The Original Compromise: What the Constitution's Framers Were Really Thinking

By David Brian Robertson | Go to book overview

10
Selecting the President

An effective national government clearly needed a national executive. But executive power created serious challenges for republican ideals. If the executive were too weak, scheming political opportunists in the Congress could overwhelm him and corrupt republican government for selfish ends. If the executive were given too much power, an ambitious demagogue in the office could usurp republican government and impose personal despotism. At first, most delegates were content to allow Congress to choose and control the executive. Some favored a multiple executive (that is, three individuals serving in the office) to control executive power and protect regional interests. As the design of Congress developed, the delegates raised more concrete concerns about the power of the executive relative to Congress. This chapter focuses only on the development of the process of using electors to select the president.1 In the debates, the president’s term and his eligibility for reelection were closely intertwined with the process of presidential election, because all three affected the president’s independence of Congress. The president’s term and eligibility are discussed in the next chapter.

After the Connecticut Compromise, James Madison and other broad nationalists demanded a process for choosing the president that would better ensure his independence of Congress. Roger Sherman and many other narrow nationalists supported Congressional selection of the president. For months, the delegates left Congress in control of choosing the executive, while they continued to discuss and refine an alternative process to bypass Congress. Finally, in September, a committee that included Madison and Sherman pulled these alternative ideas together and produced a compromise. Special electors, chosen by the states, would select the president. To solve the knotty problem of apportioning state votes in presidential selection, the delegates simply set the number of electors for each state equal to the number of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives that served each state in Congress.

The compromises on the presidency made the president much more independent and isolated from Congress. The separation of the president from Congress, in turn, made American government much more complex and difficult to use.

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