Today marks the anniversary of the birth of Alexander Hamilton in 1757. Hamilton, who died after being shot – by then Vice-President, Aaron Burr – in a duel in 1804, was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Love or hate the financial system he devised for the fledgling nation, it was an impressive accomplishment – and he succeeded in accomplishing a great deal in a relatively short period of time.
A prolific writer, Hamilton was the author of the majority of the Federalist Papers – the documents published to win popular support for the US Constitution, and the hybrid form of government that it described. Neither a true democracy, nor a true republic, our government was structured as both a democracy and a republic with three co-equal branches. Something that still seems to be misunderstood nearly 230 years after it was formally put into effect.
In the quote below, Hamilton lays out the purpose of the Judicial. James Madison (whose birthday is in March) described the three equal branches in Federalist #47, and expounded on the need for the separation of powers of the three branches to act as checks and balances in Federalist #51*
“But it is not with a view to infractions of the Constitution only, that the independence of the judges may be an essential safeguard against the effects of occasional ill humors in the society. These sometimes extend no farther than to the injury of the private rights of particular classes of citizens, by unjust and partial laws. Here also the firmness of the judicial magistracy is of vast importance in mitigating the severity and confining the operation of such laws. It not only serves to moderate the immediate mischiefs of those which may have been passed, but it operates as a check upon the legislative body in passing them; who, perceiving that obstacles to the success of iniquitous intention are to be expected from the scruples of the courts, are in a manner compelled, by the very motives of the injustice they meditate, to qualify their attempts. This is a circumstance calculated to have more influence upon the character of our governments, than but few may be aware of.”
— Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #78 (1788)
* Authorship of Federalist #51 is uncertain, credit is normally given to Madison, but the author may have been Hamilton.
Alexander Hamilton image from http://www.biography.com/people/alexander-hamilton-9326481