Executive Powers During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, delegates discussed a number of possible methods for selecting the heads of the executive branch of the new nation’s government. Election by Congress, election by the governors of the states or direct election by the people. Delegates could not agree on the best, most democratic but still effective system. George Mason had very strong opinions on the Executive power of the new National government. Mason, argued strongly for an election of the larger branch by the people. He felt that they ought to know & sympathise with every part of the community.
. . 10 May 31, 1787. Mr. Mason was of the thought that the appointment of the Legislature would make the people feel full representation and not just a vote. This however was not his thoughts on how the Executive power should be elected.
The proposal for a popular vote by the people works for electing the Legislature, but not the Executive. As for the people’s ability to know about and give preference to candidates of distinguished character. One might as well have a color competition judged by a panel of blind men.
(See July 17, pp. 308-09.) “America’s vast landscape, the poor state of its communications, and the diversity of its cultural character and economic interests would make it extremely difficult for any single candidate for chief executive to gain a majority of the popular vote.”(Beeman) Democracy is appropriate to some decision-making but not appropriate to others. He was also concerned about protecting the government from corruption and rule by a select few or favorite interests. He argued against one person being the executive.
In turn he supported power being divided amongst three persons, one from each section of the country. According to the Gunston Hall archives page,”During the convention, Mason consistently argued for a three-person executive. In his mind, a one-person presidency was far too close to the monarchy they had just fought a bloody war to escape.” He could not convince his colleagues of this point. Again he pointed out that someone like George Washington would be easy to vote for, but later down the road how could a voter in Georgia know the accomplishments of a candidate in New York, or vice versa? Mason then stated that it would be so dangerous for the Executive in a single Person be able to negative a law and the people would not like it at all.
His proposal was still not popular. He finally agreed to a one Person Executive, but motioned for there to be an Executive Council from various parts of the country. “That it be an instruction to the Committee of the States to prepare a clause or clauses for establishing an Executive Council, as a Council of State, for the President of the U. States, to consist of six members, two of which are to be chosen from the Eastern, two from the middle, and two from the Southern States, with a Rotation and duration of office similar to those of the Senate; such Council to be appointed by the Legislature or by the Senate.”18 September 7, 1787 “The President needs to have a council of advisors to give him information and support. Without this council, the President will be influenced by his favorites or by the Senate or by the most powerful men in his departments. All of this is dangerous for a free country.
The President of the United States has no Constitutional Council, a thing unknown in any safe and regular government. He will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice, and will generally be directed by minions and favorites; or he will become a tool to the Senate. A Council of State will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments; the worst and most dangerous of all ingredients for such a Council in a free country; From this fatal defect has arisen the improper power of the Senate in the appointment of public officers, and the alarming dependence and connection between that branch of the legislature and the supreme Executive(National Archives).” George Mason was agreeable to longer term limits of the executive office. He liked seven years.
He also believed the Executive power should be ineligible for re-election after this term is up. He thought this the best plan for both preventing the effect of a false compliance on the side of the Legislature towards unfit characters; and a temptation on the side of the Executive to intrigue with the Legislature for a re-appointment. In other words no corruption on either side. Among his other concerns, he believed the convention was giving the executive branch (president) too much power. On June 4, he made an angry speech to the federal Convention. “We are, Mr. Chairman, going very far in this business. We are not indeed constituting a British government, but a dangerous monarchy that has been elected.
Do gentlemen mean to pave the way to hereditary monarchy? Do they flatter themselves that the people will ever consent to such an innovation? If they do I venture to tell them, they are mistaken. The people will never consent(What would the Founding Fathers Think(National Archives)!””The President of the United States has the unrestrained power of granting pardons for treason, which may be sometimes exercised to screen from punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the crime, and thereby prevent a discovery of his own guilt(uChicago.edu).”