The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
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 &
1 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
2 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.
3 ministerial officers for the
administration of public affairs. 2. 3
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. 4 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. 5 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. 6 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 7
the plan suggested by Mr. Govr. Morris.
Mr. KING. did not like the
ineligibility. He thought there was great force in the remark 8
of Mr. Sherman, that he who has proved himself to be 9
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
Mr. ELSEWORTH moved to strike out the
appointmt. by the Natl. Legislature, and 11
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. 12
N. J. 2. 12 Pa. 3. 12
Del. 1. 12 Md. 2.
12 Va. 3. 12
N. C. 2.
12 S. C. 2. 12
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. 13
On 14 2d. part shall the Electors be
14 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.
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 16
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. 17
On the question Shall the Executive continue for 7 years? It passed in the
negative Mas. divd. Cont. ay. *18 N. J.
no. *18 Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no.
N. C. divd. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 19
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
Mr. BUTLER was agst. a 20
frequency of the elections. Geo. & S. C. were too distant to send electors
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 21 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.
1. The word "and" is crossed out
in the transcript.
2. The word "of" is substituted
in the transcript for "in."
3. The figures "1" and "2"
are changed to "first" and "secondly" in the transcript.
4. The figure "1" is changed to "In
the first place" in the transcript.
5. The figure "2" is changed to "In
the second place" in the transcript.
6. The figure "3" is changed to "In
the third place" in the transcript.
7. The word "that" is changed to
"than" in the transcript.
8. The word "remark" is used in
the plural in the transcript.
9. The words "to be" are omitted
in the transcript.
10. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, and all the others, aye."
11. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
12. The word "to" is here
inserted in the transcript.
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 6; North
Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 3; Massachusetts, divided."
14. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
15. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina,
Georgia, aye — 8; Virginia, South Carolina, no — 2."
16. The word "except" is
substituted in the transcript for "excepting."
17. In the transcript the vote reads: "North
Carolina, South Carolina, aye — 2; Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, no — 8."
*18. In the printed Journal Cont., no: N.
19. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
18 South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 3;
18 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland,
Virginia, no — 5; Massachusetts, North Carolina, divided."
20. The word "the" is
substituted in the transcript for "a."
21. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
22. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; Delaware, no."