History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent - Vol. 6

By George Bancroft | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX.
THE PRESIDENT.
JULY, AUGUST, AND SEPTEMBER 1787.

How to call forth one of the people to be their executive chief for a limited period of years, and how to clothe him with just sufficient powers, long baffled the convention. Federal governments, in Greece, in Switzerland, and in Holland, like the confederation of the United States, had been without a separate executive branch; and the elective monarchies of Poland, of the Papal states, and of Germany, offered no available precedents. The report of the committee of detail of the sixth of August introduced no improvement in the manner of selecting a president; and it transferred to the senate the power to make treaties and to appoint ambassadors and judges of the supreme court.* Questions relating to the duties of the president long remained in doubt; the mode of his election was reached only just before the close of the convention.

The Virginia plan confided the choice of the executive to the national legislature. “An election by the national legislature,” objected Gouverneur Morris, on the seventeenth of July, “will be the work of intrigue, of cabal, of corruption, and of faction; it will be like the election of a pope by a conclave of cardinals; of a king by the diet of Poland; real merit will rarely be the title to the appointment.” He moved for an election by the “citizens of the United States.”† Sherman preferred a choice by the national legislature. Wilson insisted on an election by the people; should no one have a majority, then, and then only, the legislature might decide between the

* Gilpin, 1234; Elliot, 379.

† Gilpin, 1120; Elliot, 322.

-326-

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