June 4, 1787
During this session, the delegates engaged in debate over the executive branch and agreed on a single executive with veto power over legislation. They decided that vetoes should be subject to a 2/3 vote by each branch to override. The delegates also agreed to a national judiciary.
The experience of the states was cited by at least two delegates in favor of a single executive magistrate. Roger Sherman agreed with the single magistrate but called for a council of advisors for the single executive using the states and Great Britain as illustrations.
Mr. Sherman. This matter is of great importance and ought to be well considered before it is determined. Mr. Wilson he said had observed that in each State a single magistrate was placed at the head of the Govt. It was so he admitted, and properly so, and he wished the same policy to prevail in the federal Govt. But then it should be also remarked that in a all the States there was a Council of advice, without which the first magistrate could not act. A Council he thought necessary to make the establishment acceptable to the people. Even in G. B. the King has a council; and though he appoints it himself, its advice has its weight with him, and attracts the Confidence of the people.
It was mentioned (by Col: Hamilton) that the King of G. B. had not exerted his negative since the Revolution.
The delegates mentioned Britain three more times as a part of the debate. Rather than appeal to any biblical principle, the delegates seemed more concerned about avoiding the problems experienced in Britain. For another example, delegate Butler said:
Mr. Butler had been in favor of a single Executive Magistrate; but could he have entertained an idea that a compleat negative on the laws was to be given him he certainly should have acted very differently. It had been observed that in all countries the Executive power is in a constant course of increase. This was certainly the case in G. B. Gentlemen seemed to think that we had nothing to apprehend from an abuse of the Executive power. But why might not a Cataline or a Cromwell arise in this Country as well as in others.
Mason had significant worries about the government being an elective monarchy:
Col. Mason observed that a vote had already passed he found (he was out at the time) for vesting the executive powers in a single person. Among these powers was that of appointing to offices in certain cases. The probable abuses of a negative had been well explained by Dr. F as proved by experience, the best of all tests. Will not the same door be opened here. The Executive may refuse its assent to necessary measures till new appointments shall be referred to him; and having by degrees engrossed all these into his own hands, the American Executive, like the British, will by bribery & influence, save himself the trouble & odium of exerting his negative afterwards. We are Mr. Chairman going very far in this business. We are not indeed constituting a British Government, but a more dangerous monarchy, an elective one. We are introducing a new principle into our system, and not necessary as in the British Govt. where the Executive has greater rights to defend. Do gentlemen mean to pave the way to hereditary Monarchy? Do they flatter themselves that the people will ever consent to such an innovation? If they do I venture to tell them, they are mistaken. The people never will consent.
Franklin appealed to the experience of the Netherlands in order to advocate against an executive with too much power.
According to delegate Pierce, James Madison made a speech which appealed to the ancient republics (Madison included some of this in his June 6 entry):
Mr. Maddison in a very able and ingenious Speech, ran through the whole Scheme of the Government, — pointed out all the beauties and defects of ancient Republics; compared their situation with ours wherever it appeared to bear any anology, and proved that the only way to make a Government answer all the end of its institution was to collect the wisdom of its several parts in aid of each other whenever it was necessary. Hence the propriety of incorporating the Judicial with the Executive in the revision of the Laws. He was of opinion that by joining the Judges with the Supreme Executive Magistrate would be strictly proper, and would by no means interfere with that indepence so much to be approved and distinguished in the several departments.
Mason again referred to historical republics without mentioning the Hebrews.
Yet perhaps a little reflection may incline us to doubt whether these advantages are not greater in theory than in practice, or lead us to enquire whether there is not some pervading principle in republican government which sets at naught and tramples upon this boasted superiority, as hath been experienced to their cost, by most monarchies which have been imprudent enough to invade or attack their republican neighbors. This invincible principle is to be found in the love, the affection, the attachment of the citizens to their laws, to their freedom, and to their country. Every husbandman will be quickly converted into a soldier when he knows and feels that he is to fight not in defence of the rights of a particular family, or a prince, but for his own. This is the true construction of the pro aris et focis which has, in all ages, performed such wonders. It was this which in ancient times enabled the little cluster of Grecian republics to resist, and almost constantly to defeat, the Persian monarch. It was this which supported the States of Holland against a body of veteran troops through a thirty years’ war with Spain, then the greatest monarchy in Europe, and finally rendered them victorious. It is this which preserves the freedom and independence of the Swiss Cantons in the midst of the most powerful nations. And who that reflects seriously upon the situation of America, in the beginning of the late war — without arms — without soldiers — without trade, money or credit, in a manner destitute of all resources,  but must ascribe our success to this pervading, all-powerful principle?
See also Ferrand’s record of this day.