-Friday, June 1, 1787 Yesterday the Convention tentatively approved election of national representatives by the people rather than by State legislatures.Skip to next paragraph
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THE hated symbol of the British monarchy, King George III, surfaced today, this correspondent learned, when the Convention debated the volatile question of whether the Executive for the new national government should be single or plural. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who was born under the British monarchy in Scotland and speaks with a thick burr, stunned delegates into silence when he proposed the national Executive be a single person. Dr. Benjamin Franklin, cast in the role of Convention conciliator, urged the delegates to speak up, since Mr. Wilson's proposal was of such ``great importance.''
The pause persisted until John Rutledge of South Carolina, believed to be a secret ally of Dr. Franklin and Mr. Wilson, assured the silent delegates that speaking up now on the issue did not mean they could not change their minds later. Mr. Rutledge declared himself in these words:
``[I am] for vesting the Executive power in a single person tho [I am] not for giving him the power of war and peace. A single man would feel the greatest responsibility and administer the public affairs best.''
Gov. Edmund Randolph of Virginia was passionate in his opposition, saying a single Executive was ``the foetus of monarchy'' and urging that the delegates not use the British government as its model. Three persons in the Executive, he said, would give the needed energy to act with independence.
Mr. Wilson replied that the comparison with the British system was mistaken, since the 13 States were ``a great confederated Republic,'' not a monarchy. Besides, he added, the people during the American Revolution saw not the King of England as the source of tyranny but the ``corrupt multitude'' that composed the British Parliament.
The Convention failed to resolve the issue of a single versus a plural Executive, principally because the delegates marched and countermarched over a broad terrain of ideas without any defined direction. James Madison of Virginia, who sought to provide a compass point, said that a definition of the powers of a single or a plural Executive would assist in how far ``they might be safely entrusted to a single officer.''
Mr. Madison's use of the term ``trust'' is the key to understanding today's bitter debate. A single Executive strikes many delegates as a return to the broad, unlimited power used by the Royal governors when the 13 States were Colonies of England. Most of the State constitutions, written after Independence, grant little authority to their governors and in practically all States a single Executive shares his powers with a Privy Council. State governors have their powers specifically defined to prevent a return to the unlimited powers exercised by the Royal governors.
When Virginia's Governor Randolph proposed today a plural Executive and warned against the danger of a monarchy, he provoked in the minds of older delegates the experience of the past. If there is one consistent pattern emerging from this Convention thus far, this correspondent has learned, it is the degree to which the delegates are being guided less by theory and more by practical experience.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.