The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
1 Clause relating to the Executive
2 again under consideration.
Mr. ELSEWORTH moved "that the
Executive be appointed by the Legislature," except when the magistrate last
chosen shall have continued in office the whole term for which he was chosen, &
be reeligible, in which case the choice shall be by Electors appointed by the
Legislatures of the States for that purpose." By this means a deserving
magistrate may be reelected without making him dependent on the Legislature.
Mr. GERRY repeated his remark that an
election at all by the Natl. Legislature was radically and incurably wrong; and
moved that the Executive be appointed by the Governours & Presidents of the
States, with advice of their Councils, and where there are no Councils by
Electors chosen by the Legislatures. The executives to vote in the following
proportions: viz —
Mr. MADISON. There are objections agst.
every mode that has been, or perhaps can be proposed. The election must be made
either by some existing authority under the Natil. or State Constitutions —
or by some special authority derived from the people — or by the people
themselves. — The two Existing authorities under the Natl. Constitution wd.
be the Legislative & Judiciary. The latter he presumed was out of the
question. The former was in his Judgment liable to insuperable objections.
Besides the general influence of that mode on the independence of the Executive,
4 the election of the Chief Magistrate
would agitate & divide the legislature so much that the public interest
would materially suffer by it. Public bodies are always apt to be thrown into
contentions, but into more violent ones by such occasions than by any others. 2.
5 the candidate would intrigue with the
Legislature, would derive his appointment from the predominant faction, and be
apt to render his administration subservient to its views. 3. 6
The Ministers of foreign powers would have and 7
make use of, the opportunity to mix their intrigues & influence with the
Election. Limited as the powers of the Executive are, it will be an object of
great moment with the great rival powers of Europe who have American
possessions, to have at the head of our Governmt. a man attached to their
respective politics & interests. No pains, nor perhaps expense, will be
spared, to gain from the Legislature an appointmt. favorable to their wishes.
Germany & Poland are witnesses of this danger. In the former, the election
of the Head of the Empire, till it became in a manner hereditary, interested all
Europe, and was much influenced by foreign interference. In the latter, altho'
the elective Magistrate has very little real power, his election has at all
times produced the most eager interference of forign princes, and has in fact at
length slid entirely into foreign hands. The existing authorities in the States
are the Legislative, Executive & Judiciary. The appointment of the Natl.
Executive by the first, was objectionable in many points of view, some of which
had been already mentioned. He would mention one which of itself would decide
his opinion. The Legislatures of the States had betrayed a strong propensity to
a variety of pernicious measures. One object of the Natl. Legislre. was to
controul this propensity. One object of the Natl. Executive, so far as it would
have a negative on the laws, was to controul the Natl. Legislature, so far as it
might be infected with a similar propensity. Refer the appointmt. of the Natl.
Executive to the State Legislatures, and this controuling purpose may be
defeated. The Legislatures can & will act with some kind of regular plan,
and will promote the appointmt. of a man who will not oppose himself to a
favorite object. Should a majority of the Legislatures at the time of election
have the same object, or different objects of the same kind, The Natl. Executive
would be rendered subservient to them. — An appointment by the State
Executives, was liable among other objections to this insuperable one, that
being standing bodies, they could & would be courted, and intrigued with by
the Candidates, by their partizans, and by the Ministers of foreign powers. The
State Judiciarys had not 8 & he
presumed wd. not be proposed as a proper source of appointment. The option
before us then lay between an appointment by Electors chosen by the people —
and an immediate appointment by the people. He thought the former mode free from
many of the objections which had been urged agst. it, and greatly preferable to
an appointment by the Natl. Legislature. As the electors would be chosen for the
occasion, would meet at once, & proceed immediately to an appointment, there
would be very little opportunity for cabal, or corruption. As a farther
precaution, it might be required that they should meet at some place, distinct
from the seat of Govt. and even that no person within a certain distance of the
place at the time shd. be eligible. This Mode however had been rejected so
recently & by so great a majority that it probably would not be proposed
anew. The remaining mode was an election by the people or rather by the
qualified part of them, at large: With all its imperfections he liked this best.
He would not repeat either the general argumts. for or the objections agst. this
mode. He would only take notice of two difficulties which he admitted to have
weight. The first arose from the disposition in the people to prefer a Citizen
of their own State, and the disadvantage this wd. throw on the smaller States.
Great as this objection might be he did not think it equal to such as lay agst.
every other mode which had been proposed. He thought too that some expedient
might be hit upon that would obviate it. The second difficulty arose from the
disproportion of qualified voters in the N. & S. States, and the
disadvantages which this mode would throw on the latter. The answer to this
objection was 1. 9 that this disproportion
would be continually decreasing under the influence of the Republican laws
introduced in the S. States, and the more rapid increase of their population. 2.
10 That local considerations must give
way to the general interest. As an individual from the S. States he was willing
to make the sacrifice.
Mr. ELSEWORTH. The objection drawn from
the different sizes of the States, is unanswerable. The Citizens of the largest
States would invariably prefer the Candidate within the State; and the largest
States wd. invariably have the man.
11 Question on Mr. Elseworth's motion
N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 12
Mr. PINKNEY moved that the election by
the Legislature be qualified with a proviso that no person be eligible for more
than 6 years in any twelve years. He thought this would have all the advantage &
at the same time avoid in some degree the inconveniency, 13
of an absolute ineligibility a 2d. time.
Col. MASON approved the idea. It had the sanction of
experience in the instance of Congs. and some of the Executives of the States.
It rendered the Executive as effectually independent, as an ineligibility after
his first election, and opened the way at the same time for the advantage of his
future services. He preferred on the whole the election by the Nati.
Legislature: Tho' Candor obliged him to admit, that there was great danger of
foreign influence, as had been suggested. This was the most serious objection
with him that had been urged.
Mr. BUTLER. The two great evils to be
avoided are cabal at home, & influence from abroad. It will be difficult to
avoid either if the Election be made by the Natl. Legislature. On the other
hand: The Govt. should not be made so complex & unwieldy as to disgust the
States. This would be the case, if the election shd. be referred to the people.
He liked best an election by Electors chosen by the Legislatures of the States.
He was agst. are — eligibility at all events. He was also agst. a ratio of
votes in the States. An equality should prevail in this case. The reasons for
departing from it do not hold in the case of the Executive as in that of the
Mr. GERRY approved of Mr. Pinkney's
motion as lessening the evil.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
was agst. a rotation in every case. It formed a political School, in wch we were
always governed by the scholars, and not by the Masters. The evils to be guarded
agst. in this case are 1. 14 the undue
influence of the Legislature. 2. 14
instability of Councils. 3. 14 misconduct
in office. To guard agst. the first, we run into the second evil. We adopt a
rotation which produces instability of Councils. To avoid Sylla we fall into
Charibdis. A change of men is ever followed by a change of measures. We see this
fully exemplified in the vicissitudes among ourselves, particularly in the State
of Pena. The self-sufficiency of a victorious party scorns to tread in the paths
of their predecessors. Rehoboam will not imitate Soloman. 2. 15
the Rotation in office will not prevent intrigue and dependence on the
Legislature. The man in office will look forward to the period at which he will
become re-eligible. The distance of the period, the improbability of such a
protraction of his life will be no obstacle. Such is the nature of man, formed
by his benevolent author no doubt for wise ends, that altho' he knows his
existence to be limited to a span, he takes his measures as if he were to live
for ever. But taking another supposition, the inefficacy of the expedient will
be manifest. If the magistrate does not look forward to his re-election to the
Executive, he will be pretty sure to keep in view the opportunity of his going
into the Legislature itself. He will have little objection then to an extension
of power on a theatre where he expects to act a distinguished part; and will be
very unwilling to take any step that may endanger his popularity with the
Legislature, on his influence over which the figure he is to make will depend.
3. 16 To avoid the third evil,
impeachments will be essential, and hence an additional reason agst. an election
by the Legislature. He considered an election by the people as the best, by the
Legislature as the worst, mode. Putting both these aside, he could not but favor
the idea of Mr. Wilson, of introducing a mixture of lot. It will diminish, if
not destroy both cabal & dependence.
Mr. WILLIAMSON was sensible that strong
objections lay agst. an election of the Executive by the Legislature, and that
it opened a door for foreign influence. The principal objection agst. an
election by the people seemed to be, the disadvantage under which it would place
the smaller States. He suggested as a cure for this difficulty, that each man
should vote for 3 candidates, One of these 17
he observed would be probably of his own State, the other 2. of some other
States; and as probably of a small as a large one.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
liked the idea, suggesting as an amendment that each man should vote for two
persons one of whom at least should not be of his own State.
Mr. MADISON also thought something
valuable might be made of the suggestion with the proposed amendment of it. The
second best man in this case would probably be the first, in fact. The only
objection which occurred was that each Citizen after havg. given his vote for
his favorite fellow Citizen, wd. throw away his second on some obscure Citizen
of another State, in order to ensure the object of his first choice. But it
could hardly be supposed that the Citizens of many States would be so sanguine
of having their favorite elected, as not to give their second vote with
sincerity to the next object of their choice. It might moreover be provided in
favor of the smaller States that the Executive should not be eligible more than
times in years from the same State.
Mr. GERRY. A popular election in this
case is radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put it in the power
of some one set of men dispersed through the Union & acting in Concert to
delude them into any appointment. He observed that such a Society of men existed
in the Order of the Cincinnati. They are respectable, United, and influencial.
They will in fact elect the chief Magistrate in every instance, if the election
be referred to the people. His respect for the characters composing this Society
could not blind him to the danger & impropriety of throwing such a power
into their hands.
Mr. DICKENSON. As far as he could judge
from the discussions which had taken place during his attendance, insuperable
objections lay agst. an election of the Executive by the Natl. Legislature; as
also by the Legislatures or Executives of the States. He had long leaned towards
an election by the people which he regarded as the best & purest source.
Objections he was aware lay agst. this mode, but not so great he thought as
agst. the other modes. The greatest difficulty in the opinion of the House
seemed to arise from the partiality of the States to their respective Citizens.
But, might not this very partiality be turned to a useful purpose. Let the
people of each State chuse its best Citizen. The people will know the most
eminent characters of their own States, and the people of different States will
feel an emulation in selecting those of which 18
they will have the greatest reason to be proud. Out of the thirteen names thus
selected, an Executive Magistrate may be chosen either by the Natl. Legislature,
or by Electors appointed by it.
On a Question which was moved for postponing Mr. Pinkney's motion; in order
to make way for some such proposition as had been hinted by Mr. Williamson &
others: it passed in the negative.
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 19
On Mr. Pinkney's motion that no person shall serve in the Executive more
than 6 years in 12. years, it passed in the negative.
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C.
ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 20
On a motion that the members of the Committee be furnished with copies of
the proceedings it was so determined; S. Carolina alone being in the negative.
It was then moved that the members of the House might take copies of the
Resolions which had been agreed to; which passed in the negative. N. H. no. Mas.
no. Con: ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Maryd. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no.
Geo. no. 21
Mr. GERRY & Mr. BUTLER moved to refer the resolution relating to the Executive
(except the clause making it consist of a single person) to the Committee of
Mr. WILSON hoped that so important a
branch of the System wd. not be committed untill a general principle shd. be
fixed by a vote of the House.
Mr. LANGDON, was for the Commitment —
1. The word "The" is here
inserted in the transcript.
2. The word "being" is here
inserted in the transcript.
3. The transcript italicizes the phrase "making
him dependent on the Legislature."
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 "would" is here
inserted in the transcript.
8. The word "been" is here
inserted in the transcript.
9. The figure "1" is changed to "in
the first place" in the transcript.
10. The figure "2" is changed
to "in the second place" in the transcript.
11. The words "On the" are here
inserted in the transcript.
12. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, aye — 4: Massachusetts, New
Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no —
13. The word "inconveniency" is
changed to "inconvenience" in the transcript.
14. The figures "1," "2"
and "3" are changed to "first," "secondly" and "thirdly"
in the transcript.
15. The figure "2" is changed
to "Secondly" in the transcript.
16. The figure "3" is changed
to "Finally" in the transcript.
17. The word "them" is
substituted in the transcript for "these."
18. The word "whom" is
substituted in the transcript for "which."
19 In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 5; New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Carolina,
Georgia, no — 6."
20. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5;
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, no —
21. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, aye — 5; New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 6."