-Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1787
Yesterday the delegates began to study a compromise proposal for choosing the President through an Electoral College, which one observer calls the only political innovation of this Convention.
THE Senate's role in the election of the President was sharply attacked today as laying the foundation for corruption and risking the transformation of that body into a dangerous aristocracy.
Delegates who delivered this verbal indictment did so out of a general dissatisfaction with major parts of the compromise plan for electing the President. The plan calls for Electors in the States to vote for a President, and for the Senate to certify the winner. If none were found to have a majority of Electoral votes, the Senate would choose a President from among the five candidates with the most Electoral votes.
Charles Pinckney III and John Rutledge of South Carolina said they were opposed to the entire compromise plan. ``It would throw the whole power into the Senate,'' Mr. Rutledge warned. He proposed instead a reconsideration of the original plan for Congress to elect the President for a single seven-year term. Eight States opposed reconsideration, however. Col. George Mason of Virginia said he preferred ``the Government of Prussia to one which will put all power'' into the hands of a few in the Senate, creating an aristocracy worse than an absolute monarchy. He stated his objections:
``Considering the powers of the President & those of the Senate, if a coalition should be established between these two branches, they will be able to subvert the Constitution. The great objection ... would be removed by depriving the Senate of the eventual election.''
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania replied that the danger was being overdrawn. It was likely, he said, that in most elections the votes would fall on characters eminent and generally known, with one man receiving a majority of the ballots for President, and therefore the Senate would not have to vote. James Wilson of Pennsylvania and John Dickinson of Delaware proposed that, in the event the vote of the Electors deadlocked on a choice, the entire Congress should decide rather than just the Senate. However, seven States voted down that proposal.
Throughout this Convention three words have had an influential impact on the debates: corruption, monarchy, and aristocracy. All three were used in today's debate with the effect of creating an impasse on the method of electing the President. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina insisted that election by the Senate ``lays a certain foundation for corruption & aristocracy.''
Gov. Edmund Randolph of Virginia bitterly assailed the powers of the President, arguing that it was a bold stroke for monarchy. ``We are now doing the same for an aristocracy,'' he went on, adding that the President's election by the Senate, along with its other powers, would ``convert that body into a real & dangerous Aristocracy.''
Despite such dire predictions, one source reports that the dissenting South Carolina delegation concedes it does not have the votes to prevail and will accept the Electoral College.
Governor Randolph's bitter outburst today is reported by one observer to reflect cumulative dissatisfacton with the entire instrument of government as drafted by this Convention. The fact that he has come to disagree with what he originally proposed, at James Madison's urging, makes the humiliation more intense for the proud Virginian.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.