The Federalist Papers | Study Guide

Alexander Hamilton

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The Federalist Papers | Essays 70–72 | Summary

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Summary

Essay 70: The Executive Department Further Considered

How strong should the presidency be? This is the basic question Hamilton addresses in Essay 70. As might be expected, Hamilton supports a strong, energetic presidency. He cites the historical example of the ancient Romans, whose republic was often saved by the vigorous action of a single governing official under the title of "dictator."

A multiple executive, however, is inadvisable. Here Roman history cuts the other way. The highest echelon of ancient Roman magistracies, the consulship, was shared each year by two officials. Dissensions between the consuls were often the cause of injury to the Roman Republic. By the same reasoning executive councils are a bad idea for the new American government. Rivalry, differences in opinion, and obfuscation of responsibility are weighty reasons for rejecting this course. The expense of such an expedient also amounts to an argument against it.

Essay 71: The Duration in Office of the Executive

This essay centers on the proposed presidential term of four years' duration. Although Hamilton admits there is no magic number for the president's term of office, he believes four years is a reasonable period in which a president can accumulate experience and maintain stability in the operation of the governmental system.

Essay 72: The Same Subject Continued, and Re-Eligibility of the Executive Considered

This essay and Essay 71 are closely linked. Hamilton believes the re-eligibility of the president for two or more terms of office presents considerable advantages to the nation, which needs experienced executives. Excluding a president from running again would run the risk of diminishing motivations for good behavior, and it would also reduce stability. By contrast, re-eligibility would result in greater independence in the president and greater stability in government.

Analysis

In Essay 70, Hamilton uses examples from ancient Rome to support his contention that the executive branch of government, as headed by the president, must be energetic and vigorous. Somewhat paradoxically, however, Hamilton's first example, which references Roman dictators (such as Cincinnatus and Julius Caesar) is somewhat at odds with his second illustration, in which he refers to the two consuls annually elected to lead the Roman Republic.

The treatment of the president's re-eligibility for election in Essay 72 must now be placed within the context of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1951, which limits the president to two terms. Quite remarkably, the precedent set by George Washington, who retired from office in 1797 after serving two terms, stood the test of time for almost a century and a half. In 1940 President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to a third term, and in 1944 to a fourth. He died in office in April 1945. He is the only president in American history to have served more than two terms.

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