Federalist No. 70: Is the President Too Powerful?


James P. Pfiffner is the University Professor and director of the doctoral program in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University. In 2007, he was the S. T. Lee Professorial Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of London. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including Power Play: The Bush Administration and the Constitution (2008) and Torture as Public Policy (2010).


Federalist No. 70 sets the stage for a powerful chief executive through its emphasis on energy in the executive. This essay reviews the challenges of holding this energy accountable in a republican form of government and concludes that recent presidents have stretched their authorities beyond even the most aggressive defense of the concept. Comparing presidents Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush, the author concludes that the founders never intended to give any president authority to suspend the law during emergencies. His appendix to Federalist No. 70 is designed to both restate and reset the debate about just how far presidents may go in pursuit of national goals.