America's Three-Headed Eagle
Although Polybius, John Locke, and Baron Charles de Montesquieu had all advocated the separation of the governmental functions into three departments — legislative, executive, and judicial — the American Founders were the first to carefully structure what might be described as a three-headed eagle.
The central head was the law-making or legislative function with two eyes — the House and the Senate — and these must both see eye-to-eye on any piece of legislation before it can become law. A second head is the administrative or
Executive Department with all authority centered in a single, strong President, operating within a clearly defined framework of limited power. The third head is the judiciary, which was assigned the task of acting as guardian of the Constitution and the interpretation of its principles as originally designed by the Founders.
The genius of this three-headed eagle was not only the separation of powers but the fact that all three heads operated through a single neck. By this
means the Founders carefully integrated these three departments so that each one was coordinated with the others and could not function independently of them. It was an ingeniously structured pattern of political power which might be described as “coordination without consolidation.”
The Two Wings of the Eagle
The Founder’s view of their new form of government can be further demonstrated by using the symbol of the eagle and referring to its two wings.
Wing #1 of the eagle might be referred to as the problem solving wing or the wing of compassion. Those who function through this dimension of the system are sensitive to the unfulfilled needs of the people. They dream of elaborate plans to solve these problems.
Wing #2 has the responsibility of conserving the nation’s resources and the people’s freedom. Its function is to analyze the programs of wing #1 with two questions. First, can we afford it? Secondly, what will it do to the rights and individual freedom of the people?
Now, if both of these wings fulfill their assigned function, the American eagle will fly straighter and higher than any civilization in the history of the world. But if either of these wings goes to sleep on the job, the American eagle will drift toward anarchy or tyranny. For example, if wing #1 becomes infatuated with the idea of solving all the problems of the nation regardless of the cost, and wing #2 fails to bring its power into play to sober the problem-solvers with a more realistic approach, the eagle will spin off toward the left, which is tyranny.
On the other hand, if wing #1 fails to see the problems which need solving and wing #2 becomes inflexible in its course of not solving problems simply to save money, or not disturb the status quo, then the machinery of government loses its credibility and the eagle drifts over toward the right where the people decide to take matters into their own hands. This can eventually disintegrate into anarchy.
Thomas Jefferson Describes the Need for Balance
When Thomas Jefferson became President, he used his first inaugural address to describe the need to make room for the problem-solving wing, to which his own Democratic-Republican party belonged, and also make room for the conservation wing, to which the Federalist party of John Adams belonged. He tried to stress the fact that all Americans should have some elements of both of these party dimensions in their thinking. In his inaugural address he said:
“We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans — we are all Federalists.” (Albert Ellery Bergh, editor, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 20 volumes, The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, Washington, D.C., 1907, 3:319.)