Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison


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Tuesday, July 24

IN CONVENTION

The appointment of the Executive by Electors1 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 excite2 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 as3 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 either4 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.

5Question on Mr. Houston’s motion that the Executive be appd. by6 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.7

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.8

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 inconveniency10 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 of11 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 a12 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: con.

A like motion was then made & agreed to nem: con: with respect to the propositions of Mr. Patterson

Adjourned.


1 The word “being” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

2 The word “create” is substituted in the transcript for “excite.”  Return to text

3 The word “that” is substituted in the transcript for “as.”  Return to text

4 The word “either” is omitted in the transcript.  Return to text

5 The words “On the” are here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

6 The word “the” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

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-4.”  Return to text

8 This might possibly be meant as a carricature of the previous motions in order to defeat the object of them. Transfer hither.9  Return to text

9 Madison’s direction concerning the footnote is omitted in the transcript.  Return to text

10 The word “inconveniency” is changed to “inconvenience” in the transcript.  Return to text

11 The word “a” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

12 The word “the” is substituted in the transcript for “a.”  Return to text

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.”  Return to text

14 The object was to lessen the eagerness on one side, [54] & the opposition on the other, to the share of representation claimed by the S. Southern States on account of the Negroes.  Return to text

15 The N.B. to be transferred hither without the N.B. [55]  Return to text

16 The word “for” is here inserted in the transcript.  Return to text

17 Madison’s direction concerning the footnote is ommitted in the transcript.  Return to text


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Contents

Introduction

The year was 1787. The place: the State House in Philadelphia. This is the story of the framing of the federal Constitution.

The Convention

Read the four-act drama and day-by-day summary by Gordon Lloyd, as well as Madison’s Notes on the Convention.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

Learn about historic Philadelphia and where the founders stayed, ate, and met.

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