The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Should the President Have a Divan?

September 7, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)


The subject of the day was the executive branch, the president and vice-president.

Influences on the Delegates

Discussing the role of the Senate in ratifying peace treaties, Pierce Butler from South Carolina wanted to president-proof the process. Madison’s motion was to require the Senate to ratify peace treaties without concurrence of the president.

Mr. BUTLER was strenuous for the motion, as a necessary security against ambitious and corrupt Presidents. He mentioned the late perfidious policy of the Stadtholder in Holland; and the artifices of the Duke of Marlborough to prolong the war of which he had the management.

George Mason hoped the delegates would reconsider making a president’s council a part of the Constitution.

Colonel MASON2 said, that, in rejecting a council to the President, we were about to try an experiment on which the most despotic government had never ventured. The Grand Seignior himself had his Divan. He moved to postpone the consideration of the clause in order to take up the following:
“That it be an instruction to the Committee of the States to prepare a clause or clauses for establishing an Executive Council, as a Council of State for the President of the United States; to consist of six members, two of which from the Eastern, two from the Middle, and two from the Southern States; with a rotation and duration of office similar to those of the Senate; such council to be appointed by the legislature or by the Senate.”
Doctor FRANKLIN seconded the motion. We seemed, he said, too much to fear cabals in appointments by a number, and to have too much confidence in those of single persons. Experience showed that caprice, the intrigues of favorites and mistresses, were nevertheless the means most prevalent in monarchies. Among instances of abuse in such modes of appointment, he mentioned the many bad Governors appointed in Great Britain for the colonies. He thought a Council would not only be a check on a bad President, but be a relief to a good one.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. The question of a Council was considered in the committee, where it was judged that the President, by persuading his Council to concur in his wrong measures, would acquire their protection for them.
Mr. WILSON approved of a Council, in preference to making the Senate a party to appointments.
Mr. DICKINSON was for a Council. It would be a singular thing, if the measures of the Executive were not to undergo some previous discussion before the President.
Mr. MADISON was in favor of the instruction to the committee proposed by Colonel MASON.
The motion of Colonel MASON was negatived, —
Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, no, — 8.

Here we have George Mason referring to the example of Turkey. Even the sultan of Turkey had his Divan, or advisors. However, the president didn’t get the divan on this day in history.

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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