The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
The appointment of the Executive by Electors 1
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
2 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 3 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
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
4 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
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.
5 Question on Mr. Houston's motion
that the Executive be appd. by 6 Nal.
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. 7
Mr. L. MARTIN & Mr. GERRY moved to re-instate the ineligibility of the Executive a
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.
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
10 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
Mr. BROOM seconded the motion to
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
11 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 12 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. 13
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 14
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:
A like motion was then made & agreed to nem: con: with respect to the
propositions of Mr. Patterson.
1. The word "being" is here
inserted in the transcript.
2. The word "create" is
substituted in the transcript for "excite."
3. The word "that" is
substituted in the transcript for "as."
4. The word "either" is omitted
in the transcript.
5. The words "On the" are here
inserted in the transcript.
6. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
7. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye — 7; Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, no —
8. This might possibly be meant as a
carricature of the previous motions in order to defeat the object of them.
9. Madison's direction concerning the
footnote is omitted in the transcript.
10. The word "inconveniency" is
changed to "inconvenience" in the transcript.
11. The word "a" is here
inserted in the transcript.
12. The word "the" is
substituted in the transcript for "a."
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 6."
14. The object was to lessen the
eagerness on one side,
16 & the opposition on the other, to
the share of representation claimed by the S. Southern States on account of the
15. The N.B. to be transferred hither
without the N.B.
16. The word "for" is here
inserted in the transcript.
17. Madison's direction concerning the
footnote is ommitted in the transcript.