Federalist No. 76: Does the Presidential Appointments Process Guarantee Control of Government?

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
G. Calvin Mackenzie is the Goldfarb
Family Distinguished Professor of Govern-
ment at Colby College. Among his books on
presidential appointments are Innocent
Until Nominated (2001), The In-and-
Outers (1987), and The Politics of
Presidential Appointments (1981).
E-mail: gcmacken@colby.edu
S148 Public Administration Review • December 2011 • Special Issue
G. Calvin Mackenzie
Colby College
Federalist No. 76 describes the process for appointing the
top of‌f‌i cers of government, which was seen as essential
for recruiting the aptitude and tendency toward good
administration.  is essay examines the process as it
has evolved into a series of Herculean tests of political
endurance. Having illuminated the founders’ basic intent
for expeditious and honorable appointments, the analysis
provides a troubling indictment of the continuing
dif‌f‌i culties recruiting, conf‌i rming, and retaining
dedicated citizens as guarantors of liberty.
If only they’d known …
If only they’d known the federal government would
grow to cost more than $3 trillion a year and employ
5 million people.
If only they’d known that a civil service would develop
and yield a constant supply of senior public adminis-
trators with deep experience and high talent.
If only they’d known how dependent the policy-mak-
ing process would become on presidential leadership.
If only they’d known that political parties soon would
emerge and cycles of bitter partisanship would ensue.
If only they’d known that there would be a Cold War,
a Federal Bureau of Investigation, an income tax, nan-
nies, Senate committee staf‌f s, television, f‌i libusters,
and holds.
If only they’d known these things, the authors of the
Federalist Papers might have taken a more jaundiced
view of the Constitution’s design for f‌i lling the highest
of‌f‌i ces in the executive branch. But they could not
have imagined these perplexities of posterity.  e
Constitution they helped write was little more than
a blueprint for a tiny government of slender respon-
sibilities in a country with a small and dispersed
population. As that country and its government has
grown, its Constitution often has been stretched to
the breaking point.  e histor y of the presidential
appointments process is a window on the inevitable
tensions when an eighteenth-century document is the
manual of operations for public administration in the
twenty-f‌i rst.
e framers of the Constitution devoted little thought
or discussion to the structure or operations or staf‌f‌i ng
of the executive branch.  e Constitutional Conven-
tion’s debate on the executive appointments process
was brief and superf‌i cial. James Wilson (PA) and
Charles Pinckney (SC) argued against the Senate’s
advice and consent role, believing, as Madison reports,
that “[g]ood laws are of no ef‌f ect without a good
Executive; and there can be no good executive without
a responsible appointment of of‌f‌i cers to execute.
Responsibility is in such a manner destroyed by such
an agency as the Senate” (1966, 578). But in the
voting on this language, nine states af‌f‌i rmed and only
Pennsylvania and South Carolina opposed.
e Constitution creates no departments or agen-
cies and seems to treat the selection of the of‌f‌i cers of
government as an afterthought:
[ e President] shall nominate, and by and with
the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall ap-
point Ambassadors, other public Ministers and
Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all
other Of‌f‌i cers of the United States, whose Ap-
pointments are not herein otherwise provided
for, and which shall be established by Law: but
the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment
of such inferior Of‌f‌i cers, as they think proper,
in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or
in the Heads of Departments.
e President shall have Power to f‌i ll up all
Vacancies that may happen during the Recess
of the Senate, by granting Commissions which
shall expire at the End of their next Session.
Alexander Hamilton was the driving force behind the
production of the Federalist Papers. He wrote 51 of the
Federalist No. 76: Does the Presidential Appointments Process
Guarantee Control of Government?

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