Getting Started
History and Constitutional Background
Selection of the President and Term Limits
Presidential Succession
Head of State
Presidential Appointments
Presidential Responsibilities
Interaction with the Legislative Branch
Interaction with the Judicial Branch

Energetic Executive

Debate in the Philadelphia Convention

Alexander Hamilton’s assertion in Federalist No. 70, that “Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government,” and his assumption “that all men of sense will agree in the necessity of an energetic executive,” a virtually undeniable contention, leaves only the inquiry, as he put it, of asking “what are the ingredients which constitute this energy . . . . ” His answer in that Federalist essay, is familiar:  “unity—duration—an adequate provision for its support—competent powers.”

    Federalist No. 70 was devoted, principally, to defending the Framers’ means of providing those “ingredients.”  Unity, Hamilton explained, was achieved in the creation of a single, rather than a plural Presidency.  

    Duration, he argued in Federalist No. 71 and Federalist No. 72, was achieved by the Framers’ structure of the Office of the Presidency—a four- year term and the opportunity for re-eligibility. 

      In Federalist No. 73, Hamilton defended a presidential salary to be determined upon assumption to the office but beyond increase or diminution by Congress during his Presidency, as a means of protecting the independence of the executive who might otherwise be forced to bend to the will of Congress. As Hamilton rightly pointed out, those who have control of a person’s salary have control “over his will.” As for the basic justification for a presidential salary, Hamilton further noted that public service seldom brings fame or glory; thus, compensation for service is office is required and just.  

Hamilton and the Federalist Papers

The President’s “Competent Powers”

     Hamilton also explained in Federalist No. 73, that “competent powers” vested in the President were essential to the maintenance and promotion of an energetic President.  There, he focused principally on the necessity and availability of a “veto power” so that the President could maintain his constitutional powers and independence, and exert his views in reviewing legislation enacted by Congress. In addition to his commentary on competent powers in Federalist No. 73, Hamilton in Federalist No. 69, engaged in a detailed analysis of the President’s powers in both domestic and foreign affairs. Additional commentary in Federalist Papers No. 23, 74 and 75 by Hamilton, and No. 64 by John Jay, left little or no doubt that the President was vested with “competent powers.” 

Federalists v. Anti-Federalists

       As we shall see in the next section, which deals with the Federalists v. the Anti-Federalists, there was little disagreement between the two groups as to the adequacy of presidential power. Indeed, a few Anti-Federalists, without much explanation, expressed fears that the President might be dominated  by the Senate in foreign affairs.  If that were the case, current commentary might be focused on an “Imperial Senate” rather than an “Imperial Presidency.”  

     The term, energetic Presidency, has been invoked in debates about the scope of presidential power for many years.  Some scholars, claiming that the Presidency has seen its powers undermined by an aggressive Congress, have called for more, rather than less, energy in the executive.  Other scholars, on the other hand, have sought to explain that the Framers did, indeed, create an energetic Presidency, but one expected to act within constitutional constraints. 

We turn to that issue in a subsequent section on “The Presidency in Article II.”  We take up the assertion of a powerful Presidency, riding claims of an inherent power, in a subsequent section on the topic of a “Presidential Prerogative.”