Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1
Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention5, 10 , 17--18 June 1788Elliot 3:59--60, 201--2, 220--22, 483--96
[Mr. Henry.] If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute! The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of [Volume 3, Page 513] address, it will be attached to him, and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment to accomplish his design; and, sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens? I would rather infinitely--and I am sure most of this Convention are of the same opinion--have a king, lords, and commons, than a government so replete with such insupportable evils. If we make a king, we may prescribe the rules by which he shall rule his people, and interpose such checks as shall prevent him from infringing them; but the President, in the field, at the head of his army, can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master, so far that it will puzzle any American ever to get his neck from under the galling yoke. I cannot with patience think of this idea. If ever he violates the laws, one of two things will happen: he will come at the head of his army, to carry every thing before him; or he will give bail, or do what Mr. Chief Justice will order him. If he be guilty, will not the recollection of his crimes teach him to make one bold push for the American throne? Will not the immense difference between being master of every thing, and being ignominiously tried and punished, powerfully excite him to make this bold push? But, sir, where is the existing force to punish him? Can he not, at the head of his army, beat down every opposition? Away with your President! we shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch: your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you: and what have you to oppose this force? What will then become of you and your rights? Will not absolute despotism ensue?
[Here Mr. Henry strongly and pathetically expatiated on the probability of the President's enslaving America, and the horrid consequences that must result.]
[Gov. Randolph.] . . . Let us consider whether the federal executive be wisely constructed. This is a point in which the constitution of every state differs widely as to the mode of electing their executives, and as to the time of continuing them in office. In some states the executive is perpetually eligible. In others he is rendered ineligible after a given period. They are generally elected by the legislature. It cannot be objected to the federal executive that the power is executed by one man. All the enlightened part of mankind agree that the superior despatch, secrecy, and energy, with which one man can act, render it more politic to vest the power of executing the laws in one man, than in any number of men. How is the President elected? By the people--on the same day throughout the United States--by those whom the people please. There can be no concert between the electors. The votes are sent sealed to Congress. What are his powers? To see the laws executed. Every executive in America has that power. He is also to command the army: this power also is enjoyed by the executives of the different states. He can handle no part of the public money except what is given him by law. At the end of four years, he may be turned out of his office. If he misbehaves he may be impeached, and in this case he will never be reëlected. I cannot conceive how his powers can be called formidable. Both houses are a check upon him. He can do no important act without the concurrence of the Senate. In England, the sword and purse are in different hands. The king has the power of the sword, and the purse is in the hands of the people alone. Take a comparison between this and the government of England.
It will prove in favor of the American principle. In England, the king declares war. In America, Congress must be consulted. In England, Parliament gives money. In America, Congress does it. There are consequently more powers in the hands of the people, and greater checks upon the executive here, than in England. Let him pardon me, when I say he is mistaken in passing a eulogium on the English government to the prejudice of this plan. Those checks which he says are to be found in the English government, are also to be found here. Our government is founded upon real checks. He ought to show there are no checks in it. Is this the case? Who are your representatives? They are chosen by the people for two years. Who are your senators? They are chosen by the legislatures, and a third of them go out of the Senate at the end of every second year. They may also be impeached. There are no better checks upon earth. Are there better checks in the government of Virginia? There is not a check in the one that is not in the other. The difference consists in the length of time, and in the nature of the objects. Any man may be impeached here--so he may there. If the people of Virginia can remove their delegates for misbehavior, by electing other men at the end of the year, so, in like manner, the federal representatives may be removed at the end of two, and the senators at the end of six years.
. . . . .
[Mr. Monroe.] . . . Let us now consider the responsibility of the President. He is elected for four years, and not excluded from reëlection. Suppose he violates the laws and Constitution, or commits high crimes. By whom is he to be tried?--By his own council--by those who advise him to commit such violations and crimes? This subverts the principles of justice, as it secures him from punishment. He commands the army of the United States till he is condemned. Will not this be an inducement to foreign nations to use their arts and intrigues to corrupt his counsellors? If he and his counsellors can escape punishment with so much facility, what a delightful prospect must it be for a foreign nation, which may be desirous of gaining territorial or commercial advantages over us, to practise on them! The certainty of success would be equal to the impunity. How is he elected? By electors appointed according to the directions of the state legislatures. Does the plan of government contemplate any other mode? A combination between the electors might easily happen, which would fix on a man in every respect improper. Contemplate this in all its consequences. Is it not the object of foreign courts to have such a man possessed of this power as would be inclined to promote their interests? What an advantageous prospect for France and Great Britain to secure the favor and attachment of the President, by exerting their power and influence to continue him in the office! Foreign nations may, by their intrigues, have great [Volume 3, Page 514] influence, in each state, in the election of the President; and I have no doubt but their efforts will be tried to the utmost. Will not the influence of the President himself have great weight in his reelection? The variety of the offices at his disposal will acquire him the favor and attachment of those who aspire after them, and of the officers and their friends. He will have some connection with the members of the different branches of government. They will esteem him, because they will be acquainted with him, live in the same town with him, and often dine with him. This familiar and frequent intercourse will secure him great influence. I presume that when once he is elected, he may be elected forever. Besides his influence in the town where he will reside, he will have very considerable weight in the different states. Those who are acquainted with the human mind, in all its operations, can clearly foresee this. Powerful men in different states will form a friendship with him. For these reasons, I conceive, the same President may always be continued, and be in fact elected by Congress, instead of independent and intelligent electors. It is a misfortune, more than once experienced, that the representatives of the states do not pursue the particular interest of their own state. When we take a more accurate view of the principles of the Senate, we shall have grounds to fear that the interest of our state may be totally neglected; nay, that our legislative influence will be as if we were actually expelled or banished out of Congress. The senators are amenable to, and appointed by, the states. They have a negative on all laws, may originate any except money bills, and direct the affairs of the executive. Seven states are a majority, and can in most cases bind the rest; from which reason, the interest of certain states alone will be consulted. Although the House of Representatives is calculated on national principles, and should they attend (contrary to my expectations) to the general interests of the Union, yet the dangerous exclusive powers given to the Senate will, in my opinion, counter-balance their exertions. Consider the connection of the Senate with the executive. Has it not an authority over all the acts of the executive? What are the acts which the President can do without them? What number is requisite to make treaties? A very small number. Two thirds of those who may happen to be present, may, with the President, make treaties that shall sacrifice the dearest interest of the Southern States--which may relinquish part of our territories--which may dismember the United States. There is no check to prevent this; there is no responsibility, or power to punish it. He is to nominate, and, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint, ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States. The concurrence of a bare majority of those who may be present will enable him to do these important acts. It does not require the consent of two thirds even of those who may be present. Thus I conceive the government is put entirely into the hands of seven states; indeed, into the hands of two thirds of a majority. The executive branch is under their protection, and yet they are freed from a direct charge of combination.
Mr. George Mason. Mr. Chairman, there is not a more important article in the Constitution than this. The great fundamental principle of responsibility in republicanism is here sapped. The President is elected without rotation. It may be said that a new election may remove him, and place another in his stead. If we judge from the experience of all other countries, and even our own, we may conclude that, as the President of the United States may be reëlected, so he will. How is it in every government where rotation is not required? Is there a single instance of a great man not being reëlected? Our governor is obliged to return, after a given period, to a private station. It is so in most of the states. This President will be elected time after time: he will be continued in office for life. If we wish to change him, the great powers in Europe will not allow us.
The honorable gentleman, my colleague in the late federal Convention, mentions, with applause, those parts of which he had expressed his disapprobation, he says not a word. If I am mistaken, let me be put right. I shall not make use of his name; but, in the course of this investigation, I shall use the arguments of that gentleman against it.
Will not the great powers of Europe, as France and Great Britain, be interested in having a friend in the President of the United States? and will they not be more interested in his election than in that of the king of Poland? The people of Poland have a right to displace their king. But do they ever do it? No. Prussia and Russia, and other European powers, would not suffer it. This clause will open a door to the dangers and misfortunes which the people of Poland undergo. The powers of Europe will interpose, and we shall have a civil war in the bowels of our country, and be subject to all the horrors and calamities of an elective monarchy. This very executive officer may, by consent of Congress, receive a stated pension from European potentates. This is not an idea altogether new in America. It is not many years ago--since the revolution--that a foreign power offered emoluments to persons holding offices under our government. It will, moreover, be difficult to know whether he receives emoluments from foreign powers or not. The electors, who are to meet in each state to vote for him, may be easily influenced. To prevent the certain evils of attempting to elect a new President, it will be necessary to continue the old one. The only way to alter this would be to render him ineligible after a certain number of years, and then no foreign nation would interfere to keep in a man who was utterly ineligible. Nothing is so essential to the preservation of a republican government as a periodical rotation. Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate their burdens. It is a great defect in the Senate that they are not ineligible at the end of six years. The biennial exclusion of one third of them will have no effect, as they can be reëlected. Some stated time ought to be fixed when the President ought to be reduced to a private [Volume 3, Page 515] station. I should be contented that he might be elected for eight years; but I would wish him to be capable of holding the office only eight years out of twelve or sixteen years. But, as it now stands, he may continue in office for life; or, in other words, it will be an elective monarchy.
Gov. Randolph. Mr. Chairman, the honorable gentleman last up says that I do not mention the parts to which I object. I have hitherto mentioned my objections with freedom and candor. But, sir, I considered that our critical situation rendered adoption necessary, were it even more defective than it is. I observed that if opinions ought to lead the committee on one side, they ought on the other. Every gentleman who has turned his thoughts to the subject of politics, and has considered the most eligible mode of republican government, agrees that the greatest difficulty arises from the executive--as to the time of his election, mode of his election, quantum of power, &c. I will acknowledge that, at one stage of this business, I had embraced the idea of the honorable gentleman, that the reëligibility of the President was improper. But I will acknowledge that, on a further consideration of the subject, and attention to the lights which were thrown upon it by others, I altered my opinion of the limitation of his eligibility. When we consider the advantages arising to us from it, we cannot object to it. That which has produced my opinion against the limitation of his eligibility is this--that it renders him more independent in his place, and more solicitous of promoting the interest of his constituents; for, unless you put it in his power to be reelected, instead of being attentive to their interests, he will lean to the augmentation of his private emoluments. This subject will admit of high coloring and plausible arguments; but, on considering it attentively and coolly, I believe it will be found less exceptionable than any other mode. The mode of election here excludes that faction which is productive of those hostilities and confusion in Poland. It renders it unnecessary and impossible for foreign force or aid to interpose. The electors must be elected by the people at large. To procure his reëlection, his influence must be coextensive with the continent. And there can be no combination between the electors, as they elect him on the same day in every state. When this is the case, how can foreign influence or intrigue enter? There is no reason to conclude, from the experience of these states, that he will be continually reëlected. There have been several instances where officers have been displaced, where they were reëligible. This has been the case with the executive of Massachusetts, and I believe of New Hampshire. It happens, from the mutation of sentiments, though the officers be good.
There is another provision against the danger, mentioned by the honorable member, of the President receiving emoluments from foreign powers. If discovered, he may be impeached. If he be not impeached, he may be displaced at the end of the four years. By the 9th section of the 1st article, "no person, holding an office of profit or trust, shall accept of any present or emolument whatever, from any foreign power, without the consent of the representatives of the people;" and by the 1st section of the 2d article, his compensation is neither to be increased nor diminished during the time for which he shall have been elected; and he shall not, during that period, receive any emolument from the United States or any of them. I consider, therefore, that he is restrained from receiving any present or emolument whatever. It is impossible to guard better against corruption. The honorable member seems to think that he may hold his office without being reëlected. He cannot hold it over four years, unless he be reëlected, any more than if he were prohibited. As to forwarding and transmitting the certificates of the electors, I think the regulation as good as could be provided.
Mr. George Mason. Mr. Chairman, the Vice-President appears to me to be not only an unnecessary but dangerous officer. He is, contrary to the usual course of parliamentary proceedings, to be president of the Senate. The state from which he comes may have two votes, when the others will have but one. Besides, the legislative and executive are hereby mixed and incorporated together. I cannot, at this distance of time, foresee the consequences; but I think that, in the course of human affairs, he will be made a tool of in order to bring about his own interest, and aid in overturning the liberties of his country. There is another part which I disapprove of, but which perhaps I do not understand. "In case of removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice-President; and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation, or inability, both of the President and Vice-President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected." The power of Congress is right and proper so far as it enables them to provide what officer shall act, in case both the President and Vice-President be dead or disabled. But gentlemen ought to take notice that the election of this officer is only for four years. There is no provision for a speedy election of another President, when the former is dead or removed. The influence of the Vice-President may prevent the election of the President. But perhaps I may be mistaken.
Mr. Madison. Mr. Chairman, I think there are some peculiar advantages incident to this office, which recommend it to us. There is, in the first place, a great probability this officer will be taken from one of the largest states; and, if so, the circumstance of his having an eventual vote will be so far favorable. The consideration which recommends it to me is, that he will be the choice of the people at large. There are to be ninety-one electors, each of whom has two votes: if he have one fourth of the whole number of votes, he is elected Vice-President. There is much more propriety in giving this office to a person chosen by the people at large, than to one of the Senate, who is only the choice of the legislature of one state. His eventual vote is an advantage too obvious to comment upon. I differ from the honorable member in the case which enables Congress to make a temporary appointment. When the President and Vice-President die, the election of another President will immediately take place; and suppose [Volume 3, Page 516] it would not,--all that Congress could do would be to make an appointment between the expiration of the four years and the last election, and to continue only to such expiration. This can rarely happen. This power continues the government in motion, and is well guarded.
Mr. Monroe, after a brief exordium, in which he insisted that, on the judicious organization of the executive power, the security of our interest and happiness greatly depended; that, in the construction of this part of the government, we should be cautious in avoiding the defects of other governments; and that our circumspection should be commensurate to the extent of the powers delegated,--proceeded as follows: The President ought to act under the strongest impulses of rewards and punishments, which are the strongest incentives to human actions. There are two ways of securing this point. He ought to depend on the people of America for his appointment and continuance in office; he ought also to be responsible, in an equal degree, to all the states, and to be tried by dispassionate judges; his responsibility ought further to be direct and immediate. Let us consider, in the first place, then, how far he is dependent on the people of America. He is to be elected by electors, in a manner perfectly dissatisfactory to my mind. I believe that he will owe his election, in fact, to the state governments, and not to the people at large. It is to be observed that Congress have it in their power to appoint the time of choosing the electors, and of electing the President. Is it not presumable they will appoint the times of choosing the electors, and of electing the President. Is it not presumable they will appoint the times of choosing the electors, and electing the President, at a considerable distance from each other, so as to give an opportunity to the electors to form a combination? If they know that such a man as they wish--for instance, the actual President--cannot possibly be elected by a majority of the whole number of electors appointed, yet if they can prevent the election, by such majority, of any one they disapprove of, and if they can procure such a number of votes as will be sufficient to make their favorite one of the five highest on the list, they may ultimately carry the election into the general Congress, where the votes, in choosing him, shall be taken by states, each state having one vote. Let us see how far this is compatible with the security of republicanism. Although this state is to have ten, and Massachusetts eight representatives, and Delaware and Rhode Island are to have but one each, yet the vote is to be by states only. The consequence will be that a majority of the states, and these consisting of the smallest, may elect him; this will give an advantage to the small states. He will depend, therefore, on the states for his reëlection and continuance in office, and not on the people. Does it not bear the complexion of the late Confederation? He will conduct himself in accommodation to them, since by them he is chosen, and may be again. If he accommodates himself to the interest of particular states, will they not be obliged, by state policy, to support him afterwards? Le me inquire into his responsibility if he does not depend on the people. To whom is he responsible? To the Senate, his own council. If he makes a treaty, bartering the interests of his country, by whom is he to be tried? By the very persons who advised him to perpetrate the act. Is this any security? I am persuaded that the gentleman who will be the first elected may continue in the office for life.
The situation of the United States, as it applies to the European states, demands attention. We may hold the balance among those states. Their western territories are contiguous to us. What we may do, without any offensive operations, may have considerable influence. Will they not, then, endeavor to influence his general councils? May we not suppose that they will endeavor to attach him to their interest, and support him, in order to make him serve their purposes? If this be the case, does not the mode of election present a favorable opportunity to continue in office the person that shall be President? I am persuaded they may, by their power and intrigues, influence his reëlection. There being nothing to prevent his corruption but his virtue, which is but precarious, we have not sufficient security. If there be a propriety in giving him a right of making leagues, he ought not to be connected with the Senate. If the Senate have a right to make leagues, there ought to be a majority of the states.
The Vice-President is an unnecessary officer. I can see no reason for such an officer. The Senate might of their own body elect a president who would have no dangerous influence. He is to succeed the President, in case of removal, disability, &c., and is to have the casting vote in the Senate. This gives an undue advantage to the state he comes from, and will render foreign powers desirous of securing his favor, to obtain which they will exert themselves in his behalf. I am persuaded that the advantage of his information will not counterbalance the disadvantages attending his office.
The President might be elected by the people, dependent upon them, and responsible for maladministration. As this is not the case, I must disapprove of this clause in its present form.
Mr. Grayson. Mr. Chairman, one great objection with me is this: If we advert to this democratical, aristocratical, or executive branch, we shall find their powers are perpetually varying and fluctuating throughout the whole. Perhaps the democratic branch would be well constructed, were it not for this defect. The executive is still worse, in this respect, than the democratic branch. He is to be elected by a number of electors in the country; but the principle is changed when no person has a majority of the whole number of electors appointed, or when more than one have such a majority, and have an equal number of votes; for then the lower house is to vote by states. It is thus changing throughout the whole. It seems rather founded on accident than any principle of government I ever heard of. We know that there scarcely ever was an election of such an officer without the interposition of foreign powers. Two causes prevail to make them intermeddle in such cases:--one is, to preserve the balance of power; the other, to preserve their trade. These causes have produced interferences of foreign powers in the election of the king of Poland. All the great powers of Europe have interfered in an election which took place not very [Volume 3, Page 517] long ago, and would not let the people choose for themselves. We know how much the powers of Europe have interfered with Sweden. Since the death of Charles XII., that country has been a republican government. Some powers were willing it should be so; some were willing her imbecility should continue; others wished the contrary; and at length the court of France brought about a revolution, which converted it into an absolute government. Can America be free from these interferences? France, after losing Holland, will wish to make America entirely her own. Great Britain will wish to increase her influence by a still closer connection. It is the interest of Spain, from the contiguity of her possessions in the western hemisphere to the United States, to be in an intimate connection with them, and influence their deliberations, if possible. I think we have every thing to apprehend from such interferences. It is highly probable the President will be continued in office for life. To gain his favor, they will support him. Consider the means of importance he will have by creating officers. If he has a good understanding with the Senate, they will join to prevent a discovery of his misdeeds.
Whence comes this extreme confidence, that we disregard the example of ancient and modern nations? We find that aristocracies never invested their officers with such immense powers. Rome had not only an aristocratical, but also a democratical branch; yet the consuls were in office only two years. This quadrennial power cannot be justified by ancient history. There is hardly an instance where a republic trusted its executive so long with much power; nor is it warranted by modern republics. The delegation of power is, in most of them, only for one year.
When you have a strong democratical and a strong aristocratical branch, you may have a strong executive. But when those are weak, the balance will not be preserved, if you give the executive extensive powers for so long a time. As this government is organized, it would be dangerous to trust the President with such powers. How will you punish him if he abuse his power? Will you call him before the Senate? They are his counsellors and partners in crime. Where are your checks? We ought to be extremely cautious in this country. If ever the government be changed, it will probably be into a despotism. The first object in England was to destroy the monarchy; but the aristocratic branch restored him, and of course the government was organized on its ancient principles. But were a revolution to happen here, there would be no means of restoring the government to its former organization. This is a caution to us not to trust extensive powers. I have an extreme objection to the mode of his election. I presume the seven Eastern States will always elect him. As he is vested with the power of making treaties, and as there is a material distinction between the carrying and productive states, the former will be disposed to have him to themselves. He will accommodate himself to their interests in forming treaties, and they will continue him perpetually in office. Thus mutual interest will lead them reciprocally to support one another. It will be a government of a faction, and this observation will apply to every part of it; for, having a majority, they may do what they please. I have made an estimate which shows with what facility they will be able to reëlect him. The number of electors is equal to the number of representatives and senators; viz., ninety-one. They are to vote for two persons. They give, therefore, one hundred and eighty-two votes. Let there be forty-five votes for four different candidates, and two for the President. He is one of the five highest, if he have but two votes, which he may easily purchase. In this case, by the 3d clause of the 1st section of the 2d article, the election is to be by the representatives, according to states. Let New Hampshire be for him,--a majority of its
|A majority of seven states is||15|
Thus the majority of seven states is but 15, while the minority amounts to 50.
|The total number of voices (91 electors and 65 representatives) is||156|
|Voices in favor of the President are, 2 state electors and 15 representatives,||17|
So that the President may be reëlected by the voices of 17 against 139.
It may be said that this is an extravagant case, and will never happen. In my opinion, it will often happen. A person who is a favorite of Congress, if he gets but two votes of electors, may, by the subsequent choice of 15 representatives, be elected President. Surely the possibility of such a case ought to be excluded. I shall postpone mentioning in what manner he ought to be elected, till we come to offer amendments.
Mr. George Mason contended that this mode of election was a mere deception,--a mere ignis fatuus on the American people,--and thrown out to make them believe they were to choose him; whereas it would not be once out of fifty times that he would be chosen by them in the first instance, because a majority of the whole number of votes was required. If the localities of the states were considered, and the probable diversity of the opinions of the people attended to, he thought it would be found that so many persons would be voted for, that there seldom or never could be a majority in favor of one, except one great name, who, he believed, would be unanimously elected. He then continued thus:--A majority of the whole number of electors is necessary, to elect the President. It is not the greatest number of votes that is required, but a majority of the whole number of electors. If there be more than one having such majority, and an equal number, one of them is to be chosen by ballot of the House of Representatives. But if no one have a majority of the actual number of electors appointed, how is he to be chosen? From the five highest on the list, by ballot of the lower house, and the votes to be taken by states. I conceive he ought to be chosen from the two highest on the list. This would be simple and easy; then, indeed, the people would have [Volume 3, Page 518] some agency in the election. But when it is extended to the five highest, a person having a very small number of votes may be elected. This will almost constantly happen. The states may choose the man in whom they have most confidence. This, in my opinion, is a very considerable defect. The people will, in reality, have no hand in the election.
It has been wittily observed that the Constitution has married the President and Senate--has made them man and wife. I believe the consequence that generally results from marriage will happen here. They will be continually supporting and aiding each other: they will always consider their interest as united. We know the advantage the few have over the many. They can with facility act in concert, and on a uniform system: they may join, scheme, and plot, against the people without any chance of detection. The Senate and President will form a combination that cannot be prevented by the representatives. The executive and legislative powers, thus connected, will destroy all balances: this would have been prevented by a constitutional council, to aid the President in the discharge of his office, vesting the Senate, at the same time, with the power of impeaching them. Then we should have real responsibility. In its present form, the guilty try themselves. The President is tried by his counsellors. He is not removed from office during his trial. When he is arraigned for treason, he has the command of the army and navy, and may surround the Senate with thirty thousand troops. It brings to my recollection the remarkable trial of Milo at Rome. We may expect to see similar instances here. But I suppose that the cure for all evils--the virtue and integrity of our representatives--will be thought a sufficient security. On this great and important subject, I am one of those (and ever shall be) who object to it.
Mr. Madison. Mr. Chairman, I will take the liberty of making a few observations, which may place this in such a light as may obviate objections. It is observed that none of the honorable members objecting to this have pointed out the right mode of election. It was found difficult in the Convention, and will be found so by any gentleman who will take the liberty of delineating a mode of electing the President that would exclude those inconveniences which they apprehend. I would not contend against some of the principles laid down by some gentlemen, if the interests of some states only were to be consulted. But there is a great diversity of interests. The choice of the people ought to be attended to. I have found no better way of selecting the man in whom they place the highest confidence, than that delineated in the plan of the Convention; nor has the gentleman told us. Perhaps it will be found impracticable to elect him by the immediate suffrages of the people. Difficulties would arise from the extent and population of the states. Instead of this, the people choose the electors.
This can be done with ease and convenience, and will render the choice more judicious. As to the eventual voting by states, it has my approbation. The lesser states, and some large states, will be generally pleased by that mode. The deputies from the small states argued (and there is some force in their reasoning) that, when the people voted, the large states evidently had the advantage over the rest, and, without varying the mode, the interest of the little states might be neglected or sacrificed. Here is a compromise; for in the eventual election, the small states will have the advantage. In so extensive a country, it is probable that many persons will be voted for, and the lowest of the five highest on the list may not be so inconsiderable as he supposes. With respect to the possibility that a small number of votes may decide his election, I do not know how, nor do I think that a bare calculation of possibility ought to govern us. One honorable gentleman has said that the Eastern States may, in the eventual election, choose him. But, in the extravagant calculation he has made, he has been obliged to associate North Carolina and Georgia with the five smallest Northern States. There can be no union of interest or sentiments between states so differently situated.
The honorable member last up has committed a mistake in saying there must be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed. A majority of votes, equal to a majority of the electors appointed, will be sufficient. Forty-six is a majority of ninety-one, and will suffice to elect the President.
Mr. Mason arose, and insisted that the person having the greatest number of votes would not be elected, unless such majority was one of the whole number of electors appointed; that it would rarely happen that any one would have such a majority, and, as he was then to be chosen from the five highest on the list, his election was entirely taken from the people.
Mr. Madison expressed astonishment at the construction of the honorable member, and insisted that nothing was necessary but a number of votes equal to a majority of the electors, which was forty-six; for the clause expressly said that "the person having the greatest number of votes shall be President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed." Each had two votes, because one vote was intended for the Vice-President. I am surprised, continued Mr. Madison, that the honorable member has not pointed out a more proper mode, since he objects to this.
But the honorable gentleman tells us that the President and Senate will be in alliance against the representatives, and that, from the advantage of the few over the many, they may seduce or overrule the representatives. But if this be the case, how can he contend for the augmentation of the number of the latter? for the more you increase their number, the more danger in the disproportion. The diversity of circumstances, situation, and extent, of the different states, will render previous combination, with respect to the election of the President, impossible.
The Founders' Constitution
Volume 3, Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1, Document 16
The University of Chicago Press
Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution as Recommended by the General Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. . . . 5 vols. 2d ed. 1888. Reprint. New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.