American Political Science Review

Research Article

The New Unitary Executive and Democratic Theory: The Problem of Alexander Hamilton


a1 University of Houston


Central to the recent argument from the “unitary executive” is the claim that the unitary executive is consistent with the text and history of the Constitution. But because this veracity and importance of this claim is contested, unitarians also argue that the unitary executive is consistent with democratic theory. This article examines that argument by addressing a question in the political thought of Alexander Hamilton. Although Hamilton was an important defender of an energetic executive, and is associated with an expansive interpretation of executive power, he wrote in The Federalist that the president and Senate would share the removal power. In contrast with existing scholarship, which either overlooks Hamilton's statement on removals or dismisses it as a careless error, this article argues that Hamilton's statement limiting presidential removals illuminates his larger argument about executive energy. By showing how “duration” would check “unity,” this article clarifies Hamilton's political thought and offers an important critique of the modern argument from the unitary executive.


c1 Jeremy D. Bailey is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and The Honors College, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3011 (


The author wants to thank the editors of the American Political Science Review and the referees for their suggestions.