The Rise and Fall of the “Doctrine” of Separation of Powers

As the Constitution of the United States nears its two hundredth anniversary, there is a frenzy of celebration. However awesome the accomplishment, I submit that it is no slander to recognize that the 1787 document was born of prudent compromise rather than principle, that it derived more from experience than from doctrine, and that it was received with an ambivalence in no small part attributable to its ambiguities. Indeed, its most stalwart supporters doubted its capacity for a long life. It should not be surprising, then, that even today there is disagreement over whether the Constitution of 1787 is now merely an artifact of late eighteenth-century American history or a vade mecum which has, in fact, controlled the allocation of government powers and the restraints on those powers throughout the two centuries since its birth.