In 1787, with America in it’s infancy, the Anti-Federalists wrote responses to the Federalist papers and the Federalist support of what became the U.S. Constitution. The Anti-Federalist response (unlike the Federalist) was not coordinated, but was effective in voicing valid concerns about the formation of our government. Nearly 150 years after the Anti-Federalist papers, Franklin Roosevelt’s (FDR) presidency saw a different era in American History. Our country had evolved to include an economy that involved a stock market, new modes of transportation, and modern aspects to foreign policy. FDR is widely regarded as the most successful president of the 20th century and as one of the top three most successful presidents in U.S. history.
While the concerns of the Anti-Federalists addressed many features of the formation of our government, this paper will focus on the Anti-Federalist concerns over the Executive Office and the presidential term of office, to fit within the parameters of the assignment. Anti-Federalist concerns over the Executive Office will be compared and examined against the FDR presidency, along with the corresponding more modern transitional time in which FDR governed, to provide some insight into the direction our government is headed.
One of the main concerns of the Anti-Federalists, the formation of the Executive Branch and the powers given to this office, was addressed in the Anti-Federalist Paper #67. The paper addresses various fears related to the Executive Office: the election process was not clearly outlined, the length of a presidential term, the likelihood of corruption, favoring of the president’s and vice president’s home state, questioning the need for a vice president, and the Electoral College is not the “immediate choice” of the people. Noted Anti-Federalist Patrick Henry argued, “If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute. The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him … Away with your president! We shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch(1).”
Rawlins Lowndes, in the South Carolina Convention, declared the proposed presidential office “the best preparatory plan for a monarchical government he had read.” Lowndes thought the President resembled the British Monarch so much that he predicted, “As to our changing from a republic to a monarchy, it was what everybody must expect(1).” Anti-Federalist Paper #71 (AFP #71) is specifically critical over the length of term for a president. Anti-Federalists saw any type of rotation of office or term limit as a protection of liberty. AF #71 proposed that the president should serve only a one year term and be chosen successively from different states. Lastly AFP#71 criticizes the proposed wording regarding the four year term limits and moreso looks for clarification as to the proposed term limits and elections for the executive office.
Alexander Hamilton took up the mantle of the Office of the President in Federalist Papers #67 – 77, specifically addressing the duration in Office for the President in Federalist Paper #71 (FP#71). In the conflict of the public’s interest versus the public welfare, Hamilton sides with the public welfare. Hamilton thought the opinion of the people should not guide the elected President. Thus, the President should have mechanisms in place to shield him from the public’s backlash, which is why he initially argued for a life-long term. If the term is too short, the President would only do what was popular(2). Hamilton did not pursue the life-long term, realizing it was not politically feasible. Still, he gained the reputation as “monarch sympathizer”.
He mocked those who equated the authority of the President with that of a hereditary British King in his essays. As a strategy, Hamilton inflated the monarchy’s powers in his essays so as to make the powers of the presidency, which he wished to be extensive, seem relatively modest(2). I see the concerns of the Anti-Federalists about the Executive Office as being valid but not relevant. The Anti-Federalist point of view is understandable given the history and context of America; but the Federalists address the concerns and put forth a more compelling argument. To this day, we continually see people vote against their better interests. Hamilton identified this idea in FP#71 and saw a duty of the President “to be the guardians of those interests”. Hamilton did not want to “justify any alarm for public liberty” and saw four years as reasonable term for a President to be effective while still being accountable to the people.
The Anti-Federalist proposal of one year would have rendered the Office ineffective and seems almost mistrustful. Hamilton fails to make clear is the difference between a representative democracy and a monarchy; the public can simply vote out the incumbent at any election. Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency has previously been identified as one of the most successful presidencies in U.S. history. FDR’s presidency would most likely be identified with Hamilton’s vision of the Executive Office than Patrick Henry’s vision. While there may not be a causal relationship between FDR’s success and Hamilton vision of the Office, the two are definitely correlated. FDR’s presidency oversaw a transitional time in American History. This time lends itself as part of the “necessity” for Roosevelt’s four terms.
The two great crises that led to Roosevelt’s four terms were The Great Depression and World War II. Roosevelt’s New Deal relates to Hamilton’s presidential duty of guarding the public interest. Despite the millions of Americans that found relief through the programs in the New Deal many Conservatives were still against it(3). Roosevelt’s second election made clear was that because of FDR and the New Deal, the Democratic Party was now the majority party in the nation. Roosevelt had put together the “New Deal Coalition,” an alliance of voters from different regions of the country and from racial, religious and ethnic groups(3). The coalition combined southern Protestants, northern Jews, Catholics and blacks from urban areas, labor union members, small farmers in the middle west and Plains states, and liberals and radicals. Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition resulted in an FDR receiving the type of autonomy Hamilton felt the Executive Office needed to be effective.
The back and forth between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists led to a formation of government that protects and embodies American values: representative government, with checks and balances, both the government and the governed are subject to law, patriotism, individual rights, popular sovereignty, common good, justice. The question that should then be asked is “Why is it that our Government does not always embody and protect these values?” Someone can easily point out instances when our government lapsed in upholding these values. I contend the issue is not with the representative democracy, but with the representatives. We should then place higher value on those representatives that consistently uphold these values.
We should look to keep those elected officials – our representatives – that prove to be good, competent, passionate, engaged public servants. Our government is the only industry that I can think of that devalues experience. Rather than placing term limits on valued representatives, should we not look to promote an environment that values experience? If constant fundraising and corporate money pollute the environment, then campaign finance reform – not term limits – should be pursued. If lobbyists and special interest groups bring excessive influence on the public’s representative, then further reforms – not term limits – should be pursued. Term limits devalue the experience of elected officials and further reduces the pool of competent candidates.
The clown car of candidates from Republican Party in this election season shows a need (among other things) for more seasoned, polished candidates. In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, President Clinton waxed poetically about the possibilities of changes to the 22nd Amendment, citing better health and longer life spans among the reasons. I see our current President as a strong argument against term limits. While the American people were willing to invest in Barack Obama’s potential, there is no doubt his youth and inexperience played a significant role in the challenges he faced over his first term. I also believe that four years from now the American public will have a much different view of this President. Shouldn’t the American public have the choice to capitalize on investing in Barack Obama’s potential?
Questions for Thought
1. Do you think term limits help prevent a monarchy in U.S.? Why or Why not? 2. What are the effects of term limits with a new government? Do those effects differ from a more established government? 3. What would you amend to the U.S. Constitution?
1. Prochaska, Frank. The American Monarchy. History Today. Vol. 57, 8. 2.
Scott, Kyle. August 4, 2010 – Federalist Paper No. 71 – The Duration in Office of the Executive, From the New York Packet (Hamilton) – Guest Blogger: Kyle Scott, PhD, Professor in the Political Science Department and Honors College at the University of Houston. Constituting America. [Online] August 4, 2010. http://www.constitutingamerica.org/blog/blog/2011/03/06/august-4-2010-%E2%80%93-federalist-paper-no-71-%E2%80%93-the-duration-in-office-of-the-executive-from-the-new-york-packet-hamilton-%E2%80%93-guest-blogger-kyle-scott-phd-professor-in-the-polit/. 3. American President: Franklin Roosevelt. Miller Center: University of Virginia. [Online] [Cited: September 29, 2012.] http://millercenter.org/president/fdroosevelt.