Skip to comments.Journal of the Federal Convention July 19th 1787
Posted on 07/19/2011 5:38:44 AM PDT by Jacquerie
Popular Presidential Elections. Multiple Terms. Biennial Elections. President for Life. State Electors. Separation of Powers by Madison. North v. South Popular Suffrage. Elbridge Gerry Speech State Governors Appoint Electors. State Legislatures Appoint Electors. Six Year Terms.
On reconsideration of the vote rendering the Executive re-eligible a 2d. time, Mr. MARTIN moved to reinstate the words, "to be ineligible a 2d. time."
Mr. GOVERNEUR MORRIS. It is necessary to take into one view all that relates to the establishment of the Executive; on the due formation of which must depend the efficacy & utility of the Union among the present and future States. It has been a maxim in Political Science that Republican Government is not adapted to a large extent of Country, because the energy of the Executive Magistracy can not reach the extreme parts of it. Our Country is an extensive one. We must either then renounce the blessings of the Union, or provide an Executive with sufficient vigor to pervade every part of it. This subject was of so much importance that he hoped to be indulged in an extensive view of it. One great object of the Executive is to controul the Legislature. The Legislature will continually seek to aggrandize & perpetuate themselves; and will seize those critical moments produced by war, invasion or convulsion for that purpose. It is necessary then that the Executive Magistrate should be the guardian of the people, even of the lower classes, agst. Legislative tyranny, against the Great & the wealthy who in the course of things will necessarily compose the Legislative body. Wealth tends to corrupt the mind & [FN1] to nourish its love of power, and to stimulate it to oppression. History proves this to be the spirit of the opulent.
The check provided in the 2d. branch was not meant as a check on Legislative usurpations of power, but on the abuse of lawful powers, on the propensity in [FN2] the 1st. branch to legislate too much to run into projects of paper money & similar expedients.
It is no check on Legislative tyranny. On the contrary it may favor it, and if the 1st. branch can be seduced may find the means of success. The Executive therefore ought to be so constituted as to be the great protector of the Mass of the people. -It is the duty of the Executive to appoint the officers & to command the forces of the Republic: to appoint 1. [FN3] ministerial officers for the administration of public affairs. 2. [FN3] officers for the dispensation of Justice. Who will be the best Judges whether these appointments be well made? The people at large, who will know, will see, will feel the effects of them. Again who can judge so well of the discharge of military duties for the protection & security of the people, as the people themselves who are to be protected & secured? -He finds too that the Executive is not to be re-eligible. What effect will this have?
1. [FN4] it will destroy the great incitement to merit public esteem by taking away the hope of being rewarded with a reappointment. It may give a dangerous turn to one of the strongest passions in the human breast. The love of fame is the great spring to noble & illustrious actions. Shut the Civil road to Glory & he may be compelled to seek it by the sword.
2. [FN5] It will tempt him to make the most of the short space of time allotted him, to accumulate wealth and provide for his friends.
3. [FN6] It will produce violations of the very constitution it is meant to secure. In moments of pressing danger the tried abilities and established character of a favorite Magistrate will prevail over respect for the forms of the Constitution. The Executive is also to be impeachable. This is a dangerous part of the plan. It will hold him in such dependence that he will be no check on the Legislature, will not be a firm guardian of the people and of the public interest. He will be the tool of a faction, of some leading demagogue in the Legislature. These then are the faults of the Executive establishment as now proposed. Can no better establishmt. be devised? If he is to be the Guardian of the people let him be appointed by the people? If he is to be a check on the Legislature let him not be impeachable. Let him be of short duration, that he may with propriety be re-eligible.
It has been said that the candidates for this office will not be known to the people. If they be known to the Legislature, they must have such a notoriety and eminence of Character, that they can not possibly be unknown to the people at large. It cannot be possible that a man shall have sufficiently distinguished himself to merit this high trust without having his character proclaimed by fame throughout the Empire. As to the danger from an unimpeachable magistrate he could not regard it as formidable. There must be certain great officers of State; a minister of finance, of war, of foreign affairs &c. These he presumes will exercise their functions in subordination to the Executive, and will be amenable by impeachment to the public Justice. Without these ministers the Executive can do nothing of consequence.
He suggested a biennial election of the Executive at the time of electing the 1st. branch, and the Executive to hold over, so as to prevent any interregnum in the administration. An election by the people at large throughout so great an extent of country could not be influenced, by those little combinations and those momentary lies which often decide popular elections within a narrow sphere. It will probably, be objected that the election will be influenced by the members of the Legislature; particularly of the 1st. branch, and that it will be nearly the same thing with an election by the Legislature itself. It could not be denied that such an influence would exist. But it might be answered that as the Legislature or the candidates for it would be divided, the enmity of one part would counteract the friendship of another: that if the administration of the Executive were good, it would be unpopular to oppose his reelection, if bad it ought to be opposed & a reappointmt. prevented; and lastly that in every view this indirect dependence on the favor of the Legislature could not be so mischievous as a direct dependence for his appointment. He saw no alternative for making the Executive independent of the Legislature but either to give him his office for life, or make him eligible by the people-Again, it might be objected that two years would be too short a duration. But he believes that as long as he should behave himself well, he would be continued in his place. The extent of the Country would secure his re-election agst. the factions & discontents of particular States. It deserved consideration also that such an ingredient in the plan would render it extremely palatable to the people. These were the general ideas which occurred to him on the subject, and which led him to wish & move that the whole constitution of the Executive might undergo reconsideration.
Mr. RANDOLPH urged the motion of Mr. L. Martin for restoring the words making the Executive ineligible a 2d. time. If he ought to be independent, he should not be left under a temptation to court a re-appointment. If he should be re- appointable by the Legislature, he will be no check on it. His revisionary power will be of no avail. He had always thought & contended as he still did that the danger apprehended by the little States was chimerical; but those who thought otherwise ought to be peculiarly anxious for the motion. If the Executive be appointed, as has been determined, by the Legislature, he will probably be appointed either by joint ballot of both houses, or be nominated by the 1st. and appointed by the 2d. branch. In either case the large States will preponderate. If he is to court the same influence for his re-appointment, will he not make his revisionary power, and all the other functions of his administration subservient to the views of the large States. Besides, is there not great reason to apprehend that in case he should be re-eligible, a false complaisance in the Legislature might lead them to continue an unfit man in office in preference to a fit one. It has been said that a constitutional bar to reappointment will inspire unconstitutional endeavours to perpetuate himself. It may be answered that his endeavours can have no effect unless the people be corrupt to such a degree as to render all precautions hopeless: to which may be added that this argument supposes him to be more powerful & dangerous, than other arguments which have been used, admit, and consequently calls for stronger fetters on his authority. He thought an election by the Legislature with an incapacity to be elected a second time would be more acceptable to the people that [FN7] the plan suggested by Mr. Govr. Morris.
Mr. KING. did not like the ineligibility. He thought there was great force in the remark [FN8] of Mr. Sherman, that he who has proved himself to be [FN9] most fit for an Office, ought not to be excluded by the constitution from holding it. He would therefore prefer any other reasonable plan that could be substituted. He was much disposed to think that in such cases the people at large would chuse wisely. There was indeed some difficulty arising from the improbability of a general concurrence of the people in favor of any one man. On the whole he was of opinion that an appointment by electors chosen by the people for the purpose, would be liable to fewest objections.
Mr. PATTERSON's ideas nearly coincided he said with those of Mr. King. He proposed that the Executive should be appointed by Electors to be chosen by the States in a ratio that would allow one elector to the smallest and three to the largest States. Mr. WILSON. It seems to be the unanimous sense that the Executive should not be appointed by the Legislature, unless he be rendered in-eligible a 2d. time: he perceived with pleasure that the idea was gaining ground, of an election mediately or immediately by the people.
Mr. MADISON. If it be a fundamental principle of free Govt. that the Legislative, Executive & Judiciary powers should be separately exercised, it is equally so that they be independently exercised. There is the same & perhaps greater reason why the Executive shd. be independent of the Legislature, than why the Judiciary should: A coalition of the two former powers would be more immediately & certainly dangerous to public liberty. It is essential then that the appointment of the Executive should either be drawn from some source, or held by some tenure, that will give him a free agency with regard to the Legislature. This could not be if he was to be appointable from time to time by the Legislature. It was not clear that an appointment in the 1st. instance even with an eligibility afterwards would not establish an improper connection between the two departments. Certain it was that the appointment would be attended with intrigues and contentions that ought not to be unnecessarily admitted. He was disposed for these reasons to refer the appointment to some other source.
The people at large was in his opinion the fittest in itself. It would be as likely as any that could be devised to produce an Executive Magistrate of distinguished Character. The people generally could only know & vote for some Citizen whose merits had rendered him an object of general attention & esteem. There was one difficulty however of a serious nature attending an immediate choice by the people. The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to fewest objections.
Mr. GERRY. If the Executive is to be elected by the Legislature he certainly ought not to be re-eligible. This would make him absolutely dependent. He was agst. a popular election. The people are uninformed, and would be misled by a few designing men. He urged the expediency of an appointment of the Executive by Electors to be chosen by the State Executives. The people of the States will then choose the 1st. branch: The legislatures of the States the 2d. branch of the National Legislature, and the Executives of the States, the National Executive. This he thought would form a strong attachnt. in the States to the National System. The popular mode of electing the chief Magistrate would certainly be the worst of all. If he should be so elected & should do his duty, he will be turned out for it like Govr. Bowdoin in Massts. & President Sullivan in N. Hamshire.
On the question on Mr. Govr. Morris motion to reconsider generally the constitution of the Executive. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay & all the others ay. [FN10]
Mr. ELSEWORTH moved to strike out the appointmt. by the Natl. Legislature, and [FN11] insert "to be chosen by electors appointed, by the Legislatures of the States in the following ratio; towit-one for each State not exceeding 200,000 inhabts. two for each above yt. number & not exceeding 300,000. and three for each State exceeding 300,000.
Mr. BROOME 2ded. the motion
Mr. RUTLIDGE was opposed to all the modes except the appointmt. by the Natl. Legislature. He will be sufficiently independent, if he be not re-eligible.
Mr. GERRY preferred the motion of Mr. Elseworth to an appointmt. by the Natl. Legislature, or by the people; tho' not to an appt. by the State Executives. He moved that the electors proposed by Mr. E. should be 25 in number, and allotted in the following proportion. to N. H. 1. to Mas. 3. to R. I. 1. to Cont. 2. to N. Y. 2. [FN12] N. J. 2. [FN12] Pa. 3. [FN12] Del. 1. [FN12] Md. 2. [FN12] Va. 3. [FN12] N. C. 2. [FN12] S. C. 2. [FN12] Geo. 1.
The question as moved by Mr. Elseworth being divided, on the 1st. part shall ye. Natl. Executive be appointed by Electors? Mas. divd. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [FN13]
On [FN14] 2d. part shall the Electors be chosen by [FN14] State Legislatures? Mas. ay. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. [FN15]
The part relating to the ratio in which the States sd. chuse electors was postponed nem. con.
Mr. L. MARTIN moved that the Executive be ineligible a 2d. time.
Mr. WILLIAMSON 2ds. the motion. He had no great confidence in the Electors to be chosen for the special purpose. They would not be the most respectable citizens; but persons not occupied in the high offices of Govt. They would be liable to undue influence, which might the more readily be practised as some of them will probably be in appointment 6 or 8 months before the object of it comes on.
Mr. ELSEWORTH supposed any persons might be appointed Electors, excepting [FN16] solely, members of the Natl. Legislature.
On the question shall he be ineligible a 2d. time? Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no. [FN17]
On the question Shall the Executive continue for 7 years? It passed in the negative Mas. divd. Cont. ay. [FN18] N. J. no. [FN18] Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. divd. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [FN19]
Mr. KING was afraid we shd. shorten the term too much.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS was for a short term, in order to avoid impeachts. which wd.. be otherwise necessary.
Mr. BUTLER was agst. a [FN20] frequency of the elections. Geo. & S. C. were too distant to send electors often.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was for 6. years. If the elections be too frequent, the Executive will not be firm eno'. There must be duties which will make him unpopular for the moment. There will be outs as well as ins. His administration therefore will be attacked and misrepresented.
Mr. WILLIAMSON was for 6 years. The expence will be considerable & ought not to be unnecessarily repeated. If the Elections are too frequent, the best men will not undertake the service and those of an inferior character will be liable to be corrupted.
On [FN21] question for 6 years? Mas. ay. Cont. ay. N. J. ay. Pa ay. Del. no. Md . ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [FN22]
FN1 the word "and" is crossed out in the transcript.
FN2 The word "of" is substituted in the transcript for "in."
FN3 The figures "1" and "2" are changed to "first" and "secondly" in the transcript.
FN4 The figure "1" is changed to "In the first place" in the transcript.
FN5 The figure "2" is changed to "In the second place" in the transcript.
FN6 The figure "3" is changed to "In the third place" in the transcript.
FN7 The word "that" is changed to "than" in the transcript.
FN8 The word "remark" is used in the plural in the transcript.
FN9 The words "to be" are omitted in the transcript.
FN10 In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and all the others, aye."
FN11 The word "to" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN12 The word "to" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN13 In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, aye-6; North Carolina, south Carolina, Georgia, no-3; Massachusetts, divided."
FN14 The word "the" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN15 In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, aye-8; Virginia, South Carolina, no-2."
FN16 The word "except" is substituted in the transcript for "excepting."
FN17 In the transcript the vote reads: "North Carolina, South Carolina, aye- 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, no-8."
FN18 in the printed Journal Cont., no: N. Jersey ay
FN19 In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut, [FN18] South Carolina, Georgia, aye-3; New Jersey, [FN18] Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, no-5; Massachusetts, North Carolina, divided."
FN20 The word "the" is substituted in the transcript for "a."
FN21 The word "the" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN22 In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-9; Delaware, no."
The purpose of the Senate was to check the tendency toward popular majority abuse in the House of Representatives.
No matter how well constructed, the Senate was no check on legislative tyranny. To protect the people, a strong executive was required. His duties will be to appoint military and naval officers, various secretarial level officers, and officers for the dispensation of justice. The people will be quite able to judge the performance of the Executive.
But what if the Executive is not eligible for reelection? It will take away the attraction of public esteem if he is denied reelection. (Mr. Morris recognized the type of vigorous, ambitious characters who will seek the Presidency)
Absent civil reward, he feared resort to the sword.
He will attempt to aggrandize himself and friends.
A single term Executive would tend to violate the Constitution. In moments of pressing danger the Constitution will take second place.
(Lincoln comes to mind, but I leave details of that discussion, if applicable, to other Freepers) (From Mr. Morris next comments, I assume he and other delegates regarded impeachment as a semi-dangerous tool of abuse in the hands of wild legislatures. I suspect our forebears feared Executives would be regularly impeached over policy differences.)
Mr. Morris apparently disagreed with the power to impeach Executives, for the threat would make him beholding to the legislature and thus far less prone to protect the mass of the people. He would be reduced to a tool of faction by Congressional demagogues. How can a better arrangement be devised? Well, if he is to guard the people, let him be elected by the people. If he is to be a check on the legislature, get rid of legislative impeachment. Shorten his term of office, but make him eligible for reelection. He disagreed with other delegates who thought the people would not be familiar with the character of Executive candidates. (The Framers often made reference to mens character. Werent we told just the opposite during the Clinton years, that character was irrelevant, that ability to lie with a straight face was a positive Executive attribute?)
Mr. Morris supported impeachment of the ministers, but not the Executive. (This mirrored the Brit system. The King was unimpeachable, but ministers could hang for crimes.)
He supported a short Executive term of only two years, elected by the people. Yes, the country was large, but that would be a protection against minority intrigue. It was imperative to make the executive independent of the legislature and there were only two ways to do it. Let the Executive serve for life or be subject to regular, popular election. He wished to reconsider the entire subject of the executive.
Governor Edmund Randolph supported reinstatement of second term ineligibility. (As the resolutions stood, the Executive would be appointed by the legislature, he could be impeached by the legislature, and would be re-electable. This arrangement struck some delegates as too much Executive dependence on the legislature.) He could hardly be a check on Congress. The veto pen would get lost. He could hardly look out for the peoples interest if had to satisfy Congress for reelection. (In time, he would become a willing Congressional dupe.) Mr. Randolph thought the small states more vulnerable. He did not fear people becoming so corrupt as to allow Executive continuance by Mr. Morris sword.
Rufus King (MA) would not preclude a man from running for reelection. He trusted the people to chose wisely yet also supported the peoples election of electors to select the Executive.
William Patterson (NJ) had similar ideas. What of electors chosen by the states in a ratio of one to the smallest and three to the largest states? Mr. Wilson noted with pleasure a movement in the convention toward participation by the people either directly or indirectly.
James Madison (VA) spoke of separation of powers. A coalition of executive and legislative powers would be especially dangerous to public liberty. (Look at what has happened since FDR when Congress and the Executive branch are simultaneously run by democrats) He agreed the Executive should be either drawn from a source other than the legislature, or if appointed by the legislature, should have a long term. Either would promote some independence. However, legislative appointment would certainly involve intrigue. (Imagine the potential for corruption!)
(Mr. Madisons next comment revealed that like other delegates, he had learned from the proceedings.) Mr. Madison, who originally proposed executive appointment by the legislature, now supported direct election by the people. He noted the different traditions regarding white suffrage between Northern and Southern States and therefore thought popular election of state electors to meet with few objections.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) opposed reelection if appointed by the legislature. Direct popular election frightened him as well. State governors should elect electors for the Presidency. (I wonder if this would have had a real chance absent equality of state suffrage in the Senate. The downside of course in any age would have been intrigue between governors and Executives and Executive wannabees. Blago? On the upside, the involvement of Governors could have prevented much of the national governments 20th Century intrusion into State affairs. It is a shame IMO this idea went nowhere.) The States would then be thoroughly cemented to the national government. Popular election was the worst.
Mr. Gerry brought up the recent events surrounding Governors Bowdoin of MA and Sullivan of NH.
The motion to reconsider Executive election passed without opposition.
Judge Oliver Ellsworth (CN) moved to have electors chosen by the State legislatures in a ratio according to State population.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) supported electors chosen by anybody except State Governors in a proportion he listed.
John Rutlidge (SC) stood firm on the original Resolution, appointment of the Executive by the Congress, without subsequent terms.
Mr. Ellsworths motion was voted on in two parts. One - Shall the Executive be appointed by Electors? It passed 6-3. (Our Framers at the National level and those at the State level relied on some popular support in their governments. But notice how they limited popular elections. IMO, we suffer from the flip side of limited popular elections, i.e. far too much democracy.)
Second - Shall electors be chosen by state legislatures? passed 8-3.
A decision over the number of electors per state was postponed.
Luther Martin (MD) motioned for single term Executives Mr. Williamson seconded.
Hugh Williamson (NC) placed no great confidence in State legislature chosen electors.
Judge Oliver Ellsworth (CN) supposed anyone except legislators themselves could become electors.
On the motion to limit the Executive to a single term, it failed 8-2.
(Okay, so electors and not the people will determine the Executive. It was argued that absent popular election, if the will of the people was filtered through another body, subsequent Executive terms were relatively safe, as long as the terms were not too long.)
Seven year terms? No, by 5-3.
Rufus King (MA) cautioned not to shorten the terms too much.
Governeur Morris (PA) supported short terms in order to avoid impeachments. (I dont follow this logic entirely.)
(Unless GA and SC were blowing smoke, the following said much about the difficulty of travel.)
Pierce Butler (SC) apparently supported Executives for life, because GA and SC were too far to send electors on a regular basis.
Judge Oliver Ellsworth (CN) supported six years as the minimum in which such a leader could be effective. The Executive would take a lot of political hits and have to make some unpopular decisions.
Hugh Williamson (NC) also viewed six years appropriate. Such elections would be expensive, and higher frequency elections could only attract lower quality men prone to corruption.
Six year terms passed 9-1.
Constitutional Convention Ping!
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