The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 75

Summary

Hamilton defends the treaty-making procedures outlined in the Constitution. He responds to the criticism that the Constitution wrongly mixes the legislative and executive branches of government by affording both a role in making and approving treaties. Hamilton argues that act of treaty-making does not fit neatly into the typical purview of either the executive or legislative branch. Therefore, affording a role to both is appropriate.

Other critics claimed that the power to make treaties should be limited to the president. Hamilton responds that, unlike European monarchs, the president is only in office for a limited period of time. He may therefore be tempted to sign a treaty detrimental to the nation but beneficial to his private interests since he will eventually return to being a private citizen (unlike monarchs). It is therefore necessary that his power be held in check by the legislature.

Others asserted that the Congress should have even greater authority over treaty making. However, Hamilton responds that this would introduce unnecessary delays and inefficiencies to the process and weaken the American negotiating position.

Analysis

This paper returns to an argument that had been previously addressed by other papers: the Constitutional provisions for treaty making. It illustrates the underlying tension built into the Constitution between the energy of government and the separation of powers. On the one hand, the founders wanted to ensure that the executive would be strong enough to negotiate effectively with foreign powers. If the president were too weak, other heads of state might not take him seriously. At the same time, however, the founders wanted to ensure that the president did not become too powerful—hence the role afforded to the Senate in ratifying treaties with foreign powers.

This paper also illuminates one of the most important assumptions underlying the entire American Constitutional system: men are not angels. The founders assumed that politicians would always be tempted to use their power for private gain, even at the expense of the public good. The founders feared that if the President had sole authority to make treaties, as European monarchs do, then he would be tempted to use that power for his own benefit. For example, imagine if present-day Presidents could sign trade agreements with foreign powers that resulted in substantial profits for a corporation in which the President had a personal financial interest. Without the supervisory role played by the Senate, there would be nothing to stop Presidents from using their treaty-making powers as little more than opportunities for self-aggrandizement.