-Thursday, July 26, 1787
Yesterday Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts declared that the election of the Chief Executive by popular vote was a ``radically vicious'' idea.
A COLLECTIVE sigh of relief swept over the Convention Hall today as delegates unanimously voted a ten-day recess to give the five-man Committee of Detail time to draft a Constitution.
The move to recess came after a majority of States approved a single national Executive for a term of seven years, with a bar against seeking reelection. No fewer than seven different plans had been proposed for electing the Executive since June 1st. Ironically, the proposal approved today is the exact plan submitted to delegates in the original Randolph resolutions when the Convention first convened two months ago.
Col. George Mason of Virginia insisted that reelection of the national Executive be prohibited. Preservation of rights of the people, he added, form the ``pole star of his political conduct'' and he should at a fixed period return to the mass [public life] in order to feel and respect those rights as the ``very palladium of Civil liberty.''
Dr. Benjamin Franklin agreed, saying that apparently some thought that returning the magistrate to the mass of the people was degrading: ``In free Governments the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors & sovereigns. For the former [the rulers] therefore to return among the latter [the people] was not to degrade but to promote them - and it would be imposing an unreasonable burden on them, to keep them always in a State of servitude, and not allow them to become again one of the Masters.''
Colonel Mason's view prevailed: The Executive shall be barred from seeking reelection. The Virginia statesman, however, did not prevail with his proposal that persons with unsettled accounts, or being indebted to the government, be barred from election to the national Legislature.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania was quick to protest. Few owed money to the government, he argued, while many had unsettled accounts with the government. Mr. Morris then asked:
``What will be done with those patriotic Citizens who have lent money, or services or property to their Country, without having been yet able to obtain a liquidation of their claims? Are they to be excluded?''
This correspondent has learned that at least 30 delegates to this Convention currently hold certificates of the public debt. The principal reason this Convention was called was to deal with the collapse of public credit. Nine States to two voted down Colonel Mason's proposal to exclude persons with unsettled accounts or those indebted to the government.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania said that in the future the public safety may depend on voluntary aid by private individuals, as it had in the past. He sounded the high note of the day: ``We should consider that we are providing a Constitution for future generations, and not merely for the peculiar circumstances of the moment.''
Today's Convention session marked a milestone down a twisting and often difficult road for the delegates. What has been spun out over the last two months has been a set of new and even revolutionary general principles. The task ahead is to take the threads of such general principles and weave them into a full constitutional fabric.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.