James Madison and his Beliefs on the Role of Congress and Separation of Powers
James Madison remains known as the philosopher-statesman years after his presidential reign in the United States. He was an individual who identified the value of compromise, had strong principles, and he combined these with the practical politician he was, his intellectual knowledge and the creativity of a scholar to execute his rule in the United States and to develop his beliefs towards the separation of power and the role of the Congress (Cash). He is believed to be one of the founding fathers of the political ad constitutional institutions, which continue to shape the direction of the United States progress to this day. In the article “James Madison and the Emergency Powers of the Legislature.” Constitutional Studies developed by Fatovic, the author believes that James Madison was seen as a man who criticized the discretion of power in the United States and aimed at curtailing the power of the executive as much as he could.
According to Fatovic, Madison had arrived at the constitutional convention without the slightest idea concerning the meaning of executive power. Therefore, he remained significantly quiet in the initial debates concerning the scope of executive power. He, however, developed the courage and knowledge base to engage in these debates, and over time his ideas like those of many other participants who were part of the convention started to change gradually over the course of the convention. The expansive view of the executive powers was favored by many delegates including Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, and Alexander Hamilton. His views about the executive powers were relatively and significantly, against the expansive power that was subject to the executive. As Fatovic explains, Madison was for the creation of an independent executive, but he was, however, against the heavy-handed leadership style which Hamilton objected.
The ideas concerning the power of the executive developed by Hamilton at the convention may not be clear, but scholars portray Hamilton as a critic of the power allotted to the executive and the power of discretion that was characteristic of the new government system. According to Fatovic, Hamilton believed that the Congress might never have had the authority for the promotion of the development and construction of roads and canals without a constitutional amendment. He, therefore, remained strict and rigid in the adherence to the establishment of the rules of law throughout the course of his career. He, therefore, went ahead to veto various legislations on the national funding allotted for internal improvements. As Fatovic states Although he consistently refused to justify legislative or executive action by resorting to loose or elastic constructions of the Constitution, he acknowledged the necessity for extra-legal action in exigent circumstances where strict adherence to legal rules would do serious harm (75). It indicates that he aimed at restricting the powers of the executive through the development of constrictions within the constitution.
Madison made sure to make known his views on various aspects of the United States government including religious liberty, checks, and balance, the representative government and factions. However, his thoughts and decisions on the extra-legal action were never evident in his numerous presidential addresses or published essays. According to the article, Madison portrayed strict adherence towards issues that concerned the maintenance of a strict form of fidelity in matters that concern the spirit of law. However, in matters that he viewed as emergencies Madison would even step on the statutes of the law just to address them. Scholars identify instances in Madison s legislative career where the politician made decisions to support legislations which he also viewed to have exceeded the constitutional and legal powers of the lawmaking assembly. Madison believed that deviating from the letter that the law was built on needed to act as a last resort and it needed to be avoided at all costs. However, in instances where he viewed to be emergencies especially the permanent expansion of power Madison was ready to act against the letter of the law. As a liberal advocate for the rights of individuals, Madison believed in the specification of the functions of the state government including the means and ends the government used (Brock and Michelle). Madison showed his strict nature against the expansive power of the arms of the government through his essays and public addresses. He stated in one of his federalists that The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. According to Fatovic, Madison believed that no government could exist in its right unless the government made efforts in the provision of contingencies. He, however, acknowledged that many of the lawmakers, him included were not perfect. Therefore, they were bound to make mistakes especially in developing laws that surrounded the distribution of power within the government. He preferred for the careful spelling out of powers within the government arms to ensure that there was the prevention of issues of abuse that may have resulted from the excessive allocation of power. He, however, admitted that the development of the constitution was not with the needed precision as was necessary.
According to the article, Madison recognized the imperfections that were present when developing laws which could have been due to the faulty mediums through which these laws were developed. He, therefore, cautioned against excessive rigidity in matters power allocation. He identified that the appropriate restrictions on power provided a stringent way of preventing or defending against the abuse of power in cases of emergencies. He, however, recognized that too much restriction on power would have resulted in the very abuses that were being prevented. Therefore, Madison had confidence in the right amount of flexibility and restrictions in the distribution of power among the executive arm of government. He believed that once the right degree of power distribution was identified, then there would be no abuse of power allocated the executive.
The thoughts and ideas of Madison on the Congress and the separation of power between the executive have gradually developed into what is now known as the Madisonian Model. His thoughts find their basis in the sole existence of the executive government at the time when Madison was a philosophical statesman (Seagrave). He analyzed how power was only allotted to the executive and developed the distribution of these powers across three arms of government to ensure that there was no imposition of tyranny by the majority or minority. His ideas are what the United States government continues to be founded on and how the government ensures the protection of the law and the rights of Americans.
Brock, Pam, and Michelle Hite. “Embracing Madison: Constitution Day 2002 features a new James Madison statue for campus, book and speakers.” (2017).
Cash, Jordan. “James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection.” (2016): E23-E24.
Fatovic, Clement. “James Madison and the Emergency Powers of the Legislature.” Constitutional Studies 1.1 (2016): 67-93.
Seagrave, S. Adam. “Madisons Tightrope: The Federal Union and the Madisonian Foundations of Legitimate Government.” Polity 47.2 (2015): 249-272.