Article 2, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 3
[Volume 3, Page 554]
Gouverneur Morris to President of New York Senate25 Dec. 1802Life 3:174--75
When this article was under consideration in the National Convention it was observed, that every mode of electing the chief magistrate of a powerful nation hitherto adopted is liable to objection. The instances where violence has been used, and murders committed, are numerous; those, in which artifice and fraud have succeeded against the general wish and will, are innumerable. And hence it was inferred, that the mode least favorable to intrigue and corruption, that in which the unbiassed voice of the people will be most attended to, and that which is least likely to terminate in violence and usurpation, ought to be [Volume 3, Page 555] adopted. To impress conviction on this subject, the case of Poland was not unaptly cited. Great and ambitious Princes took part in the election of a Polish King. Money, threats, and force were employed; violence, bloodshed, and oppression ensued; and now that country is parcelled out among the neighboring Potentates, one of whom was but a petty Prince two centuries ago.
The evils, which have been felt in the present mode of election, were pointed out to the Convention; but, after due advisement, the other mode appeared more exceptionable. Indeed, if the present be changed, it might be better to abolish the office of Vice President, and leave to legislative provision the case of a vacancy in the seat of the first magistrate.
The Convention was aware, that every species of trick and contrivance would be practised by the ambitious and unprincipled. It was, therefore, conceived, that if in elections the President and Vice President were distinctly designated, there would generally be a vote given for one of only two rival Presidents, while there would be numerous candidates for the other office; because he, who wished to become President, would naturally connect himself with some popular man of each particular district, for the sake of his local influence, so that the Vice Presidency would be but as a bait to catch state gudgeons. The person chosen would have only a partial vote, be perhaps unknown to the greater part of the community, and probably unfit for those duties, which the death of a President might call on him to perform.
The Convention not only foresaw, that a scene might take place similar to that of the last presidential election, but even supposed it not impossible, that at some time or other a person admirably fitted for the office of President might have an equal vote with one totally unqualified, and that, by the predominance of faction in the House of Representatives, the latter might be preferred. This, which is the greatest supposable evil of the present mode, was calmly examined, and it appeared that, however prejudicial it might be at the present moment, a useful lesson would result from it for the future, to teach contending parties the importance of giving both votes to men fit for the first office.
The Life of Gouverneur Morris, with Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers. Edited by Jared Sparks. 3 vols. Boston, 1832.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago