-Thursday, Sept. 6, 1787
Yesterday John Rutledge of South Carolina failed to win reconsideration of the original plan for Congress to elect the President for a single seven-year term.
A SIGH of relief swept over the delegates today when 10 of the 11 States present approved a modified plan for electing a President, thus ending one of the most hard-fought, frustrating, and fatiguing decisions of this Convention.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania repeated the assertion some delegates made yesterday about the current plan to allow the Senate to elect a President in the event of a tie in the Electoral College of the States. He believes it is a dangerous power and a tendency toward aristocracy. Mr. Wilson pointed out that the Senate was given the additional powers to approve Executive and Judicial appointments, to sit as a court of impeachment for the President, and to approve treaties, subject to the evil of foreign influence. The owlish-appearing lawyer said:
``The Legislative, Executive & Judiciary powers are all blended in one branch of the Government. ... According to [the] plan as it now stands, the President will not be the man of the people as he ought to be, but the Minion of the Senate. He cannot even appoint a tide-waiter [customs official] without the Senate....''
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania denied Mr. Wilson's declaration that the powers of the Senate were dangerous. ``Wherein then lay the dangerous tendency of the innovations to establish an aristocracy in the Senate?'' asked the peg-legged Mr. Morris.
Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York today joined the heated debate. He had been in New York on legal, political, and personal matters since June 29 and attended the Convention only a few days in July and August. Colonel Hamilton's long absence did not restrain him from expressing a dislike for the scheme of government hammered out during the weeks he was absent. Nevertheless, he said he would vote for it, adding he would ``take any system which promises to save America from the dangers with which she is threatened,'' referring to foreign influences.
The argument that the Senate's election of the President permitted a potentially powerful aristocracy was dealt a death blow by an ingenious proposal by Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Shrewd Mr. Sherman proposed that the House of Representatives, not the Senate, vote for the President in the event of a tie in the Electoral College voting; each State would have a single vote. Mr. Sherman's proposal was eagerly adopted as a way out of the current impasse.
The delegates then went on to approve a series of proposals to insulate the Electoral College from corruption and intrigue. It was agreed, for example, that the president of the Senate would count the ballots, with House and Senate members as witnesses.
Until today the Executive and Judicial branches of the new national government were no more than extensions of Congress. Today's actions create a three-tiered government, rendering the President independent of Congress. James Madison of Virginia is reported to have confided to a friend that the final agreement was due in some part to ``the hurrying influence produced by fatigue and impatience.''
One observer points out that an American President chosen by an Electoral College system has only two foreign historical precedents: the Sacred College of Cardinals of the Vatican and the Holy Roman Empire. The Maryland State Senate is the more immediate domestic model for the delegates.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.