9/29/09 - his excellency

In today's excerpt - the framers of the United States Constitution established the Congress first in Article I and then the President after that in Article II. That is because many assumed that Congress would be the most powerful branch of government conceiving and passing legislation and the President would be secondary serving primarily to carry out the will of the Congress; and because there was much fear of creating a monarchy. There was much early debate therefore as to whether the executive office should consist of one person or several. Here are excerpts of some of the earliest comments—ultimately discarded—from members of the Constitutional Convention assembled in 1787:

ROGER SHERMAN [of Connecticut]: The number of executives should not be fixed; the Legislature should be at liberty to appoint one or more as experience might dictate. The executive magistrate is nothing more than an institution for carrying the will of the Legislature into effect and the person or persons ought to be appointed by and accountable to the Legislature, only which is the depository of the supreme will of the society. The Legislature are the best judges of the business which ought to be done by the executive department and consequently of the number necessary from time to time for doing it.

WILLIAM PATERSON [of New Jersey]: The executive should consist of several persons.

EDMUND RANDOLPH [of Virginia]: It is doubtful whether even a council will be sufficient to check the improper views of an ambitious man. A unity of the executive would savor too much of monarchy.

RANDOLPH: The executive should consist of three members to be drawn from different parts of the country. A unity in the executive magistrate is the foetus of monarchy. The great requisites for the executive department vigor dispatch and responsibility can be found in three men as well as one man.

HUGH WILLIAMSON [of North Carolina]: As the executive is to have a kind of veto on the laws and as there is an essential difference of interests between the northern and southern states particularly in the carrying trade the power will be dangerous to the part of the Union from which the Executive is not taken. Another objection against a single magistrate is that he will be an elective king and will feel the spirit of one. He will spare no pains to keep himself in for life and will then lay a train for the succession of his children.

ELBRIDGE GERRY [of Maine]: A council should be annexed to the Executive in order to give weight and inspire confidence. A council ought to be the medium through which the feelings of the people ought to be communicated to the Executive.

SHERMAN: Mr. [James] Wilson has observed that in each state a single magistrate is placed at the head of the government. This is properly so and the same policy should prevail in the federal government. But it should also be remarked that in all the states there is a council of advice without which the first magistrate cannot act. A council is necessary to make the establishment acceptable to the people.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON [of New York]: The Executive should be known as the Governour of the United States.

JOHN RUTLEDGE [of South Carolina] FOR THE COMMITTEE OF DETAIL: It should be specified that the President's title shall be 'His Excellency.'


Jane Butzner


Constitutional Chaff: Rejected Suggestions of the Constitutional Convention of 1787


Kennikat Press




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