-Friday, July 20, 1787
Yesterday delegates clashed over the national Executive - the method of choosing, term of office, and eligibility for reelection.
WITH the history of powerful and unaccountable executive power in mind, a majority of eight States today approved impeachment of the proposed national Chief Executive if convicted of ``malpractice or neglect of duty.''
The impeachment issue produced a spirited series of statements after South Carolina's Charles Pinckney and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania proposed exempting the national Executive from impeachment.
``If he be not impeachable whilst in office, he will spare no effort or means whatever to get himself reelected,'' replied North Carolina's William Davie.
Mr. Morris insisted that the right of impeachment would render an Executive impotent and ``dependent on those who are to impeach.'' Col. George Mason of Virginia pointed out in reply that the delegates had debated with difficulty as to the method of choosing the Executive. He disliked the system, approved yesterday, of electors choosing the Executive, Colonel Mason added, principally because of the danger that the electors could be corrupted by the candidates. He then went on:
``No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above Justice? ... Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?''
Dr. Benjamin Franklin pointed out that the alternative to impeachment in the past, when a chief magistrate made himself obnoxious, was assassination. ``He was not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character,'' the 81-year-old Dr. Franklin noted.
Mr. Pinckney, defending his proposal in the face of overwhelming opposition, argued that the Executive's independence would be destroyed, since impeachment could become a political weapon in the hands of the legislators. ``A good magistrate will not fear them,'' Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts sharply replied. ``A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.''
Rufus King, replying to his Massachusetts colleague, wondered whether the three great departments of the proposed government would remain separate and independent if one had the power of impeachment. If judges, he added, are subject to impeachment and hold office ``during good behaviour,'' perhaps the same standard should apply to the Executive. ``But under no circumstances ought he to be impeachable by the Legislature,'' Mr. King insisted.
Just before the issue was put to a vote, Mr. Morris did something out of character. He told the Convention that the arguments presented had forced him to change his opinion.
Citing the corrupt practice of bribing the crowned heads of Europe, he was for impeachment of an Executive. Besides, he asked, might not a future chief Executive be bought by a greater interest and betray his trust?
``No one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first Magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard agst [against] it by displacing him,'' Mr. Morris added in an ominous punctuation to today's session.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.