Alan Keyes
Hamilton and the ongoing crisis of the presidency
By Alan Keyes
June 4, 2018

In an article last week, I lament the ongoing elitist faction assault on the presidency. To write it, I revisited, as I often do, good arguments from America's founding generation. Its leading lights often proved to be deeply thoughtful individuals. This thoughtfulness showed itself in a reliable "reverence for the laws...inculcated by the voice of enlightened reason" (James Madison, Federalist 49). But it was also on display in their appreciation for the inevitable, often decisive influence of passions and prejudices on the course of human events and decision-making, particularly when the same feelings are shared by many.

These somewhat contradictory habits of thought led them to a disciplined way of reasoning. It realistically appraises the communicative forces at work in human affairs. But it does so without shying away from the work of making out, line by line and brick by brick, practical courses of action. But these actions are not just practical in the sense of getting things done. They also aim to channel humanly motivating forces toward results reasonably consistent with our common sense of goodness and right doing.

Put simply, while our thoughtful founders took account of strong motives of action, they also sought to make provisions for government that would focus deliberate human choice on the good reasons for acting. In proclaiming the premises of American government, and erecting the Constitution's provisions upon those premises, they respected America's passion for liberty. But they also meticulously laid out reasons why any freedoms and ambitions that such passion impels have to be delimited, counter-balanced, and properly constrained to preserve liberty. The idea of checks and balances is the necessary consequence of this thoughtful statecraft. It informs the division, relationships, and mutual responsibilities of the three separate branches of governments in our republic.

I have written previously about the congressional dereliction of duty evident in the House's unwillingness to take responsibility for all aspects of the impeachment process. It is insane to pretend that an officer – formally a subordinate agent of the president's authority – is not subject to his or her commands and the supervision of his or her administrative agents. Proofs of this are in the headlines every day. Why? Because the implicit threat of dismissal is an intrinsic aspect of the executive established by the Constitution.

On the other hand, the potentially adverse political fallout from such dismissal is, as it were, a sword of Damocles, the very prospect of which may be exploited to poison the environment of presidential decision-making. To be sure, the Constitution equips the president with the wherewithal to deploy executive power energetically, as and when the need arises. But to thwart humanly inevitable schemes for permanent dictatorship, it equips the other branches of government to be obstacles to their success.

Members of the federal judiciary may, in any case they have the authority to decide, issue opinions signaling that violations of constitutional arrangements, including individual rights and freedoms, are taking place. They can at least interpose an objection that may suspend or stop the unconstitutional abuse of individual natural or legal persons. They can also warn the people at large that abuses are taking place.

When the people are sufficiently roused to call for action against these abuses, their representatives in Congress have the constitutional power to investigate, impeach, try, and remove any officials they deem responsible for them, including the president and other such high officials. Sworn to uphold the Constitution, members of Congress are bound to act whenever investigation warrants the conclusion that the president, or members of his or her executive body, acting on the president's behalf, have misrepresented, manipulated, or contrived to excuse "the abuse or violation of some public trust," resulting in "injuries done immediately to the society itself" (Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 65).

The judicial and legislative branches of the U.S. government are thus charged to call the president to account for actions that appear to violate the people's trust. But the Constitution specifies no prior constraints on the president's power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment. In light of this power, neither the opinions of judges and justices nor the provisions of law and the Constitution prevent a president from taking whatever actions he or she deems necessary to fulfill his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

To see more articles by Dr. Keyes, visit his blog at and his commentary at and

© Alan Keyes


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Alan Keyes

Dr. Keyes holds the distinction of being the only person ever to run against Barack Obama in a truly contested election – featuring authentic moral conservatism vs. progressive liberalism – when they challenged each other for the open U.S. Senate seat from Illinois in 2004... (more)


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