In Essay #48, These Departments Should Not Be So Far Separated as to Have No Constitutional Control Over Each Other, James Madison provides some clarification and insights to the doctrine of Separation of Powers.
Madison writes that the principle of republican government does not imply that the three branches need to be completely separate and independent.
The very opposite is true.
In order that this doctrine can operate effectively, each branch of government must have sufficient power to impose some restraints over the other two.
This is the principle of “Checks and Balances.”
Checks and Balances are what makes a Democratic Republic WORK. (They also make the process “messy.”)
The Constitution grants powers to each branch of the government – the most power to the legislative branch.
The legislative branch has the power:
- to make laws,
- to control the money, and
- to control the salaries paid to government authorities.
These powers can be a source of corruption.
Presidential power is simpler and the Constitution clearly defines and limits it.
Judicial power is also simpler, and the Constitution clearly defines and limits that power as well.
* * *
While not covered in Essay #47, it is essential that citizens know and understand the Checks and Balances system as it evolved over the years – both by incorporation into the Constitution and through precedent. (In common law legal systems, a precedent or authority is a legal case that establishes a principle or rule.)
The “Checks and Balances” system keeps the three branches of government in line by the following:
Checks on Congress
- Presidential veto power – a two-thirds vote is required to override a veto;
- The Vice President – Presiding over the senate and the power to break a tie vote;
- The Judicial Branch – The Supreme Court can declare a law unconstitutional. (This power is NOT in the Constitution, but is a precedent established by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury vs Madison.
Checks on the President
- Advice and Consent;
- Commander in Chief;
- Choosing the President in case of an electoral college tie;
- Judicial review (Again – the Marbury vs Madison precedent).
Checks on the Judiciary
Credit for the summary and analysis of Essay #48 is given to Brittany Nelson and Christopher Higgins (second revision 09/15/2011). Weinbloom, Elizabeth ed. “The Federalist Papers Essay #48 Summary and Analysis”. GradeSaver, 30 December 2011 Web. 5 February 2019.