Constitutional Journal

-Thursday, July 19, 1787

Yesterday the delegates unanimously agreed to the establishment of a Supreme Court, though some preferred State courts to lower national courts.

THE past and the future collided today to frustrate efforts of Convention delegates to decide the issue of the Executive - the method of appointment, term of office, and eligibility for reelection.

Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania in a lengthy speech argued for popular election of a single powerful Executive. The vast geography of the country, he reminded the delegates, requires a chief Executive with power to pervade every part of it. Election by the Legislature would make him a prisoner of a powerful and wealthy class who could impose a legislative tyranny. ``One great object of the Executive is to controul the Legislature,'' Mr. Morris added.

Virginia's Gov. Edmund Raldolph argued for election by the national Legislature, with the provision that the Executive be barred from seeking reelection. ``If he ought to be independent, he should not be left under a temptation to court a reappointment,'' Governor Randolph said.

Rufus King of Massachusetts said he did not like the idea of one term and proposed instead that electors chosen by the people should choose a single Executive. William Paterson of New Jersey said the States should choose the electors. James Madison of Virginia then raised the most critical issue of today's debate:

``If it be a fundamental principle of free Govt. that the Legislative, Executive & Judiciary powers should be separately exercised; it is equally so that they be independently exercised. There is the same & perhaps greater reason why the Executive shd [should] be independent of the Legislature, than why the Judiciary should: A coalition of the two former powers would be more immediately & certainly dangerous to public liberty.''

Ignoring Mr. Madison's arguments, a Convention majority voted that the Executive be chosen by electors appointed by the State legislatures and that his term be six years.

Governor Randolph is reported to be dismayed at this development. The Convention had earlier agreed on election of the Executive by Congress, as contained in the original resolutions sponsored by Governor Randolph. One observer points out that today's development illustrated to Governor Randolph how the original proposals in the Virginia Plan were being bent out of shape.

Today's confusing and contradictory action can be explained in historical and generational terms.

Those delegates who favor making the Executive dependent on either the national or State legislatures came to political maturity before 1776. They remember the tyranny of the powerful single Executive, either in the Colonies or under the Stuart kings of Great Britain.

Those who favor an independent powerful Executive are younger and do not draw on the same experience. They rely more on theory and ideology than on history.

It is this conflict between the experience of the past and a faith in the future that must be reconciled if a national Executive is to be created.

These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.

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