|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
July 19, 1787
Thursday July 19, 1787
On reconsideration of the vote rendering the Executive re-eligible a 2nd time, Mr. MARTIN moved to reinstate the words, "to
be ineligible a 2nd 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 and 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 control the Legislature. The Legislature will continually seek to aggrandize and
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, against
Legislative tyranny, against the Great and the wealthy who in the course of things will necessarily compose the Legislative
Wealth tends to corrupt the mind and 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 2nd branch was not meant as a check on Legislative usurpations of
power, but on the abuse of lawful powers, on the propensity in the 1st branch to legislate too much to run into projects of
paper money and 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 and to command the forces of the Republic: To appoint (1) ministerial officers for the
administration of public affairs; (2) 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 and security of the people, as the people themselves who are to
be protected and secured? -He finds too that the Executive is not to be re-eligible. What effect will this have?
1. 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 and illustrious actions. Shut the Civil road to glory and he may be compelled to seek it by the sword.
2. 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. 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 establishment 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
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, etc. 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 and a reappointment 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
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 against the factions and 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 and 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 2nd 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 and 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 2nd 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 endeavors to perpetuate himself. It may
be answered that his endeavors 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 and dangerous, than other arguments
which have been used, admittedly, 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 than the plan suggested by
Mr. Govr. Morris.
Mr. KING did not like the ineligibility. He thought there was great force in the remark of Mr. Sherman, that he who has
proved himself to be 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 choose 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
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 2nd, time. He perceived with pleasure that the idea was gaining ground, of an election mediatory or
immediately by the people.
Mr. MADISON. If it be a fundamental principle of free Government that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers
should be separately exercised, it is equally so that they be independently exercised. There is the same and perhaps greater
reason why the Executive should be independent of the Legislature, than why the Judiciary should: A coalition of the two
former powers would be more immediately and 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 and vote for some Citizen
whose merits had rendered him an object of general attention and 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
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 against 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 2nd branch of the National Legislature,
and the Executives of the States, the National Executive. This he thought would form a strong attachment 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 and should do his duty, he will be turned out for it like Govr. Bowdoin in Massachusetts and President Sullivan in New
On the question on Mr. Govr. Morris motion to reconsider generally the constitution of the Executive. Massachusetts, aye.
Connecticut, aye. New Jersey, aye and all the others aye.
Mr. ELSEWORTH moved to strike out the appointment by the National Legislature, and insert "to be chosen by electors
appointed, by the Legislatures of the States in the following ratio; to wit --one for each State not exceeding 200,000
inhabitants, two for each above that number and not exceeding 300,000, and three for each State exceeding 300,000.
Mr. BROOME 2nded the motion
Mr. RUTLIDGE was opposed to all the modes except the appointment by the National Legislature. He will be sufficiently
independent, if he be not re-eligible.
Mr. GERRY preferred the motion of Mr. Elseworth to an appointment by the National Legislature, or by the people; though
not to an appointment by the State Executives. He moved that the electors proposed by Mr. Elseworth should be 25 in
number, and allotted in the following proportion; to New Hampshire, 1; to Massachusetts, 3; to Rhode Island, 1; to
Connecticut, 2; to New York, 2; New Jersey, 2; Pennsylvania, 3; Delaware, 1; Maryland, 2; Virginia, 3; North Carolina, 2;
South Carolina, 2; Georgia, 1.
The question as moved by Mr. Elseworth being divided, on the 1st part shall the National Executive be appointed by Electors?
Massachusetts, divided; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, aye; Maryland, aye; Virginia, aye;
North Carolina, no; South Carolina, no; Georgia, no.
On 2nd part: shall the Electors be chosen by State Legislatures?
Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, aye.
The part relating to the ratio in which the States should choose electors was postponed nem con.
Mr. L. MARTIN moved that the Executive be ineligible a 2nd time.
Mr. WILLIAMSON 2nds 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 Government. They would be liable
to undue influence, which might the more readily be practiced 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 solely, members of the Natl. Legislature.
On the question shall he be ineligible a 2d. time?
Massachusetts, no; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, no; Delaware, no; Maryland, no; Virginia, no; North
Carolina, aye; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, no.
On the question Shall the Executive continue for 7 years? It passed in the negative Massachusetts, divided; Connecticut, aye;
New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, no; Delaware, no; Maryland, no; Virginia, no; North Carolina, divided; South Carolina, aye;
Mr. KING was afraid we should shorten the term too much.
Mr. Govr. MORRIS was for a short term, in order to avoid impeachments which would be otherwise necessary.
Mr. BUTLER was against a frequency of the elections. Georgia and South Carolina were too distant to send electors often.
Mr. ELSEWORTH was for 6. years. If the elections be too frequent, the Executive will not be firm enough. 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 expense will be considerable and 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
On question for 6 years? Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, aye; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, no; Maryland,
aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, aye; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, aye.
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