Madison on Separation of Powers

Events of recent weeks necessitate a reminder from Madison on the appropriate division of power in Washington.

In Federalist 47, he emphasizes: “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

The threat of tyranny exists even in a Government chosen by the people. Electoral victory is never a blank check awarded the victor. The Constitution possesses mechanisms to guard against this: “There can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or body of magistrates… if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powersDiversifying the voices heard in government not only helps to prevent one point of view from becoming too strong, but also promotes the affirmative goal of democratizing governmental decision-making”

Our government functions best when both branches acknowledge the equitable division of authority and seek common ground. The demagoguery required to dismiss the legitimate claims of Congress is a distortion of the trust granted the Executive with our vote.

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