Mr. President: How and Why the Founding Fathers Created a Chief Executive
The dramatic and penetrating story of the political maneuverings and personalities behind the creation of the office of the president, with ramifications that continue to this day.
For the first time, by focusing closely on the dynamic give-and-take at the Constitutional Convention, Ray Raphael reveals how politics and personalities cobbled together a lasting, but flawed, executive office. Remarkably, the hero of this saga is Gouverneur Morris, a flamboyant, peg-legged delegate who pushed through his agenda with amazing political savvy, and not a little deceit. Without Morris’s perseverance, a much weaker American president would be appointed by Congress, serve for seven years, could not be reelected, and have his powers tightly constrained.
Charting the presidency as it evolved during the administrations of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, Raphael shows how, given the Constitution’s broad outlines, the president’s powers could easily be augmented but rarely diminished. Today we see the result—an office that has become more sweeping, more powerful, and more inherently partisan than the framers ever intended. And the issues of 1787—whether the Electoral College, the president’s war powers, or the extent of executive authority—continue to stir our political debates.
defects in his [Adams’s] character, which unfit him for the office of Chief Magistrate…. He is often liable to paroxysms of anger, which deprive him of self command…. He has made great progress in undermining the ground which was gained for the government by his predecessor, and … it might totter, if not fall, under his future auspices. Although the campaign of 1800, like that of 1796, was replete with character assassination and negative campaigning, shots were usually fired in the direction of
order of primogeniture,” and he would have exclusive power to make war, conclude peace, and control all foreign policy. The king would appoint not only his council and ministers but also members of the Senate. Morris’s only nod to republican government was the National Assembly, which would represent the nation and share legislative authority with the Senate and the king. Even within this three-way partnership, Morris made clear which partner was supreme: “The style of the laws shall be, ‘The
evolved into a lesser and more manageable number of standing committees, each one dealing with all matters within its specified field: the Maritime Committee, Treasury Committee, Board of War and Ordnance (actually a committee), Medical Committee, Committee of Secret Correspondence, and the Secret Committee of Commerce, charged with keeping the supply train flowing. The surfeit of committees reflected Congress’s continuing rebellion against the abuses made possible by the concentration of
by a complicated scheme that added more than three hundred words to the working draft. Here’s how the new system worked. Each state was entitled to a number of electors equaling the total of its congressmen and senators, a compromise allocation that replicated the joint balloting by Congress. The manner of selecting electors was left to the state legislatures, which were thereby granted a role in choosing the president. To avoid intrigue and cabal, electors were to meet simultaneously in their
of the First Federal Congress, which convened early in January 1790. In the nation’s first State of the Union address, Washington outlined with broad strokes the path he wished Congress to take. Save for Morris’s attention to detail more than two years earlier, Washington would have had to tread lightly, fearful of being accused of meddling. As it was, the president could speak his mind, respectfully but forcefully. Washington “read his speech well,” noted the acerbic William Maclay, usually a