National Executive

George Mason
George Mason, delegate from Virginia

Steven Brooke Studios

National Executive Debated

"America [has] certainly - upon this occasion - drawn forth her first characters; there are upon this convention many Gentlemen of the most respectable abilities; and, so far as I can discover, of the purest intentions."

-George Mason to his son, George Mason, Jr.

The Convention, meeting in the Committee of the Whole, agreed to give the executive branch the power to carry the national laws into effect. The delegates then debated the selection procedure and term of office for the national executive as well as its composition.

The proposals for term of office varied from three to seven years, with some men favoring re-election and others opposed to it. After much discussion, the term of seven years came to a vote. Five states voted for it, four against and one divided. The Committee of the Whole chairman Nathaniel Gorham decided that this constituted an affirmative vote and the motion for a seven year term carried. This precedent for an affirmative vote assumed great significance in July when the same breakdown decided the critical issue of representation in Congress.

James Wilson
James Wilson

Philip Fisbourne Wharton, 1873
Independence National Historical Park

James Madison (VA) proposed a single executive aided by a council, but Edmund Randolph (VA) voiced his concerns over the possibility of an ambitious man abusing his authority. Georgia delegate William Pierce noted that James Wilson (PA) feared the power of many over one, saying "A plurality in the Executive of Government would probably produce a tyranny as bad as the thirty Tyrants of Athens."

The Convention postponed voting on both the method of selecting an executive and whether one individual or more would comprise the office.

Saturday, June 2, 1787 Debate Continues on the National Executive

HOME The 225th Anniversary of the Constitution Convention

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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