-Monday, June 4, 1787 Last Friday opponents of a one-person national Executive warned against following the British model of monarchy.Skip to next paragraph
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DELEGATES demonstrated today that experience, rather than abstract arguments, is starting to shape the character of this Convention, this correspondent has learned.
In a 7-to-3 vote (with New Jersey abstaining), it was firmly decided that any new national government shall have a single Executive. James Wilson of Pennsylvania told the delegates in the lengthy debate that the experience of all 13 States was with a single magistrate. ``The idea of three heads has taken place in none,'' Mr. Wilson added.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut conceded such was the case. He pointed out, however, that experience has shown that a single Executive in the States could not act without a plural council. Nor did Mr. Sherman make any converts with his additional point that the King of Great Britain had an appointed council to advise him.
The issue of experience also dominated the debate over whether the single Executive should have veto power over laws passed by the proposed national Legislature. Mr. Wilson, and Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York, both proposed an absolute veto.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin took sharp exception. He said that it had been his experience, when he was an official of the colony of Pennsylvania, that the veto was used by the Governor to extort concessions from the State legislature. Dr. Franklin then provided this grisly example:
``When the Indians were scalping the western people, and notice of it arrived, the concurrence of the Governor in the means of self-defence could not be got, till it was agreed that his Estate should be exempted from taxation.''
Also, the experience of the 13 Colonies with the abuse of the veto power by the British Royal Governors proved lasting. After independence, only three States had conferred such power on their Governors. The Convention delegates today rejected the proposal for an absolute veto for the Executive. Rather, they approved a qualified veto with the provision that an Executive veto could be overturned by a two-thirds vote in both branches of the proposed national Legislature.
The Convention, by approving a single national Executive with a qualified veto, hopes to check possible excesses of the national Legislature. Again, experience seems to have fashioned this decision. Many State legislatures can pass unjust laws with impunity, unchecked in their power.
Thus the debate centered on an attempt to prevent either the Executive or the Legislature from having absolute power. The delegates hope this will prevent the abuses they have experienced under the State legislatures and, earlier, under the British Colonial Governors.
During today's debate over the powers of the Executive, Dr. Franklin said he had no doubt that ``the first man put at the helm will be a good one.'' He could only be referring to General Washington.
Last Saturday a majority of States approved election of a national Executive by the national Legislature to a single seven-year term. But the Executive would be removable by impeachment. The Convention clearly took this action to check the potential for corruption of a single Executive too long in office. These two safeguards indicate the serious commitment of Convention delegates to a strong national Executive.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.