|Notes on the Debates in the Federal Convention
By James Madison
July 24, 1787
Tuesday July 24, 1787
The appointment of the Executive by Electors reconsidered.
Mr. HOUSTON moved that he be appointed by the "National 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 great earnestness. The best men, the Governors
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 2nd 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 2nd time, as new elections of the Legislature will have intervened; and he will not depend for his 2nd
appointment on the same set of men as his first was received from. It had been suggested that gratitude for his past
appointment would produce the same effect as dependence for his future appointment. He thought very differently. Besides
this objection would lie against the Electors who would be objects of gratitude as well as the Legislature. It was of great
importance not to make the Government too complex which would be the case if a new set 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
2nd time. The proposed Electors would certainly not be men of the 1st nor even of the 2nd grade in the States. These would
all prefer a seat either 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 Northern
and Southern 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 against 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 2nd 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 choose electors; and that in case a majority of the votes should not center on the same person,
the 1st branch of the National Legislature should choose two out of the 4 candidates having most votes, and out of these two,
the 2nd branch should choose 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.
Question on Mr. Houston's motion that the Executive be appointed by National Legislature.
New Hampshire, aye; Massachusetts, aye; Connecticut, no; New Jersey, aye; Pennsylvania, no; Delaware, aye; Maryland, no;
Virginia, no; North Carolina, aye; South Carolina, aye; Georgia, aye.
Mr. L. MARTIN and Mr. GERRY moved to reinstate the ineligibility of the Executive a 2nd 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 fixed period.
Mr. GERRY. That the Executive should 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 appointment of the Executive shall continue for
Mr. GERRY suggested fifteen years.
Mr. KING twenty years. This is the medium life of princes.
Mr. DAVIE Eight years
Mr. WILSON. The difficulties and perplexities into which the House is thrown proceed from the election by the Legislature
which he was sorry had been reinstated. The inconveniency 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 behavior.
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 shown in a variety of instances that both a capacity and 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 and his continuance should be
fixed 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 fixed 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 would 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 advisable 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 would 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 National
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 appointment was to be of any
duration. No man would say, that an Executive known to be in the pay of an Enemy, should not be removable 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, and 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 practiced 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 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 Executive
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 2nd time had been devised.
This was as much as to say we should give him the benefit of experience, and then deprive ourselves of the use of it.
But make him ineligible a 2nd 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 through 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 should 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 should decide than intrigue.
On a question to postpone the consideration of the Resolution on the subject of the Executive.
New Hampshire, no; Massachusetts, no; Connecticut; aye; New Jersey, no; Pennsylvania, aye; Delaware, divided; Maryland,
aye; Virginia, aye; North Carolina, no; South Carolina, no; Georgia, no.
Mr. WILSON then moved that the Executive be chosen every _____ years by _____ Electors to be taken by lot from the
National Legislature “who shall proceed immediately to the choice of the Executive and not separate until it be made”.
Mr. CARROL 2nds the motion
Mr. GERRY. This is committing too much to chance. If the lot should fall on a set 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 would 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 against 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, ayes - 4 noes.
On the question of postponement; 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 bridge to assist us over a certain gulf; having passed the gulf, 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, and Mr. Wilson.
On motion to discharge the Committee 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 agreed to nem con.
A like motion was then made and agreed to nem con, with respect to the propositions of Mr. Patterson.
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