Power being found by universal experience liable to abuses, a
distribution of it into separate departments, has become a first principle of
free governments. By this contrivance, the portion entrusted to the same hands
being less, there is less room to abuse what is granted; and the different
hands being interested, each in maintaining its own, there is less opportunity
to usurp what is not granted. Hence the merited praise of governments modelled
on a partition of their powers into legislative, executive, and judiciary, and
a repartition of the legislative into different houses.
The political system of the United States claims still higher praise.
The power delegated by the people is first divided between the general
government and the state governments; each of which is then subdivided into
legislative, executive, and judiciary departments. And as in a single
government these departments are to be kept separate and safe, by a defensive
armour for each; so, it is to be hoped, do the two governments possess each the
means of preventing or correcting unconstitutional encroachments of the
Should this improvement on the theory of free government not be marred
in the execution, it may prove the best legacy ever left by lawgivers to their
country, and the best lesson ever given to the world by its benefactors. If a
security against power lies in the division of it into parts mutually
controuling each other, the security must increase with the increase of the
parts into which the whole can be conveniently formed.
It must not be denied that the task of forming and maintaining a
division of power between different governments, is greater than among
different departments of the same government; because it may be more easy
(though sufficiently difficult) to separate, by proper definitions, the
legislative, executive, and judiciary powers, which are more distinct in their
nature, than to discriminate, by precise enumerations, one class of legislative
powers from another class, one class of executive from another class, and one
class of judiciary from another class; where the powers being of a more kindred
nature, their boundaries are more obscure and run more into each other.
If the task be difficult, however, it must by no means be abandoned.
Those who would pronounce it impossible, offer no alternative to their country
but schism, or consolidation; both of them bad, but the latter the worst, since
it is the high road to monarchy, than which nothing worse, in the eye of
republicans, could result from the anarchy implied in the former.
Those who love their country, its repose, and its republicanism, will
therefore study to avoid the alternative, by elucidating and guarding the
limits which define the two governments; by inculcating moderation in the
exercise of the powers of both, and particularly a mutual abstinence from such
as might nurse present jealousies, or engender greater.
In bestowing the eulogies due to the partitions and internal checks of
power, it ought not the less to be remembered, that they are neither the sole
nor the chief palladium of constitutional liberty. The people who are the
authors of this blessing, must also be its guardians. Their eyes must be ever
ready to mark, their voice to pronounce, and their arm to repel or repair
aggressions on the authority of their constitutions; the highest authority next
to their own, because the immediate work of their own, and the most sacred part
of their property, as recognising and recording the title to every other.