The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers Summary and Analysis of Essay 77

Summary

In this final paper on presidential power, Hamilton answers some remaining objections leveled against the executive branch by the anti-federalists. He first speaks of the importance of stability in the administration of the government as a justification for requiring Senate approval to appoint or displace public officials.

He then devotes most of the paper to rejecting the notion that the Senate would have undue influence over the executive in the appointment of officials. He argues that the various honors and emoluments enjoyed by the office of the presidency would more likely grant the president influence over the Senate than the other way around. The role of the Senate is to restrain the president in his powers of appointment when necessary. This does not constitute undue influence. Furthermore, by arranging the power of appointment in such a way as to require both the executive and the legislature to play a role, the constitution essentially guarantees that appointments will become matters of notoriety and thus subject to public scrutiny.

Hamilton compares the appointment process called for in the Constitution to the process observed in the State of New York in order to demonstrate the dangers that would attend to entrusting the process to the complete control of a small council, whose decisions would not be subject to a legislative ratification process. Hamilton asserts that this results in favoritism and corruption dominating the process.

Hamilton concludes this section by claiming that the constitutional provisions for the presidency have successfully incorporated “all the requisites of energy” without violating republican principles of liberty. According to Hamilton, the president will have enough powers to be effective but can still be held accountable (e.g. through impeachment) by the people’s representatives in the legislature.

Analysis

This paper brings to a close a series of papers defending the powers granted to the executive branch and the limits placed on that power. The key principle here is a balance between the need for a powerful and energetic executive, something lacking in the Articles of Confederation, with the imperative of ensuring that the executive does not have enough power to threaten American liberty.

By citing the example of New York State’s process for appointing public officials, Hamilton tries to make this debate more accessible to his New York audience. He makes the somewhat bold assertion that the form of government proposed by the Constitution is superior to New York’s. This example would have been very familiar to Hamilton’s audience.

This paper serves as a reminder that, when analyzing the Federalist Papers, it is important to keep in mind that they were originally published as a series of newspaper editorials intended to convince New Yorkers to ratify the proposed constitution. If one approaches the Papers as a single volume or book addressed to a national audience or later generations of Americans, he or she is likely to be left very confused. Although the Federalist Papers were loosely organized around distinct topics and issues, the individual papers cite a wide range of issues and concerns that are often not directly connected to one another. This reflects the fact that the papers were part of an ongoing public discourse that constantly changed and evolved. The authors were responding to specific criticisms levied against the Constitution by the anti-federalists, who were themselves a large and loosely organized group with disparate concerns and interests. Thus, when studying the Federalist Papers, one of the core challenges for the reader is to distill the broad, unifying themes that tie together the specific arguments advanced by the individual papers.