The True Nurse of Executive Aggrandizement

In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture of heterogeneous powers: the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man: not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions, and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace….

The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue, which would make it wise in a nation, to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate, created and circumstanced, as would be a President of the United States. [James Madison, Helvidius No. IV, Sept. 14 1793.]

If “unanimity is not to be expected in any great political question” because of the fallibility of man, then the power to start a war should surely, above all other powers, be protected from the control of any single person.

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