-Friday, Sept. 7, 1787
Yesterday Roger Sherman of Connecticut broke an impasse over senatorial power by proposing that the House of Representatives, not the Senate, vote for the President in the event of a tie in the Electoral College.
LIKE an unwanted poor relation in a wealthy family, the Vice-President today was given the job of presiding over the upper house of Congress as ex officio president of the Senate.
Until today there had been no discussion by Convention delegates of a necessity for or even desirability of the office of Vice-President. The entirely new proposal surfaced three days ago when the Committee of Eleven recommended the post. Creation of the office is a consolation prize to the person securing the second-highest number of votes in the Electoral College balloting for the President. And it was agreed that an impartial person should preside over the Senate, without depriving any one State of its two votes.
William R. Davie of North Carolina revealed that the Vice-President was given the job of presiding over the Senate in order to break any legislative deadlocks arising over commercial disputes between Eastern and Southern States.
The sparrowlike Elbridge Gerry of Masschusetts was first on his feet to object:
``We might as well put the President himself at the head of the Legislature. The close intimacy that must subsist between the President & Vice-President makes it absolutely improper. [I am] against having any Vice-President.''
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania pointed out that the post was pregnant with political ambition. ``The Vice-President then will be the first heir apparent that ever loved his father,'' Mr. Morris added with a touch of cynical humor.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut said he did not perceive a danger in the office. ``If the Vice-President were not to be President of the Senate, he would be without employment,'' the unsmiling Yankee replied.
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina bluntly insisted that ``such an officer as Vice-President was not wanted.'' However, while many delegates believe the office is useless, it does exist in a few States. The Vice-President would be a successor to the President if he were removed or incapacitated. And it was with this primary function in mind that a majority voted today to affirm the office despite some delegates' dissent.
Col. George Mason of Virginia, for example, objected to the Vice-President's designated task of presiding over the Senate, insisting that this role mixed too much of the Executive and the Legislative. Colonel Mason also objected to giving Congress and the President shared powers over appointments and the making of treaties. As a substitute, he proposed a six-person Privy Council for the President to decide such matters; it would be a means of keeping the President and Congress ``separate & distinct.'' From the first days of the Convention, the idea of a Council for the Executive had been proposed as a means to check the power of the President. Each time it was proposed, it was rejected. The same fate befell Colonel Mason's proposal today, despite support from Dr. Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson of Pennsylvania and James Madison of Virginia.
However, in its place the Convention unanimously adopted the proposal today authorizing the President ``to call for the opinions of the Heads of Departments, in writing.'' In approving this proposal, the Convention has established the basis for the President to draw advice from his Council appointments.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Tuesday.