by the executive
department, and removable by the same authority on the address of the
two legislative branches. Lastly, a number of the officers of government
are annually appointed by the legislative department. As the appointment
to offices, particularly executive offices, is in its nature an
executive function, the compilers of the Constitution have, in this last
point at least, violated the rule established by themselves.

I pass over the constitutions of Rhode Island and Connecticut, because
they were formed prior to the Revolution, and even before the principle
under examination had become an object of political attention.

The constitution of New York contains no declaration on this subject;
but appears very clearly to have been framed with an eye to the danger
of improperly blending the different departments. It gives,
nevertheless, to the executive magistrate, a partial control over the
legislative department; and, what is more, gives a like control to the
judiciary department; and even blends the executive and judiciary
departments in the exercise of this control. In its council of
appointment members of the legislative are associated with the executive
authority, in the appointment of officers, both executive and judiciary.
And its court for the trial of impeachments and correction of errors is
to consist of one branch of the legislature and the principal members of
the judiciary department.

The constitution of New Jersey has blended the different powers of
government more than any of the preceding. The governor, who is the
executive magistrate, is appointed by the legislature; is chancellor and
ordinary, or surrogate of the State; is a member of the Supreme Court of
Appeals, and president, with a casting vote, of one of the legislative
branches. The same legislative branch acts again as executive council of
the governor, and with him constitutes the Court of Appeals. The members
of the judiciary department are appointed by the legislative department
and removable by one branch of it, on the impeachment of the other.

According to the constitution of Pennsylvania, the president, who is the
head of the executive department, is annually elected by a vote in which
the legislative department predominates. In conjunction with an
executive council, he appoints the members of the judiciary department,
and forms a court of impeachment for trial of all officers, judiciary as
well as executive. The judges of the Supreme Court and justices of the
peace seem also to be removable by the legislature; and the executive
power of pardoning in certain cases, to be referred to the same
department. The members of the executive counoil are made EX-OFFICIO
justices of peace throughout the State.

In Delaware, the chief executive magistrate is annually elected by the
legislative department. The speakers of the two legislative branches are
vice-presidents in the executive department. The executive chief, with
six others, appointed, three by each of the legislative branches
constitutes the Supreme Court of Appeals; he is joined with the
legislative department in the appointment of the other judges.
Throughout the States, it appears that the members of the legislature
may at the same time be justices of the peace; in this State, the
members of one branch of it are EX-OFFICIO justices of the peace; as are
also the members of the executive council. The principal officers of the
executive department are appointed by the legislative; and one branch of
the latter forms a court of impeachments. All officers may be removed on
address of the legislature.

Maryland has adopted the maxim in the most unqualified terms; declaring
that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government ought
to be forever separate and distinct from each other. Her constitution,
notwithstanding, makes the executive magistrate appointable by the
legislative department; and the members of the judiciary by the
executive department.

The language of Virginia is still more pointed on this subject. Her
constitution declares, "that the legislative, executive, and judiciary
departments shall be separate and distinct; so that neither exercise the
powers properly belonging to the other; nor shall any person exercise
the powers of more than one of them at the same time, except that the
justices of county courts shall be eligible to either House of Assembly."
Yet we find not only this express exception, with respect to the
members of the irferior courts, but that the chief magistrate, with his
executive council, are appointable by the legislature; that two members
of the latter are triennially displaced at the pleasure of the
legislature; and that all the principal offices, both executive and
judiciary, are filled by the same department. The executive prerogative
of pardon, also, is in one case vested in the legislative department.

The constitution of North Carolina, which declares "that the
legislative, executive, and supreme judicial powers of government ought
to be forever separate and distinct from each other," refers, at the
same time, to the legislative department, the appointment not only of
the executive chief, but all the principal officers within both that and
the judiciary department.

In South Carolina, the constitution makes the executive magistracy
eligible by the legislative department. It gives to the latter, also,
the appointment of the members of the judiciary department, including
even justices of the peace and sheriffs; and the appointment of officers
in the executive department, down to captains in the army and navy of
the State.

In the constitution of Georgia, where it is declared "that the
legislative, executive, and judiciary departments shall be separate and
distinct, so that neither exercise the powers properly belonging to the
other," we find that the executive department is to be filled by
appointments of the legislature; and the executive prerogative of pardon
to be finally exercised by the same authority. Even justices of the
peace are to be appointed by the legislature.

In citing these cases, in which the legislative, executive, and
judiciary departments have not been kept totally separate and distinct,
I wish not to be regarded as an advocate for the particular
organizations of the several State governments. I am fully aware that
among the many excellent principles which they exemplify, they carry
strong marks of the haste, and still stronger of the inexperience, under
which they were framed. It is but too obvious that in some instances the
fundamental principle under consideration has been violated by too great
a mixture, and even an actual consolidation, of the different powers;
and that in no instance has a competent provision been made for
maintaining in practice the separation delineated on paper. What I have
wished to evince is, that the charge brought against the proposed
Constitution, of violating the sacred maxim of free government, is
warranted neither by the real meaning annexed to that maxim by its
author, nor by the sense in which it has hitherto been understood in
America. This interesting subject will be resumed in the ensuing paper.

PUBLIUS 

____

Federalist Paper 47: The Particular Structure of the New Government and the Distribution of Power Among Its Different Parts


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THE FEDERALIST PAPERS
by Hamilton, Jay, and Madison
The Federalist Papers Forum

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