The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Delegates Debate How to Choose a President

a570af34_optJuly 19, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)


Today the delegates agreed to reconsider the appointment, duration, and eligibility of the president. They agreed to the electoral process via electors chosen by state legislators. The also decided that the executive would be eligible for re-election with a term of six years (obviously they revisited this later).

Influences on the Delegates

The loquacious Mr. Morris called for a citizen’s president as guardian of the poor. Morris repeatedly spoke of the nation as a struggle between rich and poor with the rich seeking power. Without specific reference, Morris said history proves him right.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR 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 cannot 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 body. Wealth tends to corrupt the mind; — to nourish its love of power; and to stimulate it to oppression. History proves this to be the spirit of the opulent.

Madison appealed to the principles of free government.

Mr. MADISON. If it be a fundamental principle of free government that the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers should be separatelyexercised, 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.

Generally, delegates made logical or rational arguments for the selection and retention of a president. There was no appeal to Moses or Deuteronomy. No delegate said or implied that the executive should sit for life because the Bible depicts Moses as being in charge for life. No delegate suggested that the government seek God’s man for the post of executive.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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