They wanted to divide power between three branches and create lines of separation that prevented the concentration of power in any single branch. The framers based their ideas on an understanding of human nature – and human weakness. They tried to create a system in which ambition would check ambition. However, they knew that citizens can be distracted or deceived into giving up their very freedom. Madison warned future generations that “if Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” The framers knew how effective fear can be to induce citizens to give up their liberties. Recent years have proven them once again prophetic in their warnings.
To this day, many Americans misunderstand the separation of powers as simply a division of authority between three branches of government. In fact, it was intended as a protection not of institutional but of individual rights, by preventing any branch from assuming enough power to become tyrannical. No branch is supposed to have enough power to govern alone.