It was no accident that the first article of the Constitution of the United States, Article I, established the legislative branch of the government. The Constitution, indeed, the whole of the revolutionary movement, was born of wariness regarding the supreme authority across the Atlantic that resided in the person of...
It was no accident that the first article of the Constitution of the United States, Article I, established the legislative branch of the government. The Constitution, indeed, the whole of the revolutionary movement, was born of wariness regarding the supreme authority across the Atlantic that resided in the person of a monarch, King George III. While the authors of the Constitution knew that they would also be creating a chief executive, their highest priority was to ensure the fullest possible representation of the populace and the prevention of the accumulation of power of any one branch of government. The concept of “checks and balances” was integral to their efforts, but it was clear that the intent was for the primacy of the legislature. The decision had been made to establish a representative democracy, a republic, rather than the more unwieldy and impractical form of pure democracy in which all voting-age citizens would vote on all matters. This newly-established legislative branch of government would be the branch closest to the public and would provide an essential check on the actions of the chief executive. As James Madison, perhaps the single most influential voice on the structure and content of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist Paper #51, “in republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates.”
Similarly, Alexander Hamilton devoted Federalist Paper #78 to an explanation and defense of Article III of the Constitution, which established the judicial branch of government. Again, the importance of checks and balances is emphasized. While Hamilton’s essay trumpets the third branch of government, he takes pains to reaffirm the primacy of the legislature:
Nor does this conclusion by any means suppose a superiority of the judicial to the legislative power. It only supposes that the power of the people is superior to both; and that where the will of the legislature, declared in its statutes, stands in opposition to that of the people, declared in the Constitution, the judges ought to be governed by the latter rather than the former. They ought to regulate their decisions by the fundamental laws, rather than by those which are not fundamental.
In other words, the laws of the land are the provenance first and foremost of the branch of government most directly elected by and representative of the public — the legislature.