Do you ever think about what the different branches of the US government are supposed to do? I would guess, if you are an average American, you probably don’t. 😀 No worries, I won’t hold that against you. Only extreme political nerds would spend their days contemplating the specific jobs that all the branches of the US government are supposed to do. Yup, you guessed it. I am one of those nerds. I’m here to tell you that there is a pre-eminent branch of government AND that it is necessary to know about it.
Pre-eminent means “Superior in excellence; distinguished for something commendable or honorable.” So, which branch of the US government was created to be superior in excellence?
I’ll wait a second while you guess.
Yup, that’s right. The founders intended for the legislative branch (Congress) to be the most powerful branch. James Madison, in Federalist 51, said “In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates”. The US government IS a republican government, which means that the legislative branch predominates.
(Legislate means “to make or enact a law or laws” and republic means “a state in which the exercise of the sovereign power is lodged in representatives elected by the people. In modern usage, it differs from a democracy or democratic state…”)
But why? Theory is key to answering this question. Madison and the other US founders relied heavily on the liberal philosophies of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Baron de Montesquieu when setting up the US government. Locke, who introduced the idea of private property, felt that private property could only be protected if there were laws in place to protect that property. For Locke, the only reason government exists is to protect private property. In other words, government does NOT exist to help people, to fix education, to fix healthcare, to solve environmental problems, to feed the poor, or to regulate the economy. The only thing government needs to do is protect private property.
Locke says that mankind unites together for the “mutual Preservation of their Lives, Liberties and Estates, which I call by the general Name, Property”. In other words, mankind comes together to create a government in order to protect our property. That’s it!
So, how does government protect private property? Through law. This means that the branch that creates or writes law is the most important branch because it is the branch of government that is protecting private property through law. Remember, which branch makes law? The legislative (“to make or enact laws or law”).
Does this make sense? The executive branch is created to execute these laws and the judicial branch created to interpret them. But without the legislative branch, neither the judicial or executive would have anything to do. What would the executive and judicial branch do if there were no legislative branch? The answer to this should clearly explain to you why the legislative branch is the linchpin of a Constitutional Republic. It exists to create the laws that protect private property—-and protecting private property is the end goal of government.
On top of this, the legislative branch is the most connected to the people (who created the legislative branch to protect our property). Legislative power is the supreme power because it is the law making body that has been directly given that power by the people via a social contract to make laws. (Think about our legislative branch. Each House member and Senator is far more connected to their constituents than the President or anyone in the courts)
Now, I could go even deeper into the theoretical logic that lead to this entire concept (namely, the concept of the social contract); but I’ll leave that to another post. For now, understand that Congress IS government. No other branches of government would even exist without Congress. Isn’t that crazy? Congress makes the laws that exist to protect our property. We created Congress to make the laws that protect property, therefore, Congress is most connected to us and our wishes.
Does “pre-eminent” make a bit more sense now? This concept is crucial because as soon as the other branches of government begin to “make law” they are violating an incredibly core principle of the American republican government. That is, that Congress and Congress alone has been awarded the power to make law to protect the private property of the people who created Congress. Let your mind be blown by this complex simplicity!
Now, I know there’s a lot here and I will explore more of these concepts in greater detail in future posts. For the time being, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of my theoretical nerdom and learned something as well!
The Liberty Belle