The Path of the Prerogatives
American Journal of Legal History (Forthcoming)
33 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2023
Date Written: December 30, 2022
The Path of the Prerogatives refers to the historical process by which the royal prerogative powers outlined in Blackstone’s Commentaries entered into American constitutional law. In 1953, Professor William Crosskey opened up a new window into the Constitution when he pointed out that many of Congress’s enumerated powers had been prerogatives of the British Crown. In The President Who Would Not Be King: Executive Power under the Constitution, Professor Michael McConnell takes Crosskey’s observation as a starting point of his own more systematic analysis of how the Committee of Detail divided these prerogative powers between Congress and the President. Yet neither Crosskey nor McConnell focuses much attention on the fact that many of these powers were already delegated to the United States by the Articles of Confederation. Nor do they ask whether the founders conceived of these powers primarily as legislative or executive powers, on the one hand, or government powers, on the other—a critical distinction embedded in the text of the Constitution by the Necessary and Proper Clause. This essay investigates these topics by tracing the path of the prerogatives from 1774 to 1776 in the writings of James Wilson, Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, and Thomas Jefferson, highlighting the crucial role played by these powers in both the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence. The essay also discusses two further issues that any adequate theory of presidential powers must confront: the distinction between government powers and executive powers, and the status of the United States as a legal corporation. Finally, the essay points to new evidence indicating that Jefferson borrowed specific language and ideas from Wilson when drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Keywords: prerogative, Article II, enumerated powers, implied powers, William Blackstone, James Wilson, John Rutledge, Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, Thomas Jefferson, William Crosskey, Michael McConnell, Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, United States
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