Skip to comments.Journal of the Federal Convention July 24th 1787
Posted on 07/24/2011 2:36:51 AM PDT by Jacquerie
Executive Electors. Twenty Year President. Single or Multiple Executives. How Many Terms? Impeachment. State Legislatures or Congressional Appointment. G. Morris Speech. Roll the Dice. Committee of Detail. Pinckney and NJ/Patterson Plans Discharged.
The appointment of the Executive by Electors [FN1] reconsidered.
Mr. HOUSTON moved that he be appointed by the "Natl. Legislature," instead of "Electors appointed by the State Legislatures" according to the last decision of the mode. He dwelt chiefly on the improbability, that capable men would undertake the service of Electors from the more distant States.
Mr. SPAIGHT seconded the motion.
Mr. GERRY opposed it. He thought there was no ground to apprehend the danger urged by Mr. Houston. The election of the Executive Magistrate will be considered as of vast importance and will excite [FN2] great earnestness. The best men, the Governours of the States will not hold it derogatory from their character to be the electors. If the motion should be agreed to, it will be necessary to make the Executive ineligible a 2d. time, in order to render him independent of the Legislature; which was an idea extremely repugnant to his way of thinking.
Mr. STRONG supposed that there would be no necessity, if the Executive should be appointed by the Legislature, to make him ineligible a 2d. time; as new elections of the Legislature will have intervened; and he will not depend for his 2d. appointment on the same sett of men as [FN3] his first was recd. from. It had been suggested that gratitude for his past appointment wd. produce the same effect as dependence for his future appointment. He thought very differently. Besides this objection would lie agst. the Electors who would be objects of gratitude as well as the Legislature. It was of great importance not to make the Govt. too complex which would be the case if a new sett of men like the Electors should be introduced into it. He thought also that the first characters in the States would not feel sufficient motives to undertake the office of Electors.
Mr. WILLIAMSON was for going back to the original ground; to elect the Executive for 7 years and render him ineligible a 2d. time. The proposed Electors would certainly not be men of the 1st. nor even of the 2d. grade in the States. These would all prefer a seat either [FN4] in the Senate or the other branch of the Legislature. He did not like the Unity in the Executive. He had wished the Executive power to be lodged in three men taken from three districts into which the States should be divided. As the Executive is to have a kind of veto on the laws, and there is an essential difference of interests between the N. & S. States, particularly in the carrying trade, the power will be dangerous, if the Executive is to be taken from part of the Union, to the part from which he is not taken. The case is different here from what it is in England; where there is a sameness of interests throughout the Kingdom.
Another objection agst. a single Magistrate is that he will be an elective King, and will feel the spirit of one. He will spare no pains to keep himself in for life, and will then lay a train for the succession of his children. It was pretty certain he thought that we should at some time or other have a King; but he wished no precaution to be omitted that might postpone the event as long as possible. -Ineligibility a 2d. time appeared to him to be the best precaution. With this precaution he had no objection to a longer term than 7 years. He would go as far as 10 or 12 years.
Mr. GERRY moved that the Legislatures of the States should vote by ballot for the Executive in the same proportions as it had been proposed they should chuse electors; and that in case a majority of the votes should not center on the same person, the 1st. branch of the Natl. Legislature should chuse two out of the 4 candidates having most votes, and out of these two, the 2d. branch should chuse the Executive.
Mr. KING seconded the motion-and on the Question to postpone in order to take it into consideration. The noes were so predominant, that the States were not counted.
[FN5] Question on Mr. Houston's motion that the Executive be appd. by [FN6] Nal. Legislature
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. [FN7]
Mr. L. MARTIN & Mr. GERRY moved to re-instate the ineligibility of the Executive a 2d. time.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. With many this appears a natural consequence of his being elected by the Legislature. It was not the case with him. The Executive he thought should be reelected if his conduct proved him worthy of it. And he will be more likely to render himself, worthy of it if he be rewardable with it. The most eminent characters also will be more willing to accept the trust under this condition, than if they foresee a necessary degradation at a fixt period.
Mr. GERRY. That the Executive shd. be independent of the Legislature is a clear point. The longer the duration of his appointment the more will his dependence be diminished. It will be better then for him to continue 10, 15, or even 20, years and be ineligible afterwards.
Mr. KING was for making him re-eligible. This is too great an advantage to be given up for the small effect it will have on his dependence, if impeachments are to lie. He considered these as rendering the tenure during pleasure.
Mr. L. MARTIN, suspending his motion as to the ineligibility, moved "that the appointmt. of the Executive shall continue for Eleven years.
Mr. GERRY suggested fifteen years.
Mr. KING twenty years. This is the medium life of princes. [FN8]
Mr. DAVIE Eight years
Mr. WILSON. The difficulties & perplexities into which the House is thrown proceed from the election by the Legislature which he was sorry had been reinstated. The inconveniency [FN10] of this mode was such that he would agree to almost any length of time in order to get rid of the dependence which must result from it. He was persuaded that the longest term would not be equivalent to a proper mode of election; unless indeed it should be during good behaviour. It seemed to be supposed that at a certain advance in life, a continuance in office would cease to be agreeable to the officer, as well as desirable to the public. Experience had shewn in a variety of instances that both a capacity & inclination for public service existed-in very advanced stages. He mentioned the instance of a Doge of Venice who was elected after he was 80 years of age. The popes have generally been elected at very advanced periods, and yet in no case had a more steady or a better concerted policy been pursued than in the Court of Rome. If the Executive should come into office at 35. years of age, which he presumes may happen & his continuance should be fixt at 15 years. at the age of 50. in the very prime of life, and with all the aid of experience, he must be cast aside like a useless hulk. What an irreparable loss would the British Jurisprudence have sustained, had the age of 50. been fixt there as the ultimate limit of capacity or readiness to serve the public. The great luminary [Ld. Mansfield] held his seat for thirty years after his arrival at that age. Notwithstanding what had been done he could not but hope that a better mode of election would yet be adopted; and one that would be more agreeable to the general sense of the House. That time might be given for further deliberation he wd. move that the present question be postponed till tomorrow.
Mr. BROOM seconded the motion to postpone.
Mr. GERRY. We seem to be entirely at a loss on this head. He would suggest whether it would not be adviseable to refer the clause relating to the Executive to the Committee of detail to be appointed. Perhaps they will be able to hit on something that may unite the various opinions which have been thrown out. Mr. WILSON. As the great difficulty seems to spring from the mode of election, he wd. suggest a mode which had not been mentioned. It was that the Executive be elected for 6 years by a small number, not more than 15 of the Natl. Legislature, to be drawn from it, not by ballot, but by lot and who should retire immediately and make the election without separating. By this mode intrigue would be avoided in the first instance, and the dependence would be diminished. This was not he said a digested idea and might be liable to strong objections.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS. Of all possible modes of appointment that by the Legislature is the worst. If the Legislature is to appoint, and to impeach or to influence the impeachment, the Executive will be the mere creature of it. He had been opposed to the impeachment but was now convinced that impeachments must be provided for, if the appt. was to be of any duration. No man wd. say, that an Executive known to be in the pay of an Enemy, should not be removeable in some way or other.
He had been charged heretofore [by Col. Mason] with inconsistency in pleading for confidence in the Legislature on some occasions, & urging a distrust on others. The charge was not well founded. The Legislature is worthy of unbounded confidence in some respects, and liable to equal distrust in others. When their interest coincides precisely with that of their Constituents, as happens in many of their Acts, no abuse of trust is to be apprehended.
When a strong personal interest happens to be opposed to the general interest, the Legislature can not be too much distrusted. In all public bodies there are two parties. The Executive will necessarily be more connected with one than with the other. There will be a personal interest therefore in one of the parties to oppose as well as in the other to support him. Much had been said of the intrigues that will be practised by the Executive to get into office. Nothing had been said on the other side of the intrigues to get him out of office. Some leader of [FN11] party will always covet his seat, will perplex his administration, will cabal with the Legislature, till he succeeds in supplanting him. This was the way in which the King of England was got out, he meant the real King, the Minister. This was the way in which Pitt [Ld. Chatham] forced himself into place. Fox was for pushing the matter still farther. If he carried his India bill, which he was very near doing, he would have made the Minister, the King in form almost as well as in substance.
Our President will be the British Minister, yet we are about to make him appointable by the Legislature. Something had been said of the danger of Monarchy. If a good government should not now be formed, if a good organization of the Execuve should not be provided, he doubted whether we should not have something worse than a limited Monarchy. In order to get rid of the dependence of the Executive on the Legislature, the expedient of making him ineligible a 2d. time had been devised. This was as much as to say we shd. give him the benefit of experience, and then deprive ourselves of the use of it. But make him ineligible a 2d. time-and prolong his duration even to 15- years, will he by any wonderful interposition of providence at that period cease to be a man? No he will be unwilling to quit his exaltation, the road to his object thro' the Constitution will be shut; he will be in possession of the sword, a civil war will ensue, and the Commander of the victorious army on which ever side, will be the despot of America.
This consideration renders him particularly anxious that the Executive should be properly constituted. The vice here would not, as in some other parts of the system be curable. It is the most difficult of all rightly to balance the Executive. Make him too weak: The Legislature will usurp his powers: Make him too strong. He will usurp on the Legislature. He preferred a short period, a re-eligibility, but a different mode of election. A long period would prevent an adoption of the plan: it ought to do so. He shd. himself be afraid to trust it. He was not prepared to decide on Mr. Wilson's mode of election just hinted by him. He thought it deserved consideration It would be better that chance sd. decide than intrigue.
On a [FN12] question to postpone the consideration of the Resolution on the subject of the Executive
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. divd. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. [FN13]
Mr. WILSON then moved that the Executive be chosen every ------- years by ------- Electors to be taken by lot from the Natl Legislature who shall proceed immediately to the choice of the Executive and not separate until it be made."
Mr. CARROL 2ds. the motion
Mr. GERRY. this is committing too much to chance. If the lot should fall on a sett of unworthy men, an unworthy Executive must be saddled on the Country. He thought it had been demonstrated that no possible mode of electing by the Legislature could be a good one.
Mr. KING. The lot might fall on a majority from the same State which wd. ensure the election of a man from that State. We ought to be governed by reason, not by chance. As nobody seemed to be satisfied, he wished the matter to be postponed
Mr. WILSON did not move this as the best mode. His opinion remained unshaken that we ought to resort to the people for the election. He seconded the postponement.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS observed that the chances were almost infinite agst. a majority of electors from the same State.
On a question whether the last motion was in order, it was determined in the affirmative; 7. ays. 4 noes.
On the question of postponent. it was agreed to nem. con.
Mr. CARROL took occasion to observe that he considered the clause declaring that direct taxation on the States should be in proportion to representation, previous to the obtaining an actual census, as very objectionable, and that he reserved to himself the right of opposing it, if the Report of the Committee of detail should leave it in the plan.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS hoped the Committee would strike out the whole of the clause proportioning direct taxation to representation. He had only meant it as a [FN14] bridge to assist us over a certain gulph; having passed the gulph the bridge may be removed. He thought the principle laid down with so much strictness, liable to strong objections
On a ballot for a Committee to report a Constitution conformable to the Resolutions passed by the Convention, the members chosen were Mr. Rutlidge, Mr. Randolph, Mr. Ghorum, Mr. Elseworth, Mr. Wilson-
On motion to discharge the Come. of the whole from the propositions submitted to the Convention by Mr. C. Pinkney as the basis of a constitution, and to refer them to the Committee of detail just appointed, it was agd. to nem: con.
A like motion was then made & agreed to nem: con: with respect to the propositions of Mr. Patterson
FN1 The word "being" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN2 The word "create" is substituted in the transcript for "excite."
FN3 The word "that" is substituted in the transcript for "as."
FN4 The word "either" is omitted in the transcript.
FN5 The words "On the" are here inserted in the transcript.
FN6 The word "the" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN7 In the transcript the vote reads: "New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye-7; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, no-4."
FN8 This might possibly be meant as a carricature of the previous motions in order to defeat the object of them. Transfer hither. [FN9]
FN9 Madison's direction concerning the footnote is omitted in the transcript.
FN10 The word "inconveniency" is changed to "inconvenience" in the transcript.
FN11 The word "a" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN12 The word "the" is substituted in the transcript for "a."
FN13 In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye-4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no-6."
FN14 The object was to lessen the eagerness on one side, [FN54] & the opposition on the other, to the share of representation claimed by the S. Southern States on account of the Negroes.
FN15 The N.B. to be transferred hither without the N.B. [FN55]
FN16 The word "for" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN17 Madison's direction concerning the footnote is ommitted in the transcript.
William Houston (GA) motioned, Richard Spaight seconded to return to Congressional appointment of the Executive instead of State Legislature appointment of Electors. He was skeptical that capable men would be appointed for distant, arduous journeys.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) opposed the change. The importance of the election would draw the best characters, including State Governors. If the motion carried, the Executive must be restricted to one term, less he becomes a tool of the Legislature.
Caleb Strong (MA) did not see the danger because new Senators would be present and the Executive could not be under the influence of many of the same men. He doubted the first characters would be disposed to become Electors. (When did the people get involved in the executive electoral process? We have long suffered from too much democracy.)
Hugh Williamson (NC) would go back the original framework of National Legislative appointment of Executive Electors, and limit him to one seven year term. The States would not send the best men. He did not like the single Executive and would divide the country into three districts from which to select three Execs. Unlike Great Britain, the US has varied interests such as North v. South, and carrying v. agricultural states. Another fear was that of an elective King, which he thought inevitable but could be delayed for some time. He would support almost any single term length up to twelve years.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) made motion for State Legislatures to appoint a number of Executive Electors equal (I think . . . ) to their number in the National Legislature. He made provision for an electoral tie.
Rufus King (MA) seconded. The motion was resoundingly defeated.
On the question of Mr. Houston's motion that the Executive be appointed by the National Legislature, it passed 7-4.
Luther Martin (MD) & Elbridge Gerry (MA) moved to reinstate second term ineligibility.
Judge Oliver Ellsworth (CN) thought a good man should be re-electable and a good one would so conduct himself. Better men would be attracted to the position.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) thought all agreed on one point; the Executive must remain independent of the Legislature. A single term of up to twenty years would do the trick.
Rufus King (MA) would make him re-eligible.
Luther Martin (MD) suspended his motion of re-eligibility to offer, that the appointment of the Executive shall continue for eleven years.
William Davie (NC), Elbridge Gerry (MA) and Rufus King (MA) offered terms ranging from eight to twenty years. Twenty was the average term of Princes according to Mr. King.
James Wilson (PA) was disappointed the appointment had been thrown back into the National Legislature, for it raised the difficulty of how to ensure independence. He would agree to almost any term, but it would not solve the problem unless the Executive held office under good behavior. Old age was not a problem, for elderly Popes, Doges of Venice and Prime Ministers of England served well. Appointment of the Executive by Congress was not the best method, and he moved the present question be moved to tomorrow.
(From the time spent back and forth discussing impeachment, I think it is clear this threat to the Executive was expected to be used, or at least threatened, far more often than it has. Our President has taken on Kingly attributes, one of which is near un-impeachability and certain non-conviction.)
Jacob Broome (DE) seconded to postpone.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) asked if it would be worthwhile to refer the issue to the Committee of Detail.
James Wilson (PA) suggested an off the wall solution. Select fifteen men by lot from Congress to immediately appoint the President. It would eliminate intrigue.
Governeur Morris (PA) thought Executive appointment by the National Legislature to be the worst of bad ideas. The Executive would be a creature of it. Removal of some sort must be provided for. Mr. Morris responded to Mr. Masons accusation of inconsistency regarding the trustworthiness of Legislatures.
(What follows is a lesson in political reality)
There is no danger when the interests of Legislators coincide with that of their constituents. Legislators cannot be trusted when personal interests are at odds with the general interest. There will be two interests in all political bodies and the Executive will be more attached to one than the other. Members of one party will find it personally advantageous to support the Executive and the other to oppose him. Yes, there will be political intrigues to get him into office. Just as surely there will be schemes to get rid of him.
Mr. Morris offered recent examples in British history.
(Without saying so, he deftly expressed fear of an elected Monarch) On one hand we would give the Executive a single short term and subsequently deny the country of his learned talents. On the other we give him a lengthy term then shut off the object of his desires while he possesses the sword and widespread loyalty. Expect civil war followed by despotism.
He was particularly apprehensive of the Executive. Original vice here could not be corrected. The difficulty was to determine proper balance. Without precise balance, the Legislature or the Executive would overwhelm the other. The best (not perfect) antidote was a short term, re-eligibility, but a different mode of election (Which I found disappointing that he did not specify). He considered Mr. Wilsons sketch of chance appointment better than intrigue.
(Mr. Madison preserved a superb summary of a terrific speech. We are less well off for the lack of a professional court recorder at the Constitutional Convention.)
A motion to postpone consideration of the Executive was defeated, 6-4-1.
James Wilson (PA) (on support expressed by Mr. G. Morris I assume) motioned and Mr. Carroll seconded, Electors be chosen by lot from the National Legislature to select the National Executive.
Elbridge Gerry (MA) criticized the Electors-by-lot plan of Mr. Wilson. A bad set of members would select awful Executives. It had been shown that no method of Legislative election was good.
Rufus King (MA) said reason and not chance should be used. He wished to postpone the matter.
James Wilson (PA) did not offer chance as the best mode. Involvement of the people would be best. He seconded postponement.
On the question of order of the last motion, it was upheld, 7-4.
The question to postpone further consideration of the Executive passed without opposition.
Daniel Carroll (MD) warned the convention. If the Committee of Detail retained the clause that provided for direct taxation in proportion to representation before taking an accurate census, he reserved the right to oppose the plan.
Governeur Morris (PA) hoped the Committee would strike the clause entirely. It caused too much division and was only intended to bridge a monetary gulf.
Delegates John Rutlidge (SC), Governor Edmund Randolph, Nathaniel Gorham (MA), Judge Oliver Ellsworth (CN), James Wilson (PA) were selected to the Committee of Detail to report a Constitution conformable to Resolutions passed.
Motions to discharge the Pinckney and NJ/Patterson plans passed without opposition.
(The Committee of Detail will submit a draft Constitution on August 6th. Notice the membership of two Northerners, two Southerners and a Middle Statesman. They were expected to polish and wordsmith all of the passed and amended resolutions into a smooth and non-contradictory document.)
Debate surrounding the Executive would consume more time than any other topic. How many execs, appointed by whom, for how long were central questions. Fear of a strongman at one end of the spectrum and a weakling executive at the other typified by the Congressional executive committee under the Articles of Confederation framed the discussions.
IMO, issues surrounding the Presidency were more important than those concerning the Judiciary. The Framers knew that if they were not careful, a President could evolve into an elected authoritarian, something far worse than a hereditary monarch.
What they could not foresee was the widespread mid-20th century abandonment of legislative power from Congress to the President. Most the “law” we now live under originates not in Congress, but in the corner offices of unaccountable bureaucrats.
And one of the Federalists reflected Montesquieu on the Judiciary being the “weakest branch” Reliant for enforcement of its will on either the Executive or the Legislative —or both? I wonder if the drift in structure of our Government was not like a dropped bowl of jello down an inclined plane? Corruption in the relation of the Executive and Congress seems hand in hand with the power seized from the Legislative by the Judiciary. I doubt the Framers could recognize what we have allowed without rebelling.
Yeah, they would have revolted long ago.