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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - “The execution of laws is more important than the making of them”: Reconciling Executive Power with Democracy


Your Administration, will be quoted by Philosophers, as a model, of profound Wisdom; by Politicians, as weak, superficial, and short-sighted.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 3 July 1813

Mr. Jefferson appears to me to be a man who will embody himself with the house of representatives. By weakoning the office of President he will increase his personal power.

John Marshall to Alexander Hamilton, 1 January 1801

But it is not true as is alleged that he [Jefferson] is an enemy to the power of the Executive, or that he is for confounding all the powers in the House of Rs. It is a fact which I have frequently mentioned that while we were in the administration together he was generally for a large construction of the Executive authority, & not backward to act upon it in cases which coincided with his views.

Alexander Hamilton to James Bayard, 16 January 1801

Historians and philosophers have written countless studies of Jefferson's life and ideas, but few have examined Jefferson's understanding of executive power. So, too, with political scientists: in the issue of Presidential Studies Quarterly marking the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, scholars reexamined the presidency as understood by George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris — but not Jefferson. There is a reason for this omission. Jefferson has been remembered by admirers and critics alike as preferring a weak executive, and partisans of feebleness do not make good subjects for studies of the presidency.