Shaping the Presidency Part I

      5 Comments on Shaping the Presidency Part I

Not until the waning days of the Philadelphia Convention did our Framers complete their plan of the Electoral College. In contrast, Article I elections to Congress and Article III appointments to the Scotus were taken care of weeks before. What took so long to determine Article II electors?

The answer is that the Constitution isn’t linear. In a linear design, adding or amending one clause, one Section, one Article doesn’t affect previous clauses, Sections and Articles. In contrast, our Constitution is non-linear. It more resembles a puzzle in which the authority of one branch necessarily affects the power and reach of the other two branches. So it was in 1787 with the design of the Executive.

Delegates found enough difficulty thrashing out the particulars of a Legislature and a Judiciary whose purposes and general structures were familiar to generations of Americans. What about a chief Executive? How many? Rome did quite well for much its history with two consuls. Annual or multi-year terms? How many terms? Maybe a life term like English monarchs? Should the Executive be subservient to the Legislature? Was he strictly an administrator, an executor of the law like most state governors? Should he lead armies? Popular election? Election by the state governors? English monarchs had Privy Councils, so why not the American CEO? Some time passed before delegates went beyond the term, “Executive.” After all, anything stronger might be interpreted as subversive intent for a nascent monarch. And thanks to George III, there were plenty of well-known executive abuses to prevent.

Alongside all of this was cracking the tough nut of Separation of Powers. While we take the idea and its boundaries for granted today, our Framers at the start of the convention weren’t so sure. Where the British monarch had theoretical veto power over Parliamentary bills, it hadn’t been used since 1688. British kings, without input from Parliament, appointed judges. Why violate separation of powers and make judicial appointments contingent on Senatorial consent? How can republican states and an umbrella government with a chief executive coexist?

This and more is why familiarity with the Presidency as it evolved over the summer of 1787 is worthwhile. In their finished product the Framers carefully matched electors to each of the four major institutions (House, Senate, Presidency, Judiciary) with the duties of the institutions. Those who propose to change these electors should first consider the logic of the Framers’ original design. Explain the Framers’ error. Second, they must describe the benefits of their proposals and how they promote good governance and liberty.

Just as the Framers’ experience under the Articles of Confederation showed that committees weren’t suited to Executive power, and our experience since 1913 proves that popularly elected senators cannot fulfill their Constitutional duties, so too is the National Popular Vote an unwise, ill-considered and destructive proposal. If carried out, I fear it will doom the remains of our republic.

In subsequent squibs we’ll examine the pertinent convention debates surrounding this new guy to history, the President of the United States, and why the Framers’ Electoral College is so essential.

5 thoughts on “Shaping the Presidency Part I

  1. Robert Schnaible

    Well written. The third to last paragraph is the question I will use going forward in debate with those who wish to eliminate the EC.

  2. Concord Green

    The non-linear structure of the original constitution and the bill of rights is essential, as you have indicated. It makes writing amendments difficult and predicting the consequences even more difficult. The style of expression also contributes to this issue. The Convention of States Action convention of states “application” to the Congress is important. See conventionofstates.com

    1. Rodney Dodsworth Post author

      Yes, quite right, with perhaps one exception: “The 17th Amendment is hereby repealed.”

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