July 25-26: Who Should Elect the President?

The Convention spent a considerable amount of time going around in circles regarding how to elect the President. For the most part, there was agreement that they ought not be chosen by the Legislature. So the question then became who was to choose presidents if not the legislature. Since this would be a national office, could the people as a nation choose them directly? It is often said that the Convention settled on the Electoral College partially because they wanted a filtering mechanism such that presidents would be chosen by those with more judgment and experience than the mass of … Continue reading July 25-26: Who Should Elect the President?

July 20: Impeachment

Having discussed the great strength of the President during the previous day, the Convention now turned to the crucial control on that strength: impeachment. The form of the Constitution not just here but throughout the structure always ties power to responsibility. The President can be vigorous because the President is subject both to reelection and to impeachment. All-too-often when our political culture discusses the Constitution too much emphasis is placed on the checks. In placing such emphasis on these checks, we assume the essential purpose of the Constitution was to limit governmental power. But the Presidency is the example par-excellence … Continue reading July 20: Impeachment

July 19: Executive Strength, Independence, and Re-eligibility

I apologize for posting this a day late. Unlike those in the Constitutional Convention, I think summer vacations are essential! After having completed the debate on representation discussed in our previous posts, they began another difficult debate about the strength of the executive. Whereas the debate about representation mostly centered on questions of interest, rather than those of principle, the debate about executive power was much more theoretical. Governeur Morris demonstrated once again his mastery in this Convention by beginning the debate with a vigorous case for a vigorous executive. At this point, a strong executive was tremendously controversial. As … Continue reading July 19: Executive Strength, Independence, and Re-eligibility

July 16-17: The Great Compromise, and Beyond

Without question, July 16 and 17 were two of the most important days of the Constitutional Convention. That’s because across the span of those two days, the delegates reached what gets called “The Great Compromise.” (Sometimes you’ll also hear this talked about as “The Connecticut Compromise” or “Sherman’s Compromise.”) To that point, there had been difficult debate between large and small states over their representation in the proposed Senate. Larger states, not surprisingly, wanted representation in the Senate to be proportional, with states that contributed more to national defense and finance having more representatives. Smaller states, again not surprisingly, wanted … Continue reading July 16-17: The Great Compromise, and Beyond

July 14: How Federal Would the Federal Government be?

The July 14th debate illustrates well the disagreement about whether this federal government would be a union of the States or a Union of the states. It’s hard for us now to recover fully this dispute because, after the Civil War, it became clear to everyone except the state of Texas that the national government was supreme in sovereignty to the state governments. The state governments persisted and have never been treated simply as functionaries of the national government, but there was no longer a question of ultimate supremacy. By contrast, prior to the Civil War, almost all documents say … Continue reading July 14: How Federal Would the Federal Government be?

Quick Response to William E. Thro Essay

It is perplexing to me that Thro insists on using the distinctly Christian language of Original Sin to describe America’s constitutional tradition—indeed, to explain the very nature of constitutionalism—while at the same time insisting that public k-12 education must NOT push white people to “wrestle with their sins.” In addition to that tension, I see two problems with this essay: First, the idea that ‘Original Sin’ necessarily underpins the American constitutional system (or constitutionalism as such) is a highly contentious and idiosyncratic position given the First Amendment and the care that the founders took NOT to speak exclusively of the … Continue reading Quick Response to William E. Thro Essay

July 12 in the Constitutional Convention: The South Throws Down the Gauntlet

It’s hard to tell on the basis of Madison’s Notes alone but one gets the sense from the text that tensions had grown high between the North and the South on this day. The Southern representatives continue to insist on a principle of representation that counts “both the white and the black people.” Insofar as “the black people” were essentially all slaves, this meant the Southern states were demanding a principle of full “representation” for their non-voting slaves; they were demanding that their votes count for more than their Northern compatriots. William Davies from North Carolina gives what one can … Continue reading July 12 in the Constitutional Convention: The South Throws Down the Gauntlet

July 10 in the Constitutional Convention: The North/South Divide

In light of the subsequent history of the Union, July 10 is important insofar as it continues to indicate the key fault line that will divide the Union through the Civil War and even beyond. Much of the debate about representation in the legislature up to this point had concentrated on the apparent friction between the large and small states. The small states were worried that the large states would dominate the national government at their expense. Rufus King argues on this day, however, that this isn’t the true source of the tension. He say that he “was fully convinced … Continue reading July 10 in the Constitutional Convention: The North/South Divide

The Dilemma of State Representation

As though he too, were also studying the Constitutional Convention’s debates as my colleague, Greg Weiner, did today, Noah Millman has an interesting article in the New York Times calling for America to break up its biggest states. Given that this is the very same day, July 7th, that the Constitutional Convention took up in earnest the question of state representation, Millman’s article is especially interesting. Millman is trying to find a way to represent the political diversity within the large states that is not currently represented. For instance, in the state of New York, neither New York City, nor … Continue reading The Dilemma of State Representation

GAR: Against the “Lost Cause” and in Favor of Holding Traitors Responsible

This is a a fascinating article mostly focusing on the GAR (The Grand Army of the Republic), a Civil War veterans’ organization that focused a great deal of energy on arguing and lobbying against the post-Civil War attempt by the South to change the narrative of the Civil War so as to include themselves in the memorials to it. About this attempt, the Department Commander for the Indiana GAR wrote in 1914: “While I have long since forgiven my ex-Confederate brother for the terrible mistake he made in trying to destroy this Union of ours…you should remember and never forget … Continue reading GAR: Against the “Lost Cause” and in Favor of Holding Traitors Responsible