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

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

Summary

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.

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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Delegates Worried about Aristocracy

September 6, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates continued their discussion of how to elect the president and vice-president.

Influences on the Delegates

Today, the delegate worried about an aristocracy was Pennsylvania’s James Wilson.

Mr. WILSON said, that he had weighed carefully the Report of the Committee for remodelling the constitution of the Executive; and on combining it with other parts of the plan, he was obliged to consider the whole as having a dangerous tendency to aristocracy; as throwing a dangerous power into the hands of the Senate. They will have, in fact, the appointment of the President, and, through his dependence on them, the virtual appointment to offices; among others, the officers of the Judiciary department. They are to make treaties; and they are to try all impeachments. In allowing them thus to make the Executive and Judiciary appointments, to be the court of impeachments, and to make treaties which are to be laws of the land, the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary powers are all blended in one branch of the Government. The power of making treaties involves the case of subsidies, and here, as an additional evil, foreign influence is to be dreaded. According to the plan as it now stands, the President will not be the man of the people, as he ought to be; but the minion of the Senate. He cannot even appoint a tide-waiter without the Senate. He had always thought the Senate too numerous a body for making appointments to office. The Senate will, moreover, in all probability, be in constant session. They will have high salaries. And with all these powers, and the President in their interest, they will depress the other branch of the Legislature, and aggrandize themselves in proportion. Add to all this, that the Senate, sitting in conclave, can by holding up to their respective States various and improbable candidates, contrive so to scatter their votes, as to bring the appointment of the President ultimately before themselves. Upon the whole, he thought the new mode of appointing the President, with some amendments, a valuable improvement; but he could never agree to purchase it at the price of the ensuing parts of the Report, nor befriend a system of which they make a part.

By this late date in the convention, discontent still sounded from several of the delegates. Alexander Hamilton indicated his willingness to approve the plan even though he didn’t like it.

Mr. HAMILTON said, that he had been restrained from entering into the discussions, by his dislike of the scheme of government in general; but as he meant to support the plan to be recommended, as better than nothing, he wished in this place to offer a few remarks. He liked the new modification, on the whole, better than that in the printed Report. In this, the President was a monster, elected for seven years, and ineligible afterwards; having great powers in appointments to office; and continually tempted, by this constitutional disqualification, to abuse them in order to subvert the Government. Although he should be made reëligible, still, if appointed by the Legislature, he would be tempted to make use of corrupt influence to be continued in office. It seemed peculiarly desirable, therefore, that some other mode of election should be devised. Considering the different views of different States, and the different districts, Northern, Middle, and Southern, he concurred with those who thought that the votes would not be concentered, and that the appointment would consequently, in the present mode, devolve on the Senate. The nomination to offices will give great weight to the President. Here, then, is a mutual connexion and influence, that will perpetuate the President, and aggrandize both him and the Senate. What is to be the remedy? He saw none better than to let the highest number of ballots, whether a majority or not, appoint the President. What was the objection to this? Merely that too small a number might appoint. But as the plan stands, the Senate may take the candidate having the smallest number of votes, and make him President.

The discussion resumed the next day.

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Executive Election Debated Again

September 5, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates continued to consider proposals from the Brearly committee. A lengthy discussion concerned the election of the president.

Influences on the Delegates

Edmund Randolph worried that proposals for the president to come from the legislature would create a monarchy or an aristocracy.

Mr. RANDOLPH. We have, in some revolutions of this plan, made a bold stroke for monarchy. We are now doing the same for an aristocracy. He dwelt on the tendency of such an influence in the Senate over the election of the President, in addition to its other powers, to convert that body into a real and dangerous aristocracy.

Another Virginia delegate, George Mason, was even stronger in his criticism of the plan as it was being discussed by the delegates.

Col. MASON. As the mode of appointment is now regulated, he could not forbear expressing his opinion that it is utterly inadmissible. He would prefer the Government of Prussia to one which will put all power into the hands of seven or eight men, and fix an aristocracy worse than absolute monarchy.

The Virginia delegation worried that governmental power would be in the hands of too few people. Over the next couple of days, the election of the executive dominated discussion. It is obvious that many delegates feared the creation of a ruling class.

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Brearly Committee

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September 4, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates discussed four of the nine proposals submitted by the Brearly Committee. This committee was set up to consider other suggestions for the Constitution beyond those provided by the Committee of Detail.

Influences on the Delegates

Although indirect, South Carolina’s Butler thought the plan for electing the president and vice-president had advantages over a legislative choice.

Mr. BUTLER thought the mode not free from objections; but much more so than an election by the legislature, where, as in elective monarchies, cabal, faction, and violence would be sure to prevail.

David Barton has suggested that the stipulation for the president being a natural born citizen grows out of the Old Testament. I will continue to read with this in mind but there is nothing here which gives any indication that the delegates considered Hebrew principles at all on this point.

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Conventions – Full Faith and Credit Clause

September 3, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

Delegates approved the full faith and credit clause, bankruptcy provisions, and rules concerning ineligibility to hold office while in the legislature.

Influences on the Delegates

In the session, one delegate referred to England and another to a Rome.

The clause in the Report, “To establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies,” being taken up, —
Mr. SHERMAN observed, that bankruptcies were in some cases punishable with death, by the laws of England; and he did not choose to grant a power by which that might be done here.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS said, this was an extensive and delicate subject. He would agree to it, because he saw no danger of abuse of the power by the Legislature of the United States.
On the question to agree to the clause, Connecticut alone was in the negative.
Mr. PINCKNEY moved to postpone the Report of the Committee of eleven (see the first of September) in order to take up the following:
“The members of each House shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States for which they, or any other for their benefit, receive any salary, fees, or emoluments of any kind; and the acceptance of such office shall vacate their seats respectively.”
He was strenuously opposed to an ineligibility of members to office, and therefore wished to restrain the proposition to a mere incompatibility. He considered the eligibility of members of the Legislature to the honorable offices of Government, as resembling the policy of the Romans, in making the temple of Virtue the road to the temple of Fame.

 

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Committee Reports

September 1, 1787 (Click here to read Madison’s notes)
Today’s session was so brief, I am reproducing Madison’s entire entry:

In Convention, — Mr. BREARLY, from the Committee of eleven to which were referred yesterday the postponed part of the Constitution, and parts of Reports not acted upon, made the following partial report:

“That in lieu of Article 6, Sect. 9, the words following be inserted, viz: ‘The members of each House shall be ineligible to any civil office under the authority of the United States, during the time for which they shall respectively be elected; and no person holding an office under the United States shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.’”

Mr. RUTLEDGE, from the Committee to whom were referred sundry propositions, (see twenty-ninth of August) together with Article 16, reported that the following additions be made to the Report, viz:

“After the word ‘States,’ in the last line on the margin of the third page, (see the printed Report,) add ‘to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies.’

“And insert the following as Article 16, viz: ‘Full faith and credit ought to be given in each State to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other State; and the Legislature shall, by general laws, prescribe the manner in which such acts, records, and proceedings shall be proved, and the effect which judgments obtained in one State, shall have in another.’”

After receiving these Reports, the House

 Adjourned.

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Delegates Expressed Doubts

photo-1450430463204-6f53fe1c2777_optAugust 31, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

Delegates decided to require nine states to ratify the Constitution. The debate on the Committee of Detail ended today with a new committee formed to report on all other proposals.

Influences on the Delegates

The discussion and debate on the report of the Committee of Detail ended today. All remaining proposals were referred to the Brearly Committee which consisted of one representative from each state.
Even as the delegates closed in on the last articles for debate, some key delegates were expressing doubt about their work.

Mr. GERRY moved to postpone Article 22.
Colonel MASON seconded the motion, declaring that he would sooner chop off his right hand, than put it to the Constitution as it now stands. He wished to see some points, not yet decided, brought to a decision, before being compelled to give a final opinion on this Article. Should these points be improperly settled, his wish would then be to bring the whole subject before another General Convention.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was ready for a postponement. He had long wished for another Convention, that will have the firmness to provide a vigorous government, which we are afraid to do.
Mr. RANDOLPH stated his idea to be, in case the final form of the Constitution should not permit him to accede to it, that the State Conventions should be at liberty to propose amendments, to be submitted to another General Convention, which may reject or incorporate them as may be judged proper.

It is remarkable that at that late date, some delegates wanted to scrap the whole thing and start over. To the point of the so-called “biblical Constitution,” Christian delegate didn’t feel the work had achieved a “vigorous government.” Morris believed the delegates were “afraid” to do so. How do these statements compare to the picture often painted by Christian nationalists of Christian delegates self-consciously creating a Christian republic? Not well, in my view.

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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – No Religious Test

August 30, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates continued to fine-tune the report of the Detail Committee. They decided to permit new states on equal terms with existing states and prohibited the alteration of states without consent of state legislatures. They voted to include a guarantee of a Republican form of government. The delegates, with little discussion, included the no religious test clause.

Influences on the Delegates

There were no obvious influences on the discussions but a monumental clause was passed.
Article 20 was then taken up. The words “or affirmation,” were added, after “oath.”

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to add to the Article: “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.”
Mr. SHERMAN thought it unnecessary, the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security against such tests.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and General PINCKNEY approved the motion.
The motion was agreed to, nem. con., and then the whole article, — North Carolina only, no; and Maryland, divided.

To Article 20, was added the “no religious test” clause. Even though Roger Sherman thought the clause was not needed due to the “prevailing liberality,” the delegate unanimously added it to Article 20.

Article XX.
The members of the Legislatures, and the Executive and Judicial officers of the United States, and of the several States, shall be bound by oath to support this Constitution.

Sherman was never more wrong. As liberal as that period in history was, it took many years for the states to eliminate those tests. However, Pinckney’s motion led the way.
I have visited this issue before. In the North Carolina convention to ratify the Constitution, the matter came up. The interpretation of the clause prevented religious bigotry and the mixture of church and state.
 

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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.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Fugitive Slave Clause Passed

August 29, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

A committee was formed to consider Article 16. A fugitive slave clause was passed to be added to the end of Article 15.

Influences on the Delegates

Although not an example of an influence, I think the following passage from Virginia’s Edmund Randolph regarding trade puts the lie to the claim that Ben Franklin’s call to prayer had some immediate impact to bring the delegates together. Here we are in late August and Randolph says the Constitution has “odious” elements and he is on the fence about his support.

Mr. RANDOLPH said that there were features so odious in the Constitution, as it now stands, that he doubted whether he should be able to agree to it. A rejection of the motion would complete the deformity of the system. He took notice of the argument in favor of giving the power over trade to a majority, drawn from the opportunity foreign powers would have of obstructing retaliatory measures, if two thirds were made requisite. He did not think there was weight in that consideration. The difference between a majority and two thirds, did not afford room for such an opportunity. Foreign influence would also be more likely to be exerted on the President, who could require three fourths by his negative. He did not mean, however, to enter into the merits. What he had in view was merely to pave the way for a declaration, which he might be hereafter obliged to make; if an accumulation of obnoxious ingredients should take place, that he could not give his assent to the plan.

On the slave trade, the delegates considered a report and had the following discussion about Article 15 (see below):

ARTICLE XV.
Any person charged with treason, felony or high misdemeanor in any State, who shall flee from justice, and shall be found in any other State, shall, on demand of the Executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of the offence.

The delegates unanimously added a strict fugitive slave clause.

Mr. BUTLER moved to insert after Article 15, “If any person bound to service or labor in any of the United States, shall escape into another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or labor, in consequence of any regulations subsisting in the State to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor,” — which was agreed to, nem. con.

David Barton has been lately claiming that most of the founding fathers were anti-slavery. However, the only numbers that matter on that subject are the vote tallies in favor of making slavery acceptable in the new nation. In this case, fugitive slaves lost 11-0. It didn’t help slaves to have declarations against slavery when the delegates voted to keep it legal.

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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Judges, State Powers and Fugitive Slaves

August 28, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

The delegates continued tweaking the judiciary and spent much time on details of state powers.

Influences on the Delegates

The delegates did not refer to other nations or refer to specific influences today.
I want to point out one exchange initiated by the delegates from South Carolina. On the discussion of extradition between states, Colonel Pinckney wanted to include runaway slaves. Article XV reads:

ARTICLE XV.
Any person charged with treason, felony or high misdemeanor in any State, who shall flee from justice, and shall be found in any other State, shall, on demand of the Executive power of the State from which he fled, be delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of the offence.
General PINCKNEY was not satisfied with it. He seemed to wish some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.
On the question on Article 14, —
New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, aye, — 9; South Carolina, no, — 1; Georgia, divided.
Article 15 being then taken up, the words, “high misdemeanor,” were struck out, and the words, “other crime,” inserted, in order to comprehend all proper cases; it being doubtful whether “high misdemeanor” had not a technical meaning too limited.
Mr. BUTLER and Mr. PINCKNEY moved to require “fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.”
Mr. WILSON. This would oblige the Executive of the State to do it at the public expense.
Mr. SHERMAN saw no more propriety in the public seizing and surrendering a slave or servant than a horse.
Mr. BUTLER withdrew his proposition, in order that some particular provision might be made, apart from this article.
Article 15, as amended, was then agreed to, nem. con.

After Pinckney couldn’t get a motion attached to Article XIV, he and Butler moved to add their fugitive slave clause. However, it was not added but Butler saved it for later.

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