The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 76

Summary

Hamilton defends the power of the president to appoint public officials with the advice and consent of the Senate. Hamilton argues that there are only three options for arranging the “power of appointment.” The power can be entrusted to a single man, a select assembly or a single man with the concurrence of the assembly. Hamilton rejects the first two options. An assembly is likely to be subject to the influence of faction and partisanship, making difficult any impartial selection of officers on the basis of merit. On the other hand, leaving the decision to a single man might result in favoritism and corruption clouding the selection of officers. According to Hamilton, granting the nominating power to the president and the ratifying power to the senate is the best strategy for avoiding these defects.

Another objection to this arrangement centered on fears that the president would be able to pressure the senate to support a corrupt or unfit candidate. In response, Hamilton asserts that there will always be at least some virtue in the senators to ensure this does not happen.

Analysis

Once again, this paper illustrates the importance of the guiding principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. Hamilton sees potential for defects in both the presidency and the Senate. Therefore, neither can be entrusted with all the power of appointment. This further underscores the important role compromise and pragmatism played in the design of the Constitution. The founders never claimed that the political system they created would be perfect or risk-free. Rather, they were animated by the belief that the only reliable way to limit abuses of power was to ensure that the various branches of government had both the incentive and the ability to keep an eye on one another.

It is interesting to note that Hamilton’s prediction of partisan concerns delaying or complicating the appointment of public officials has come true in recent American history. It is not uncommon for the appointment of officials to key positions in the national bureaucracy to be held up by political opponents of the president. Hamilton had hoped that giving the Senate power to approve presidential appointees would serve as a check on corruption. Unfortunately, senators in both political parties have often used their powers over the ratification process as a way to score cheap political points. Appointments are often held up on the basis of political squabbles rather than concerns about the appointee's character or fitness for office.