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James Madison, Executive Power, and the Question of Consistency
Unformatted Document Text:  By Madison’s own admission “he was an advocate for the policy of refining popular appointments by successive filtrations.” He hoped that the mode and means for elections outlined in the Virginia plan would refine the will of the people. He expected that the election of the lower house of the national legislature would produce a group of statesman who would be wiser and more virtuous than those elected on the state level. These men would possess “enlightened views and virtuous sentiments” that would “render them superior to local prejudices and to schemes of injustice.” Since the members of the lower house would be endowed with more wisdom and virtue than state politicians, Madison logically assumed that when they elected the upper house they would refine their choices even more, and choose individuals superior to themselves in wisdom and virtue. This filtration process would continue in the appointments of the judiciary and the executive branch. Each election or appointment would be one step further removed from the people. The individuals chosen through this process would be at each step a degree above those that elected them in terms of their wisdom and virtue. 19 One might conclude from this explanation of the Virginia Plan that Madison thought this mediation of the public will would culminate in the appointment of the most illustrious individuals to the Supreme Court and to the Executive branch, and therefore the occupants of the judiciary and the executive ought to exercise the greatest degree of power. Certainly he thought that George Washington, the man Americans esteemed most for his wisdom and virtue, would become the first chief executive under the new constitution. However, it would be erroneous to think that Madison wanted to give the executive branch the greatest degree of power. Instead, Madison described the upper house of the legislature as “the Great Anchor” of the government. Like an anchor, the Senate, would provide the greatest degree of stability to the Republic, because it would have the weight or power to hold the Republic in place when the storms of factionalism threatened to capsize it or loose it from its moorings and dash it against the rocks of democratic tyranny. 20 Long before Madison researched the history of Ancient Confederations or wrote his famous “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” the Virginian had concluded that in order for the American experiment in 19 James Madison, “Speech,” 31 May, 1787, RFC, 1: 50; .James Madison, “Federalist #10,” The Federalist Papers, 83-84. 20 James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, New York, 24 October, 1787, PJM 10: 212-213. 11

Authors: Edwards, Gregory.
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By Madison’s own admission “he was an advocate for the policy of refining popular appointments by
successive filtrations.” He hoped that the mode and means for elections outlined in the Virginia plan would refine
the will of the people. He expected that the election of the lower house of the national legislature would produce a
group of statesman who would be wiser and more virtuous than those elected on the state level. These men would
possess “enlightened views and virtuous sentiments” that would “render them superior to local prejudices and to
schemes of injustice.” Since the members of the lower house would be endowed with more wisdom and virtue than
state politicians, Madison logically assumed that when they elected the upper house they would refine their choices
even more, and choose individuals superior to themselves in wisdom and virtue. This filtration process would
continue in the appointments of the judiciary and the executive branch. Each election or appointment would be one
step further removed from the people. The individuals chosen through this process would be at each step a degree
above those that elected them in terms of their wisdom and virtue.
One might conclude from this explanation of the Virginia Plan that Madison thought this mediation of the
public will would culminate in the appointment of the most illustrious individuals to the Supreme Court and to the
Executive branch, and therefore the occupants of the judiciary and the executive ought to exercise the greatest
degree of power. Certainly he thought that George Washington, the man Americans esteemed most for his wisdom
and virtue, would become the first chief executive under the new constitution. However, it would be erroneous to
think that Madison wanted to give the executive branch the greatest degree of power.
Instead, Madison described the upper house of the legislature as “the Great Anchor” of the government.
Like an anchor, the Senate, would provide the greatest degree of stability to the Republic, because it would have the
weight or power to hold the Republic in place when the storms of factionalism threatened to capsize it or loose it
from its moorings and dash it against the rocks of democratic tyranny.
Long before Madison researched the history of Ancient Confederations or wrote his famous “Vices of the
Political System of the United States,” the Virginian had concluded that in order for the American experiment in
19
James Madison, “Speech,” 31 May, 1787, RFC, 1: 50; .James Madison, “Federalist #10,” The Federalist Papers,
83-84.
20
James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, New York, 24 October, 1787, PJM 10: 212-213.
11


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