Separation of Powers

- the genius of America's Constitution

America's Founders had just declared themselves free of a tyrannical government. They were determined that such tyranny would never be repeated in this land. Their new charter of government - the Constitution - carefully defined the powers delegated to government. The Founders were determined to bind down the administrators of the federal government with Constitutional chains so that abuse of power in any of its branches would be prevented. The revolutionary idea of separation of powers, although unpopular at first, became a means by which this was to be accomplished.

John Adams, in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, stated: "I call you to witness that I was the first member of Congress who ventured to come out in public, as I did in January 1776, in my 'Thoughts on Government,' ...in favor of a government with three branches, and an independent judiciary..." By the time the Constitution was adopted, the idea was supported by all of the members of the Convention. James Madison, the father of the Constitution, devoted five Federalist Papers (47-51) to an explanation of how the Executive, Legislative, and judicial branches were to be wholly independent of each other, yet bound together through an intricate system of checks and balances. Madison believed that keeping the three branches separated was fundamental to the preservation of liberty. He wrote:

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many... may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

George Washington, in his Farewell Address, reminded Americans of the need to preserve the Founders' system. He spoke of the "love of power and proneness to abuse it which predominates in the human heart" and warned of the "necessity of reciprocal checks of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories and constituting each the guardian ... against invasions by the others." Of such checks and balances through the separation of powers be concluded, "To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them."


Footnote: Our Ageless Constitution, W. David Stedman & La Vaughn G. Lewis, Editors (Asheboro, NC, W. David Stedman Associates, 1987) Part III:  ISBN 0-937047-01-5