In an earlier essay, the Federal Farmer argued that appointed officers would have too much power in the constitutional system and that there should be provisions made to reduce it.

In his fourteen letter dated Jan. 17, 1788, he further expounded on his view that it was too much authority to bequeath to a single section of the federal government. As part of the solution, he suggested the appointment power should be divided.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate has the sole authority to authorize office amendments, even though the president nominated them. Without the Senate’s consent, the person could not take up the office.

The Federal Farmer felt this arrangement was ill advised.

“The probability is, as the constitution now stands, that the senate, a branch of the legislature, will be tenacious of the power of appointment, and much too sparingly part with a share of it to the courts of law, and heads of departments. Here again the impropriety appears of the senate’s having, generally, a share in the appointment of officers.”

While he felt that lower officer roles within the judiciary and state departments could be filled by those running them, he argued for “distributing appointments, as circumstances may require, into several hands, in a well formed disinterested legislature.”

To do so would help preserve “the balance in government,” he added.

“A feeble executive may be strengthened and supported by placing in its hands more numerous appointments; an executive too influential may be reduced within proper bounds, by placing many of the inferior appointments in the courts of law, and heads of departments; nor is there much danger that the executive will be wantonly weakened or strengthened by the legislature, by thus shifting the appointments of inferior officers, since all must be done by legislative acts, which cannot be passed without the consent of the executive, or the consent of two thirds of both branches—a good legislature will use this power to preserve the balance and perpetuate the government. Here again we are brought to our ultimatum:—is the legislature so constructed as to deserve our confidence? (bold emphasis added)

An existing example of distributed appointment power was found with militia officers, who were chosen exclusively by the state governments. Consolidating that power was “dangerous when collected into the hands of one or a few men,” the farmer argued.

Advocates of the Constitution felt that the setup created proper checks and balance, for while the Senate had the power over office appointments, the House had the power of the purse strings. In the same way, the Senate alone could remove a president from office, but only if the House first voted to impeach them.

Nevertheless, the Federal Farmer believed some nuance was necessary (bold emphasis added):

It is a good general rule, that the legislative, executive, and judicial powers, ought to be kept distinct; but this, like other general rules, has its exceptions; and without these exceptions we cannot form a good government, and properly balance its parts: and we can determine only from reason, experience, and a critical inspection of the parts of the government, how far it is proper to intermix those powers.

“We may, I believe, presume that the federal legislature will possess sufficient knowledge and discernment to make judicious appointments: however, as these appointments by the legislature tend to increase a mixture of power, to lessen the advantages of impeachments and responsibility, I would by no means contend for them any further than it may be necessary for reducing the power of the executive within the bounds of safety.

Put in simpler terms, the Federal Farmer thought in the case of office appointment, the powers should be spread out, rather than kept confined to a single section of the federal government if proper checks and balances were to be maintained. 

TJ Martinell

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