The Creation of the Presidency

Jeremy Bailey, author of Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power, reviews for Law and Liberty Charles Thach’s The Creation of the Presidency, 1775-1789: A Study in Constitutional History. Thach’s work is widely hailed as a classic study of the creation of executive power by the American Constitution. Bailey notes the central movement of the book as follows:

For Thach, the key move was not making an executive branch but rather making that branch independent of Congress.  This may seem like old news, but Thach reminds us of at least one important implication: “There is no need to cross the Atlantic to find an important model of the American presidency,” because the British model tended to ministerial government which undermined executive control over administration.  In place of this ministerial model, one state provided the example of how to achieve executive independence: the New York constitution  “afforded the only American example of a government by a constitution actually controlling the departments of government and at the same time a completely independent and very energetic and active chief magistrate” (159).  In Thach’s view, then, the founders of the presidency were not the British writers on executive power but rather those who were able to locate the path toward executive independence.  Accordingly, credit for authorship of the presidency “belongs to the little group of men who determined the construction of the New York constitution, Jay and Gouverneur Morris,” and also “to James Wilson belongs the crystallizing the concept and laying it before the Convention” (160).