It has become evident to the delegates that they cannot make the decisions about the executive independent of a conversation that discusses the executive’s election, term, powers, and removal in a holistic way. Thus the Brearly Committee is tasked with such a conversation. The result – Article II of the Constitution. Read on for some of the key points that were discussed. Can you spot the things that have changed since the original conversation and can you think of instances when some of the checks & balances set up in this Article have been applied?
How shall the executive be elected and for how long?
Alexander Hamilton was worried the executive would be “a Monster elected for seven years, and ineligible afterwards; having great powers, in appointments to office, & continually tempted by this constitutional disqualification to abuse them in order to subvert the Government.” Thus he saw none better than to let the highest number of ballots, whether a majority or not, appoint the President. Thus it was agreed that “In every case after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes shall be vice-president: but if there should remain two or more who have equal votes, the Senate shall choose from them the vice-president.”
James Wilson reminds the delegates they did not want an aristocracy so they did not want the Senate to elect the president. Concurrently, Edmund Randolph stated “We have in some revolutions of this plan made a bold stroke for monarchy. We are now doing the same for an aristocracy.” Thus it was decided that “Each state shall appoint in such a manner as its Legislature shall direct, a number of electors equal to the whole number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives, to which the State may be entitled in the Legislature.”
Later it was agreed that the “Senate shall choose the Vice-President in the event of a tie for the Vice-Presidency.”
What shall be the powers of the Executive Office?
Much of the discussion regarding the powers of the executive office was related to separation of powers between the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch. It had been proposed the Vice President act as the President of the Senate. George Mason stated that he believed that if the vice president was President of the Senate than the powers were not really divided.
On nominations – Rufus King was worried that “the people [would] be alarmed at an unnecessary creation of new Corps which must increase the [expense] as well as influence of the Government.”
Both men were overruled. The committee agreed that allowing the Vice President to serve as President of the Senate was a check on the Legislative Branch. And requiring a 2/3 consenting vote from the Legislative Branch would check the Executive Branch on treaties and nominations.
What is the process for removal from office?
The delegates were in agreement that they need to create a process for removal of the executive if they were to commit “high crimes [and misdemeanors against] the State”. Barring a resignation, they agreed there should be a trial. They were not however in agreement of who should proceed over the trial. James Madison believed that a trial by the Senate would make the executive “improperly dependant” on them in day to day business. He preferred that the Supreme Court hold the trial.
Gouverneur Morris disagreed because he thought that the Supreme Court was too few in number and might be subject to corruption and others added that they had already given the executive the power to appoint the judges.
After discussion, it was decided that the House of Representatives would be responsible to request impeachment and that the Senate would hold the trial.
For more resources on how to teach about Article II and the Executive Branch – check out our website: http://www.articleii.org/
For more detailed information on the Constitutional Convention, please visit Prof. Gordon Lloyd’s web companion to the Philadelphia Convention.
Posted in Countdown to the Constitution