Sunday, December 4, 2011

What branch of government did the framers feel was the most important and why?

What branch of government was found to be the most important to the framers and why?

Thank you for any help.|||The reason the founders regarded the legislature as THE most important branch has much to do with their HISTORY -- that is, the political traditions of their own colonial history as well as what they had taken from English political traditions...

One major piece of this was the 17th century struggles in Britain between Parliament and the Stuart kings, in which the "limited monarchy" took shape, with Parliament established its supremacy over the king. (Two major phases -- the Civil War %26amp; execution of King Charles I, and the "Glorious Revolution" of 1689, in which James II was removed from the throne for his abuses against the traditional 'rights of Englishmen' [much of the concern was because of his move to embrace Catholicism], replaced by William %26amp; Mary who acknowledged these rights. The idea of these rights itself had a long

As for the American colonies -- their views were shaped by these English traditions, and especially by the events of the 17th century, the time during which the migrations to America were taking place. Further, from the beginning the colonists had mostly been 'left to their own devices' -- that is, they had been expected to handle much of their OWN defense, the making and enforcing of laws and raising the taxes to take care of these and other needs of the communites. During this period there was some use of "royal" governors (appointed by the King) but even the governors and other officials were most often PAID for by and so answerable to the legislature of the colony.

There were also OTHER traditions that enforced this view of the colonists about having their own local legislatures and making their own laws. One important piece was from the New England Puritans who had developed a view of "covenant" - based originally on their theology (how they viewed Scripture), and then applied to the governing of the church and the community in the form of "compacts". The legislature was, then, and extension of a system in which the PEOPLE (or at least a group of people especially representative of the people) made the decisions about laws

Note that the "compact" idea was a relative of and precursor to the political idea of "social contract" -- which involved the PEOPLE having to consent to the form of government, as opposed to the idea of the "divine right of kings". Kings themselves were now seen as under law - as expressed in an important work called "Lex Rex" ['the LAW is King']by the Scottish Puritan Samuel Rutherford in 1644. This became the foundation for many later ideas, including the political ideas espoused by John Locke in the 1680s-90s. (Note that it was in the midst of the 'power strugggles' between Parliament and the kings in which the Puritans played an important role.) Of course, if the King is under law and so under the body responsible for MAKING law (in this case, Parliament), that legislative body takes priority.

The final three-branch system that developed was ALL centered around the idea of a system of LAWS -- beginning with the laws being PASSED by the legislature (enforced by the executive, guarded by the judiciary). So it's not difficult to see how the legislature had the functional priority.

By the way, one simple evidence of this priority is the fact that the U.S. Constitution lays out the legislative branch not simply first but in much more detail than the other two branches.

Finally, one other reason the legislature was so important to the FEDERAL system is that it was the one place where the DIFFERENT concerns of the people of the DIFFERENT states could all be expressed and safeguarded. (Note how the major debates and compromises of the Constitutional Convention were nearly all about how to fairly represent the STATES in the national legislature.) Thus the original differences amongst the states who made up this federation contributed (at least as far as the NATIONAL government was concerned) to the importance of the legislature.


A note on the "balancing" of the branches. The specific understanding of how this should work was much influenced by John Adams, esp. by his 1776 work *Thoughts on Government*. Here he laid out a classic view of 'divided government', including the argurment for a BI-cameral (two-house) legislature. But the notions themselves had a long history. (This is another area in which Rutherford's "Lex Rex" was very influential in more recent English political traditions.)|||I think they wanted to have it so each one would be of equal significance.|||The legislature, because it made the laws. But they also feared a run away legislature, so they balanced the power of government, so that it was hard for anyone to get all the power.

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