America 's Search for a Constitutional Executive
The Founders of America did not have a very good experience with executives, either in their study of history or in their own day. Whether they were known as kings, monarchs, protectorates, dictators, tyrants, or whatever else, the Founders knew that once a person comes into some authority either by choice of the people or by conquest, he almost always begins to accumulate more and more authority over those whom he governs. They knew it was the nature of mortal man.
Itemizing the tyranny of King George III
No better record exists showing the tyrannical actions of a run-away ruler than what the Founders themselves itemized in the Declaration of Independence. They listed about thirty grievances against the king. The Founders surely recognized that this is the pattern of power-hungry executives. Below are listed seventeen of the thirty grievances. As you read and ponder them, perhaps you will sense that most of them sound very familiar to modern-day Americans because they seem to recur every time an executive begins to act like a dictator. The Founders wrote:
He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.
He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:
For protecting them, by a mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states;
For imposing taxes on us without our consent;
For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury;
For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments;
For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.
In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms. Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.
The Decision not to even have an Executive
in the new American Government
As a result of their fear of runaway executives, the Founders decided to not even have an executive in their new government. They would go with just a loose confederation of states in the Articles of Confederation. Surely this would solve the problem of those ever-power-hungry executives. But it was not long before some of them realized this was a wrong decision. How do you fight a war with no civilian authority in charge who could make and enforce decisions? While General Washington and his men were out in the field bleeding and starving and freezing to death, the states were arguing over who would send supplies and the congress was powerless to enforce any request.
A Hard Lesson results in a Wise Decision
As happens with many lessons in life, the process of learning those lessons is a great teacher. Perhaps the Founders had to learn this way, but it almost made them lose the Revolutionary War. During the war they always seemed to be on the razors edge of defeat. When the Founders finally decided to do something about the Articles of Confederation, one of the first problems they tackled was the lack of an executive. They decided an executive branch was necessary. But should it be a multiple executive? And how should the executive be chosen? All of those questions took a lot of debates to answer. In the end, the decision was reached by consensus that there should be one president, but only if the Constitution held him tightly to a very few enumerated areas of responsibility. They also invented a system of checks to make it as tight as possible to prevent a president from amassing too much power. He could not do the things that kings were so fond of doing throughout history. He could not make law, he could not build himself an army, he could not decide to go to war, he could not interfere with the economy, etc. In fact, the Founders gave him the power to function in only six areas:
He is the Chief of State and represents America to the world.
He is the Commander-in-chief of the military which Congress would control.
He is the CEO of the executive branch.
He is the chief diplomat of the United States , but any agreement with another nation must be ratified by the Senate.
He recommends to Congress legislation he feels the nation needs.
He represents the conscience of the nation in granting pardons and reprieves.
An effective executive reflects a special
talent in working with people
A truly effective executive is a problem solver. He recognizes the true nature of a problem by shining light on it from all angles, making sure, as much as possible, that there are no hidden shadows that would upset the solution once found. He has much experience in gathering the facts and listening to different points of view. He surrounds himself with people who have the welfare of the whole in mind without being slanted by personal agenda. He recognizes that human nature exists in everyone and that most people, while perhaps thinking they are objective, many times represent one side of the problem or solution.
An effective executive, especially in government, recognizes that there are people on both sides of issues, sometimes representing philosophies of competing political parties. Perhaps they could be represented by the two wings of the American Eagle.
Wing # 1 might be thought of as the wing of compassion. It represents the philosophy that government should solve everyone's problems and they dream of elaborate problems to try to do that. If left uncontrolled, this wing would head directly to tyrannical executive.
Wing # 2 might be thought of as the wing of conservation. It represents the philosophy that government should do very little. If this wing were the only one functioning, the people would lose confidence in government, take matters into their own hands which in turn would lead toward anarchy.
If either of these wings fails to do its part, the eagle will soar to one direction or the other. But as long as both wings are operative and work in conjunction with each other, the American Eagle will fly straight upward.
This is the work of a great executive-to keep both wings operative and flying in a symmetrical, coordinated pattern. It is not an easy task, given the sometimes strong opinions of people.
Perhaps likening an executive to a seasoned judge is instructive. A good and effective judge will listen to both sides, each represented by an advocate. He will weigh the evidence, study the law, meditate on possible solutions, consider the effect of solutions on both sides, and make a decision which preserves both law and equity or fairness. This is what the Founders envisioned for an executive in his limited role as president of the United States of America .
Jefferson expresses the need
to maintain balance in government
In a conversation with President Washington, Thomas Jefferson expressed concern over the growing presence of those who want more centralized, powerful government:
"There does not pass a week, in which we cannot prove declarations dropping from the monarchical party that our government is good for nothing, is a milk and water thing which cannot support itself, we must knock it down, and set up something of more energy."
Jefferson later expressed concern over a growing number from his own party, which if left unchecked could lead to anarchy:
"I see with infinite pain the bloody schism which has taken place among our friends in Pennsylvania and New York , and will probably take place in other States. The main body of both sections mean well, but their good intentions will produce a great public evil."
Jefferson wisely saw the need for maintaining the government in the balanced center of the political spectrum where the Constitution had placed it. In 1803, he wrote:
"Our business is to march straight forward ... without turning either to the right or left."
The delicate nature of exercising executive power
Suppose you were the captain of a huge barge loaded with grain and headed down the Mississippi River when you suddenly realized you were going in the wrong direction. What do you do? Cramming it immediately into reverse would cause irreparable damage. You must gradually slow it down, turn it round and then make your way back up river. That takes skill and time. It takes an experienced captain.
America must choose an experienced captain for its next executive to carefully navigate the political waters which are so turbulent and filled with danger and intrigue. If we have as our leader for the next four years, a person who has already failed as an executive or one who has never had executive experience, it will be like appointing a person to be a judge on the Supreme Court who has never been a judge! Only more disaster looms.
Surely the American people need to use great wisdom in the choice we make in the upcoming elections. The Founders would no doubt recommend we choose someone who reverences the constitutional limitations of the executive and at the same time has the wisdom and experience necessary to gradually restore America to its proven greatness.
Earl Taylor, Jr.