The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
JUNE 1st 1787
William Houston from Georgia took his seat.
The Committee of the whole proceeded to Resolution 7. 1
"that a national Executive be instituted, to be chosen by the national
Legislature — for the term of ______ years &c to be ineligible
thereafter, to possess the executive powers of Congress &c."
Mr. PINKNEY was for a vigorous Executive
but was afraid the Executive powers of the existing Congress might extend to
peace & war &c., which would render the Executive a monarchy, of the
worst kind, to wit an elective one.
Mr. WILSON moved that the Executive
consist of a single person.
Mr. C PINKNEY seconded the motion, so as
to read "that a National Ex. to consist of a single person, be instituted.
A considerable pause ensuing and the Chairman asking if he should put the
question, DOCr. FRANKLIN
observed that it was a point of great importance and wished that the gentlemen
would deliver their sentiments on it before the question was put.
Mr. RUTLIDGE animadverted on the shyness
of gentlemen on this and other subjects. He said it looked as if they supposed
themselves precluded by having frankly disclosed their opinions from afterwards
changing them, which he did not take to be at all the case. He said he was for
vesting the Executive power in a single person, tho' he was not for giving him
the power of war and peace. A single man would feel the greatest responsibility
and administer the public affairs best.
Mr. SHERMAN said he considered the
Executive magistracy as nothing more than an institution for carrying the will
of the Legislature into effect, that the person or persons ought to be appointed
by and accountable to the Legislature only, which was the depositary of the
supreme will of the Society. As they were the best judges of the business which
ought to be done by the Executive department, and consequently of the number
necessary from time to time for doing it, he wished the number might not be
fixed but that the legislature should be at liberty to appoint one or more as
experience might dictate.
Mr. WILSON preferred a single
magistrate, as giving most energy dispatch and responsibility to the office. He
did not consider the Prerogatives of the British Monarch as a proper guide in
defining the Executive powers. Some of these prerogatives were of Legislative
nature. Among others that of war & peace &c. The only powers he
conceived 2 strictly Executive were those
of executing the laws, and appointing officers, not appertaining to and
appointed by the Legislature.
Mr. GERRY favored the policy of annexing
a Council to the Executive in order to give weight & inspire confidence. Mr.
RANDOLPH strenuously opposed a unity in the Executive
magistracy. He regarded it as the foetus of monarchy. We had he said no motive
to be governed by the British Governmt. as our prototype. He did not mean
however to throw censure on that Excellent fabric. If we were in a situation to
copy it he did not know that he should be opposed to it; but the fixt genius of
the people of America required a different form of Government. He could not see
why the great requisites for the Executive department, vigor, despatch &
responsibility could not be found in three men, as well as in one man. The
Executive ought to be independent. It ought therefore in order to support its
independence to consist of more than one.
Mr. WILSON said that unity in the
Executive instead of being the fetus of monarchy would be the best safeguard
against tyranny. He repeated that he was not governed by the British Model which
was inapplicable to the situation of this Country; the extent of which was so
great, and the manners so republican, that nothing but a great confederated
Republic would do for it. Mr. Wilson's motion for a single magistrate was
postponed by common consent, the Committee seeming unprepared for any decision
on it; and the first part of the clause agreed to, viz — "that a
National Executive be instituted."
Mr. MADISON thought it would be proper,
before a choice shd. be made between a unity and a plurality in the Executive,
to fix the extent of the Executive authority; that as certain powers were in
their nature Executive, and must be given to that departmt. whether administered
by one or more persons, a definition of their extent would assist the judgment
in determining how far they might be safely entrusted to a single officer. He
accordingly moved that so much of the clause before the Committee as related to
the powers of the Executive shd. be struck out & that after the words "that
a national Executive ought to be instituted" there be inserted the words
following viz. "with power to carry into effect the national laws, to
appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for, and to execute such
other powers "not Legislative nor Judiciary in their nature," as may
from time to time be delegated by the national Legislature." The words "not
legislative nor judiciary in their nature" were added to the proposed
amendment in consequence of a suggestion by Genl. Pinkney that improper powers
might otherwise be delegated.
Mr. WILSON seconded this motion —
Mr. PINKNEY moved to amend the amendment
by striking out the last member of it; viz: "and to execute such other
powers not Legislative nor Judiciary in their nature as may from time to time be
delegated." He said they were unnecessary, the object of them being
included in the "power
3 to carry into effect the national laws."
Mr. RANDOLPH seconded the motion.
Mr. MADISON did not know that the words
were absolutely necessary, or even the preceding words — "to appoint
to offices &c. the whole being perhaps included in the first member of the
proposition. He did not however see any inconveniency 4
in retaining them, and cases might happen in which they might serve to prevent
doubts and misconstructions.
In consequence of the motion of Mr. Pinkney, the question on Mr. Madison's
motion was divided; and the words objected to by Mr. Pinkney struck out; by the
votes of Connecticut, N. Y. N. J. Pena. Del. N. C. & Geo. 5
agst. Mass. Virga. & S. Carolina 5 the
preceding part of the motion being first agreed to; Connecticut divided, all the
other States in the affirmative. The next clause in Resolution 7, 6
relating to the mode of appointing, & the duration of, the Executive being
Mr. WILSON said he was almost unwilling
to declare the mode which he wished to take place, being apprehensive that it
might appear chimerical. He would say however at least that in theory he was for
an election by the people. Experience, particularly in N. York & Massts.,
shewed that an election of the first magistrate by the people at large, was both
a convenient & successful mode. The objects of choice in such cases must be
persons whose merits have general notoriety.
Mr. SHERMAN was for the appointment by
the Legislature, and for making him absolutely dependent on that body, as it was
the will of that which was to be executed. An independence of the Executive on
the supreme Legislature, was in his opinion the very essence of tyranny if there
was any such thing.
Mr. WILSON moves that the blank for the
term of duration should be filled with three years, observing at the same time
that he preferred this short period, on the supposition that a reeligibility
would be provided for.
Mr. PINKNEY moves for seven years.
Mr. SHERMAN was for three years, and
agst. the doctrine of rotation as throwing out of office the men best qualifyed
to execute its duties.
Mr. MASON was for seven years at least,
and for prohibiting a re-eligibility as the best expedient both for preventing
the effect of a false complaisance on the side of the Legislature towards unfit
characters; and a temptation on the side of the Executive to intrigue with the
Legislature for a re-appointment.
Mr. BEDFORD was strongly opposed to so
long a term as seven years. He begged the committee to consider what the
situation of the Country would be, in case the first magistrate should be
saddled on it for such a period and it should be found on trial that he did not
possess the qualifications ascribed to him, or should lose them after his
appointment. An impeachment he said would be no cure for this evil, as an
impeachment would reach misfeasance only, not incapacity. He was for a triennial
election, and for an ineligibility after a period of nine years.
On the question for seven years, 7
Massts. dividd. Cont. no. N. Y. ay. N. J. ay. Pena. ay. Del. ay. Virga. ay. N.
C. no. S. C. no. Geor. no. 8 There being
5ays, 4 noes, 1 divd., a question was asked whether a majority had voted in the
affirmative? The President decided that it was an affirmative vote.
The mode of appointing the Executive was the next question.
Mr. WILSON renewed his declarations in
favor of an appointment by the people. He wished to derive not only both
branches of the Legislature from the people, without the intervention of the
State Legislatures but the Executive also; in order to make them as independent
as possible of each other, as well as of the States;
Col. MASON favors the idea, but thinks it
impracticable. He wishes however that Mr. Wilson might have time to digest it
into his own form. — the clause "to be chosen by the National
Legislature" — was accordingly postponed. —
Mr. RUTLIDGE suggests an election of the
Executive by the second branch only of the national Legislature.
The Committee then rose and the House
1. The words "the seventh Resolution"
are substituted in the transcript for "Resolution 7' and the words of the
resolution are italicized.
2. The transcript here substitutes the
word "considered" for "conceived."
3. The transcript uses the word "power"
in the plural.
4. The transcript changes the word "inconveniency"
5. In the transcript the figures "7"
and "3" are inserted after the States Georgia and South Carolina
6. The words "the seventh Resolution"
are substituted in the transcript for "Resolution 7."
7. The transcript italicizes the phrase "for
8. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, aye — 5; Connecticut,
North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 4; Massachusetts, divided."