Thursday, October 10, 2013

On Principle and Pragmatism Ie - U.S. Constitutional Convention - June 1 - 7, 1787

AUTHORS NOTE: On another site, http:\\myesoteric.hubpages.com, I write about, among other things, American political history.  I had been working on a series about the U.S. Constitution and had reached the part where I was discussing the background to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  The primary source is James Madison's notes titled The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, as published by The Constitutional Society; it is the only complete history of what took place as our Constitution was being drafted. 

As a consequence, there are a ton of wonderful quotes to draw upon to describe what went on behind the scenes and the thinking that went into why the Constitution was worded the way it was.  I don't want to paraphrase what Madison wrote, to capture the full meaning, his actual words are needed.  It is my job to wrap a cohesive and interesting story around those words, or at least try to.  The problem is, Hubpages doesn't like, and properly so, people copying from other people's works from elsewhere on the Internet.  Unfortunately, they use a meat cleaver approach and stop legitimate copying as well as the illegitimate plagiarism.  What I use is with the permission of the The Constitutional Society so long as I give them attribution; I am also giving them a link.

So, long story short, I am moving my history of the U.S. Constitution to Blogspot.  I will start with section currently being blocked by Hubpages then backfill with what I have already written before moving on past June 7, 1787.  As is my habit, I publish most long articles as I write them, editing along the way.  This may annoy some of you, but I hope most of you find this entertaining.


CREATING AN EXECUTIVE BRANCH

ON JUNE 1, 1787, MR. WILLIAM HOUSTON FROM GEORGIA took his seat. Today's work concerned the structure of the Executive branch, more specifically, 1) how many executives might there be, 2) for how long they will serve, and 3) how they might come to serve.
From James Madison's Notes, we read that on this day the committee of the whole took up Resolution 7, which read,
"that a national Executive be instituted, to be chosen by the national Legislature-for the term of ------ years &c to be ineligible thereafter, to possess the executive powers of Congress &c."
Up for discussion were the following:
  1. Whether the Executive would consist of one, two, or three members
  2. Whether the Executive would have the power to declare War and Peace
  3. Whether there ought to be a Council of Advisors attached to the Executive (something Thomas Jefferson would have opposed had he been there; he did not have a good experience with that arrangement as Governor of Virginia during the Revolution)
  4. Whether to limit the powers of the Executive to those not borne by the Legislative or Judicial (making sure the executive never encroaches on either of those two branches, and
  5. Whether the term of the Executive ought to singular or re-electable and run for three to seven years.
Of great fear among many, but surprisingly, not all, as that the executive could end up being a monarchy or worse. Mr. Pinkney (SC) for example was for a strong executive but worried that
"the Executive powers of the existing Congress might extend to peace & war &c., which would render the Executive a monarchy, of the worst kind, to wit an elective one."
Mr. Sherman (CT), on the other hand, saw the Executive branch in another light entirely. He thought
"... the Executive magistracy as nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect, that the person or persons ought to be appointed by and accountable to the Legislature only..." 
Mr. Wilson (PA) agreed with Pinkney in that he believed there ought to be a single magistrate (a single person)
"... as giving most energy dispatch and responsibility to the office..." and noting that the prerogatives of the executive were limited such that "...Some of these prerogatives were of Legislative nature. Among others that of war & peace &c. The only powers he conceived strictly Executive were those of executing the laws, and appointing officers, not appertaining to and appointed by the Legislature."
Sounding the same fear as Mr. Pinckney about the executive function devolving into a monarchy, Mr. Randolph (VA) argued forcefully for an executive made up of more than one person.
Yet another approach was from Mr. Gerry (MA) who suggested a "policy of annexing a Council to the Executive in order to give weight & inspire confidence." and that the executive also consist of multiple people.
And so it went, debating back and forth as to the authority and make-up of the executive until Mr. Wilson moved to make the structure of the Executive a single person; but, because no one could agree, this was postponed. What was agreed on, however, was the first clause of the resolution;
"that a national Executive be instituted,..."
Next James Madison (VA) proposed putting off the discussion on the number of executives for awhile until the scope of the Executive's authority is settled. Madison's opinion was that it was necessary:
"... to fix the extent of the Executive authority; that as certain powers were in their nature Executive, and must be given to that departmt. whether administered by one or more persons, a definition of their extent would assist the judgment in determining how far they might be safely entrusted to a single officer."
Consequently, he sought to modify the Resolution thusly by changing:
"that a national Executive be instituted, to be chosen by the national Legislature-for the term of ------ years &c to be ineligible thereafter, to possess the executive powers of Congress &c."
to
"that a national Executive be instituted, with power to carry into effect the national laws, to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for, and to execute such other powers as may from time to time be delegated by the national Legislature."
 This was then modified by Gen Pinkney (SC) to read:
"that a national Executive be instituted, with power to carry into effect the national laws, to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for, and to execute such other powers,not legislative nor judiciary in their nature, as may from time to time be delegated by the national Legislature."
Mr. (not General) Pinkney objected to the added words and moved to strike out "and to execute such other powers not Legislative nor Judiciary in their nature as may from time to time be delegated.". Pinkney's argument won the day and the Resolution now stands at:
"... that a national Executive be instituted, with power to carry into effect the national laws, to appoint to offices in cases not otherwise provided for by the national Legislature ... [more to come]"
Next to be considered was the method of appointment and the term of service.  First thought to be suggested was by Mr. Wilson (PA) who proposed that the Executive be elected by the People and said, 
"Experience, particularly in N. York & Massts., shewed that an election of the first magistrate by the people at large, was both a convenient & successful mode. The objects of choice in such cases must be persons whose merits have general notoriety." 
While Mr. Sherman (CT) thought the opposite, that the Legislature should appoint the Executive for, according to James Madison, Sherman believed:
"... An independence of the Executive on the supreme Legislature, was in his opinion the very essence of tyranny if there was any such thing."
Debate then turned to the term of the executive where Wilson and Sherman thought three years appropriate with an ability for reappointment.  Opposing this were Mr Pickney, Mason (VA), and Bedford (DE) who prefered a single seven year term.  By a vote of 5 to 4 with Massachusetts divided, the seven-year faction carried the day ... for the time being.

Again they picked up the mode of appointment.  Mr. Wilson repeated his belief in the efficacy of electing the executive by the People, but both Houses of the Legislature as well.  Col Mason liked Wilson's idea, but thought it impractical.  Mr. Rutledge (SC) thought the second branch of the national Legislature should elect the Executive.

With that, the Committee of the Whole adjourned for the day.

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