James Madison argues that the constitution places war-making powers squarely with the legislative branch; for the president to have these powers is the “the true nurse of executive aggrandizement” (1793)

James Madison

In 1793-94 Madison and Hamilton in the Pacificus-Helvidous Debates argued about the proper role of the executive and the legislative branches of the U.S. government in the conduct of war. Writing as "Helvidius", Madison observed that:

War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle.

The publication by Liberty Fund of Hamilton and Madison’s The Pacificus-Helvidius Debates of 1793-1794 (2007) and the putting online of a 10 volume collection of The Writings of James Madison (1909) is an excellent opportunity to begin exploring the thought of James Madison. Here we look at the “Pacificus-Helvidius” debates. President George Washington’s proclamation of the Neutrality Act in 1793 sparked a spirited debate between Alexander Hamilton (“Pacificus”) and James Madison (“Helvidius”) over the war-making powers of the executive and legislative bodies. Hamilton, preferring more centralised control and a more powerful presidency, was in favor of broad powers for the executive branch; whereas Madison feared that under the guise of war the president could and would amass great powers over budgets, patronage, and honours. Hence he favoured the balance of powers remaining with the legislative branch.