Federalist 76: Ambassadors, Justices and Ministers

There are essentially three ways that we could choose Ambassadors, Justices and Ministers. A single person could choose, a select group of people could choose, or a combination of a single person choosing and a group approving. It is this last arrangement that our Founders settled upon and, according to Hamilton, it is the best way of so doing. As we see again and again, the Founders had a profound understanding of human nature and here Hamilton quotes an earlier paper where it was said that “the true test of a good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.”[1] We can tell a great deal about the person in office by the people with whom he surrounds himself.

You will remember that it was Hamilton who wanted a President who was elected for life, and he was in favor of a strong Presidency. He felt that “one man of discernment is better fitted to analyze and estimate the peculiar qualities adapted to particular offices, than a body of men of equal or perhaps even of superior discernment.” He had earlier argued that the Constitutional process of choosing the President by electors, but making the decision independent from the pressures of direct democracy, would select only the finest persons to the office. If that process is followed, then it is natural that the President, so chosen, will also choose the finest people for his administration.

In addition, he was concerned with the “spirit of cabal and intrigue” that would attend appointments if they were left to larger groups. A group might have more “personal attachments” to satisfy than would the President, and a single person is less likely to be pressured by the “sentiments of friendship and of affection.” Hamilton goes on to discuss the danger of “private and party likings” when making such important decisions. There is no place for party loyalty, or choosing friends on the basis of affection only, in the creation of an efficient administration. We have seen in our recent history precisely what Hamilton was talking about. The pressures of party sometimes lead to the selection of people wholly unsuited for the posts for which they have been chosen.

To those who think that the advice and consent role of the Senate takes too much power from the President, Hamilton points out that only the President can nominate. So, while the Senate can withhold that consent and stymie a President’s selection, neither can they make the selection on their own. Should the Senate reject the President’s choice, they know that they will merely face the next choice he makes. On the other hand, it is precisely that power to withhold consent that will cause the President to pick honorable and qualified candidates. “The danger to his own reputation” should be sufficient to cause the President to choose wisely.”

As always, it is important to understand that our Constitution was written with an eye toward the immutable nature of mankind. When we started this series a very long time ago, it was that universality that we began to explore, because without the knowledge that human nature exists, and is unchangeable, the Constitution itself makes no sense. Says Hamilton, “This supposition of universal venality in human nature is little less an error in political reasoning, than the supposition of universal rectitude.” He is talking specifically about the President’s ability to influence the entire Senate to his will. The point is less about the specifics of the nomination process than it is about the fact that our Founders continually had the nature of mankind in their minds when they created this great republic.

In any event, we can see even today how the advice and consent role of the Senate has kept profoundly unqualified people from roles of great importance. Efforts to change the two thirds requirement deny the very nature of man, and the safeguards put in place to minimize the danger of appointing the wrong people to critical roles.


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  1. All quotes are from https://guides.loc.gov/federalist-papers/text-71-80#s-lg-box-wrapper-25493464


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