Federalist No. 67: Can the Executive Sustain Both Republican and Energetic Government?

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
Rogan Kersh is associate dean and a
professor of public policy in the Wagner
School of Public Service at New York Uni-
versity. He has written widely on American
political development, including the
book-length Dreams of a More Perfect
Union (2001), as well as on U.S. political
institutions and public policy.
E-mail: rogan.kersh@nyu.edu
S90 Public Administration Review • December 2011 • Special Issue
Rogan Kersh
New York University
Federalist No. 67 generally is read as a vigorous defense
of the chief executive and contains intense language to
alleviate fears of a dictatorial president. However, it
also can be read as a much deeper explication of the
blend of republican and energetic government.  e
author examines this defense within the larger stream
of Federalist Papers and compares the Anti-Federalist
attacks against a strong executive and Alexander
Hamilton’s aggressive justif‌i cations.
F ederalist No. 67 traditionally is read as Publius’s
vigorous defense of the chief executive envis-
aged under the new Constitution. Addressing a
specif‌i c Anti-Federalist opponent, the writer “Cato,”
Alexander Hamilton employs some of e Federalist’s
most withering language in seeking to alleviate fears of
a dictatorial president.
Yet, as with many of the Federalist Papers, a close
reading of No. 67 reveals deeper layers of mean-
ing. Hamilton-as-Publius’s spirited defense of an
active but restrained executive af‌f‌i rms the framers’
unorthodox blend of republican and “energetic”
government, and also hints at the desirable extent
of executive authority in a separated powers system
(today debated in terms of the “unitary executive”).
Additionally—and arguably more than any other
Federalist entry—No. 67 exemplif‌i es the consti-
tutional framers’ distinctive approach to political
contest and debate. While disagreeing forthrightly
with Cato’s arguments, Hamilton takes pains to
reassert the Federalist Papers’ general spirit of comity
and consensus.
Ef‌f ective administration of the proposed U.S. na-
tional government relied in signif‌i cant ways on these
paradoxical combinations of divergent parts. Two
and a quarter centuries later, the attentive reader will
f‌i nd Hamilton’s arguments resonant even in a vastly
transformed American polity—especially when read-
ing No. 67 in the larger stream of Federalist Papers.
At the same time, evolving institutional arrangements
and altered political and social contexts lead us to
speculate about how the themes presented in No. 67
could be revisited prof‌i tably today.
is study therefore looks both backward and for-
ward. We f‌i rst address Federalist No. 67’s immediate
context and purpose, reviewing both Cato’s provoca-
tions and Hamilton’s response. Much of the essay is
devoted to a seemingly minor matter, the process of
f‌i lling occasional Senate vacancies (as treated brief‌l y
in Article II, § 2). But Hamilton had an express
reason for dwelling on this topic, as we shall see.  e
second section here employs the Federalist No. 67 lens
through which to address two central—and paradoxi-
cal—themes: “energetic republicanism,” to coin a
phrase anticipated though not articulated as such by
Hamilton; and “agonistic civility,” a second seeming
paradox modeled in No. 67, and one that captures the
framers’ hard-nosed but generous approach to politi-
cal debate.
Building on intriguing parallels between Federalist/
Anti-Federalist skirmishes and scholarly (as well
as partisan) exchanges in the present, this essay’s
concluding section explores each of these themes in
contemporary context. Central arguments intricately
fashioned out of ostensible opposites can be mis-
understood and misused, especially by later genera-
tions. Federalist No. 67, we will suggest, might be
refashioned in subtle ways to speak more directly to
American politics and administration in the twenty-
f‌i rst century.
Immediate Context: Denouncing “Cato”
Opening Federalist No. 67, Publius comes out swing-
ing. “ e writers against the C onstitution,” Ham-
ilton charges, “have taken pains to signalize their
talent of misrepresentation.” Such an aggrieved tone
continues for f‌i ve full paragraphs, in stark distinc-
tion to any other Federalist entry. Why does Publius,
several months into the jointly authored project,
adopt the rhetorical equivalent of battle dress? A
primary reason has to do with the essay’s target. New
York governor George Clinton was a key f‌i gure in
Federalist No. 67: Can the Executive Sustain Both
Republican and Energetic Government?

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