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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Making the President Independent

The solution of electors was ideal for those who were impelled by (in Morris’ words) “the indispensable necessity of making the executive independent of the legislature.” The Electoral College would be a mutable body that would change from one election cycle to the next. The electors would make their selection simultaneously throughout the country and far from the center of government, and then they would dissolve once again into the general citizenry. Consequently, there was never any opportunity for the electors either to influence or to be influenced by the prospective presidential candidates, and “the great evil of cabal was avoided. It would be impossible, also, to corrupt them.”

Once the delegates recovered from their surprise at being confronted with a new proposal on a subject that they thought had been settled, the drafters of this plan were rewarded with some very tepid praise for their initiative. Mason admitted that the group had “removed some capital objections.” Pierce Butler thought that their complicated scheme was “not free from objections,” but it was better than an election by Congress. And in a masterpiece of guarded encomium, Abraham Baldwin declared that he “thought the plan not so objectionable, when well considered, as at first view.” One by one, the Framers seemed to warm to the plan the more they considered it.

Elections Thrown to the House of Representatives

There was one criticism with the proposal, however, that drew an increasing number of detractors: the Plan B that was offered whenever the Electoral College failed to provide a majority for one candidate. Many in the Convention had believed that no one should be elected president unless they could win a clear majority of votes, yet they feared that it would frequently occur that no clear winner would emerge when there was a crowded field of candidates. The committee had decided that in those instances, the Senate should make the final choice from the five candidates that received the most votes. Many delegates preferred the popular branch of the legislature for this choice, and many more were becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the cozy relationship that had already been established between the president and the Senate when they jointly exercised the powers of making appointments and treaties. The relationship was looking to some uncomfortably like what they would expect between a king and a body of nobles; the last thing that they wanted now was for the Senate to become a body of kingmakers. Yet the small states favored the Senate for one simple reason: it gave them an equal vote with the rest of the states. In the end, it was decided to throw the ultimate determination into the hands of the House, but to give each state only one vote for the choice of president. 


Once this expedient was adopted, the remainder of the report was generally passed by large majorities. Since the mode of electing by an Electoral College allowed the president to be reeligible for multiple terms, they shortened the term he was to serve, from seven to four years (which was still a lengthy term compared to state executives at the time). And since this mode of election also assured the president’s independence from the legislature, the Framers were more comfortable with the prospect of placing the power of impeachment in the hands of Congress (so long as there was a high hurdle of two-thirds before conviction). These various and interrelated provisions for election, term lengths, reeligibility, and impeachment gave the president sufficient independence, they thought, for him to perform his functions effectively, and he was freed from an undue submission to Congress. But the Framers also believed there were sufficient controls built into the system. This powerful official would be held accountable for mismanagement or misdeeds: there would be a “performance review” every four years and, when circumstances warranted it, he could even be “fired” through extraordinary Congressional action. But they designed the presidency so that most abuses would be prevented rather than punished: through the president’s hope for reelection and his fear of reprisals. In sum, they believed that they had made the president’s leash just long enough. And these arrangements for gaining and maintaining his office, combined with the president’s considerable yet constrained powers, created an executive unlike any other that had existed before.