Summary: Citizens and scholars are again confronted with a question presented by necessity and the law: Because no law can anticipate every contingency, how can any set of laws remain fundamental and practical? That is, how can discretion be made compatible with democratic consent?
Before he became president, Thomas Jefferson had devoted 25 years to this problem. Author of the Declaration of Independence, constitutional reformer, wartime governor, diplomat, and opposition leader, Jefferson arrived at a way to resolve the tension between contingency and a written constitution. This solution was an executive that would be both strong and democratic. Indeed, it would derive its strength, or its energy, from its democratic sources and present an alternative to Alexander Hamilton’s understanding of executive power. Thus, Jefferson’s Revolution of 1800 brought about a transformation of the presidency because the architect of that revolution had a plan for executive power. But this plan was itself subject to events, and Jefferson had to alter its course throughout his presidency. By revisiting Jefferson’s understanding of executive power we better understand Jefferson’s presidency and more fully trace the development of modern presidential power.
Jeremy Bailey received his B.A. from Rhodes College and his Ph.D. from Boston College, where his dissertation was the 2004 co-winner of the American Political Science Association’ s E. E. Schattschneider Prize for best dissertation in American politics. He joined the University of Houston in 2007, and holds a dual appointment in the department of political science and in the Honors College. He teaches in the Masters of American History Program at Ashland, and before joining the faculty at Houston, taught at Washington and Lee University, Eastern Washington University, and Duquesne University.
Bailey’s research examines how the tension between constitutionalism and political change transforms, and is in turn altered by, political theorists who are also political actors. He is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and his research has also appeared in Presidential Studies Quarterly and Publius: The Journal of Federalism. Bailey is now working on democratic theories of executive power, as well as a project on James Madison and the problem of public opinion.