By establishing the rule of law through the Constitution, America's Founders provided an external check on government. The Constitution's separation of the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of government was a further guard against tyranny. Properly observed, and aided by checks and balances, this internal separation allows for reason and deliberation to rule over passion, enabling good government as each branch performs its specific function well.
The Progressives believed that this constitutional separation of powers prevented responsive and enlightened government. They argued that by inhibiting the passage of legislation that would advance economic equality and redress social ills, the separation of powers demonstrates the Founders' inferior understanding of government and irrational fear of majority tyranny.
"All the powers of government, legislative, executive, and judiciary, result to the legislative body. The concentrating these in the same hands is precisely the definition of despotic government."—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, "Query XIII: Constitution"
"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."—James Madison, Federalist 47
"The Legislative and Executive powers of the State should be separate and distinct from the Judicative."—George Mason, "Virginia Declaration of Rights"
"It will not be denied that power is of an encroaching nature and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it."—James Madison, Federalist 48
"It is evident that each department should have a will of its own; and consequently should be so constituted that the members of each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of the members of the others."—James Madison, Federalist 51
"It is equally evident that the members of each department should be as little dependent as possible on those of the others for the emoluments annexed to their offices."—James Madison, Federalist 51
"Liberty itself will find in such a Government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest Guardian."—George Washington, "Farewell Address"
"The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism."—George Washington, "Farewell Address"
"You cannot compound a successful government out of antagonisms."—Woodrow Wilson, "The President of the United States"
"Now, it came to me... that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory.... The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"Jefferson wrote of 'the laws of Nature,'—and then by way of afterthought,—'and of Nature's God.' And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery,—to display the laws of nature."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of 'checks and balances.'"—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when 'development,' 'evolution,' is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop."—Woodrow Wilson, "What is Progress?"
"The government must have the power to determine the Law instead of being circumscribed by the Law."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"The Fathers of the Republic were fully justified both in keeping the powers distinguished, and in seeking to balance one against the other. Their mistake consisted in the methods adopted for preserving or readjusting the balance."—Herbert Croly, Progressive Democracy
"Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics."—Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Administration"
"Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices."—Woodrow Wilson, "The Study of Administration"