-Friday, Aug. 24, 1787
Yesterday, by a one-vote margin, delegates defeated a proposal that the new national government be given veto power over all State laws.
THE method of electing the President became the focus of the Convention battle today, with the large States seeking to free the Chief Executive from the control of Congress that is favored by the small States.
As it now stands, the Convention has given Congress the power to elect a President for a seven-year term but barred the President from seeking reelection.
John Rutledge of South Carolina triggered today's debate when he proposed election of the President by a joint congressional ballot. The small States counterattacked, claiming that the House of Representatives, with its more numerous members from the large States, would outvote the small States, since representation in the Senate was equal.
The dispute apparently gave the large States the opportunity then to propose election of the President by the people rather than by the Congress. The move was decisively defeated, nine States to two, and the Convention went on to approve the joint ballot election.
It was here that Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania delivered what may prove to be the death blow to congressional election of the President. It will lead to legislative tyranny, Mr. Morris insisted. With the President dependent on the Congress, they can conspire together in cabals of corruption at the expense of the public's pocketbook, he went on, adding:
``Hence, the Executive is interested in Courting popularity in the Legislature by sacrificing his Executive rights; & then he can go into that Body, after the expiration of his Executive Office, and enjoy there the fruits of his policy.''
Mr. Morris proposed that the election of the President be made by a college of electors chosen by the people of the States. Much to everyone's surprise, the proposal lost by only one vote. A subsequent vote on the President being ``chosen by electors'' as an abstract principle ended in a tie, illustrating the degree of frustration felt by most delegates over the office of the President since the Convention first began debating the question over two months ago.
The degree of distrust of a powerful President was illustrated today by Roger Sherman of Connecticut. When the Convention debated the President's appointment powers, Mr. Sherman objected to the wording giving the President the power to ``appoint officers,'' believing it meant military officers. Corruption in Great Britain is possible by such power, Mr. Sherman went on, and an American President ``may set up an absolute Government; taking advantage of the close of a war and an army commanded by his creatures.''
The Convention agreed today to change the wording of ``officers'' to ``offices'' and to postpone debate on the election of the President. The difficulty the delegates have had regarding the office stems from two reasons. First, the entire history of the separate States has been chief executives with narrow powers and beholden to the State legislatures. Second, under the Articles of Confederation and in Europe, the office of a single chief executive has few parallels to guide the delegates.
No wonder they are baffled about deciding the powers and election of an American President.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.