Orientation and Getting Started
The Creation of the Constitution
The Road to Philadelphia
Slavery and the Constitution
The Presidency
The Federal Judiciary
Some Other Important Details
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Selecting the Executive

More Proposals for Selection

It took just two days of debate for the Framers to decide that the executive would be elected by Congress for a term of seven years, subject to impeachments, and ineligible for a second term. But not one of these decisions seemed to rest easy on the minds of the delegates. Only five days later, Gerry gave notice that he wished to reconsider the mode of appointment in favor of an election by the state executives. It would be the first of many reconsiderations and many different proposed modes of election, most of which would take place in the second half of the summer. But for all the variety in their proposals, the arguments were always similar: the different modes of election would either make the executive too independent, too dependent, dependent on a source that was too easily corrupted, or simply impractical. Hamilton interpreted their perplexity on this subject as a tacit agreement “that no good [executive] could be established on republican principles.” It was high time, he thought, to turn their sights to “the English model.” Only something like a king could really be said to be “above the danger” of corruption from foreign influences “and at the same time was both sufficiently independent and sufficiently controlled, to answer the purpose of the institution at home.” Consequently, he suggested that the method for choosing the executive was less important than the term, and they should choose an executive who would serve for life. 

Hamilton’s Strong, Independent Executive

Hamilton’s preference for an executive who would serve for life received more serious consideration than might be supposed, especially after the Convention changed its mind and decided to make the executive eligible for a second term. On July 17, James McClurg of Virginia proposed that the executive serve “during good behavior.” If the executive were appointed by the legislature and were eligible for another term, “he was put into a situation that would keep him dependent forever on the legislature; and he conceived the independence of the executive to be equally essential with that of the judiciary department.” Morris seconded the motion and agreed with Hamilton’s position: “He was indifferent how the executive should be chosen, provided he held his place by this tenure.” When the proposal came up for a vote, four states voted in its favor. But Madison wrote in his notes that this vote was misleading, and he thought that there were in reality “not more than three or four” delegates who were in favor of a chief magistrate who served during good behavior. Many of those who voted for this term were merely trying to alarm the Convention into reconsidering their current posture, which would have made the executive too dependent on the legislature.

And the Convention did reconsider their original position. Just two days later Wilson observed triumphantly that it seemed now “to be the unanimous sense that the executive should not be appointed by the legislature, unless he be rendered ineligible a second time.” This observation gave Wilson great satisfaction, because he hoped it would reconcile the others to his favorite mode of election: either “mediately or immediately, by the people.” Gouverneur Morris, who often sought to protect the property rights of the wealthy and to make the government as high-toned as possible, “considered an election by the people as the best, by the legislature as the worst, mode.”