When Pierce Butler of South Carolina suggested in the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that the president be vested with the sole power to make war, other delegates were shocked.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, for one, said he "never expected to hear in a republic a motion to empower the executive alone to declare war."
The president "should be able to repel" an attack on his own, said Roger Sherman of Connecticut, but never "to commence" a war without consent of the Congress.
The reaction in the convention was the same to all such propositions, for it was unthinkable that any branch of government could exercise power without an effective check from another branch.
And there is no evidence in the record of the convention debates that the framers intended that there be any exceptions to the rule for foreign policy, appointments to the Supreme Court or anything else.
One of the reasons senators were given terms longer than House members, for example, was that the Senate was to share in the making of the nation's foreign policy, a role that required special expertise, stability and continuity.
Similarly, because of the Senate's sensitive foreign policy role, delegates decided that no person who had not been a citizen for nine years could serve in that body, versus a seven-year restriction for service in the House.
"As the Senate is to have the power of . . . managing our foreign affairs," said Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, "there is peculiar danger and impropriety in opening its doors to those who have foreign attachments."
The power to appoint judges was in the hands of the Senate until the last weeks of the convention, when it was switched to the presidency. The same was true of the power to appoint ambassadors and to negotiate treaties with foreign powers.
In all those cases, the convention ultimately settled on a sharing of the power. The president nominates judges and ambassadors; the Senate has the right to reject them. The executive branch negotiates treaties; the Senate may ratify or reject.
No one in the convention suggested that in reviewing executive branch decisions, the Senate was to confine itself in any way.
By the same token, the convention allowed the president to participate in the legislative process by wielding a veto power over bills passed by the Congress. And just as the delegates did not restrict the Senate in its advice-and-consent role, they did not say the president could veto bills only for particular reasons.
Any reason will do.
The concept of checks and balances was not an abstraction to the delegates, and they traced many of the ills around them to imbalances in the structures of government.
Pennsylvania's government in 1787, for example, was thought to be defective by many in the convention because a one-house assembly ran that state, enacting whatever laws it pleased, appointing and removing Supreme Court justices and executive officers. It was no coincidence, they believed, that the same government was notorious for violating individual rights, particularly freedom of religion.
Liberty was threatened by the concentration of power in any part of the government, it was said over and over in the convention, and the checks provided by the Constitution were designed to prevent such concentration.
"It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be ncessary to control the abuses of government," James Madison wrote later in one of the most famous passages of "The Federalist Papers." "But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature."