By our original articles of confederation any alterations proposed, are in the first place to be approved by Congress. - Accordingly as the resolutions were originally adopted by the convention, and as they were reported by the committee of detail, it was proposed that this system should be laid before Congress for their approbation; but, Sir, the warm advocates of this system fearing it would not meet with the approbation of Congress, and determined, even though Congress and the respective State legislatures should disapprove the same, to force it upon them, if possible, through the intervention of the people at large, moved to strike out the words “for their approbation” and succeeded in their motion; to which, it being directly in violation of the mode prescribed by the articles of confederation for the alteration of our federal government, a part of the convention, and myself in the number, thought it a duty to give a decided negative.
Agreeable to the articles of confederation entered into in the most solemn manner, and for the observance of which the States pledged themselves to each other, and called upon the Supreme Being as a witness and avenger between them, no alterations are to be made in those articles unless after they are approved by Congress, they are agreed to and ratified by the legislature of every State; but by the resolve of the convention this constitution is not to be ratified by the legislatures of the respective States, but is to be submitted to conventions chosen by the people, and if ratified by them is to be binding.
This resolve was opposed among others by the delegation of Maryland; - your delegates were of opinion, that as the form of government proposed was, if adopted, most essentially to alter the constitution of this State, and as our constitution had pointed out a mode by which, and by which only, alterations were to be made therein, a convention of the people could not be called to agree to and ratify the said form of government without a direct violation of our constitution, which it is the duty of every individual in this State to protect and support; - In this opinion all your delegates who were attending were unanimous; I, Sir, opposed it also upon a more extensive ground, as being directly contrary to the mode of altering our federal government established in our original compact, and as such being a direct violation of the mutual faith plighted by the States to each other, I gave it my negative.
I also was of opinion, that the States considered as States, in their political capacity, are the members of a federal government; that the States in their political capacity, or as Sovereignties, are entitled, and only entitled originally to agree upon the form of, and submit themselves to, a federal government, and afterwards by mutual consent to dissolve or alter it - That every thing which relates to the formation, the dissolution or the alteration of a federal government over States equally free, sovereign and independent is the peculiar province of the States in their sovereign or political capacity, in the same manner as what relates to forming alliance or treaties of peace, amity or commerce, and that the people at large in their individual capacity, have no more right to interfere in the one case than in the other: That according to these principles we originally acted in forming our confederation; it was the States as States, by their representatives in Congress, that formed the articles of confederation; it was the States as States, by their legislatures, ratified those articles, and it was there established and provided that the States as States, that is by their legislatures, should agree to any alterations that should hereafter be proposed in the federal government, before they should be binding - and any alterations agreed to in any other manner cannot release the States from the obligation they are under to each other by virtue of the original articles of confederation. The people of the different States never made any objection to the manner the articles of confederation were formed or ratified, or to the mode by which alterations were to be made in that government - with the rights of their respective States they wished not to interfere - Nor do I believe the people in their individual capacity, would ever have expected or desired to have been appealed to on the present occasion, in violation of the rights of their respective States, if the favourers of the proposed constitution, imagining they had a better chance of forcing it to be adopted by a hasty appeal to the people at large, who could not be so good judges of the dangerous consequence, had not insisted upon this mode - nor do these positions in the least interfere with the principle, that all power originates from the people, because when once the people have exercised their power in establishing and forming themselves into a State government, it never devolves back to them, nor have they a right to resume or again to exercise that power until such events takes place as will amount to a dissolution of their State government: - And it is an established principle that a dissolution or alteration of a federal government doth not dissolve the State governments which compose it. It was also my opinion, that upon principles of sound policy, the agreement or disagreement to the proposed system ought to have been by the State legislatures, in which case, let the event have been what it would, there would have been but little prospects of the public peace being disturbed thereby - Whereas the attempt to force down this system, although Congress and the respective State legislatures should disapprove, by appealing to the people, and to procure its establishment in a manner totally unconstitutional, has a tendency to set the State governments and their subjects at variance with each other - to lessen the obligations of government - to weaken the bands of society - to introduce anarchy and confusion - And to light the torch of discord and civil war throughout this continent. All these considerations weighed with me most forcibly against giving my assent to the mode by which it is resolved this system is to be ratified, and were urged by me in opposition to the measure.
. . . . The second article relates to the executive - his mode of election, his powers, and the length of time he should continue in office.
On this subject there was a great diversity of sentiment [at the Philadelphia constitutional convention]. Many of the members were desirous that the President should be elected for seven years, and not to be eligible a second time. Others proposed that he should not be absolutely ineligible, but that he should not be capable of being chosen a second time, until the expiration of a certain number of years. The supporters of the above proposition went upon the idea that the best security for liberty was a limited duration, and a rotation of office, in the chief executive department.
There was a party who attempted to have the President appointed during good behavior, without any limitation as to time; and, not being able to succeed in that attempt, they then endeavored to have him reeligible without any restraint.
It was objected that the choice of a President to continue in office during good behavior, would at once be rendering our system an elective monarchy; and that, if the President was to be reeligible without any interval of disqualification, it would amount nearly to the same thing, since, from the powers that the President is to enjoy, and the interests and influence with which they will be attended, he will be almost absolutely certain of being reelected from time to time, as long as he lives. As the propositions were reported by the committee of the whole house, the President was to be chosen for seven years, and not to be eligible at any time after. In the same manner, the proposition was agreed to in Convention; and so it was reported by the committee of detail, although a variety of attempts were made to alter that part of the system by those who were of a contrary opinion, in which they repeatedly failed; but, sir, by never losing sight of their object, and choosing a proper time for their purpose, they succeeded, at length, in obtaining the alteration, which was not made until within the last twelve days before the Convention adjourned. . .
Resolved, that the constitution lately proposed for the United States be received only upon the following conditions. . . .
The president shall be chosen annually and shall serve but one year, and shall be chosen successively from the different states, changing every year. . .
I have one difficulty in my mind respecting our admirable Constitution, which I hope somebody will attempt to remove. Art. 3, sect. 1: The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his office during the term of four years. Here is no declaration that a new one shall be chosen at the expiration of that time. Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors; and the day on which they shall give their votes. But suppose they should think it for the public good, after the first election, to appoint the first Tuesday of September, in the year two thousand, for the purpose of choosing the second President; and by law empower the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court to act as President until that time. However disagreeable it might be to the majority of the States, I do not see but that they are left without a remedy, provided four States should be satisfied with the measure. The President elected is not to receive any other emolument; yet the Chief Justice is not disqualified as a Judge. Why did our worthy Chief Justice, at Cambridge the year past, in his address to the Grand Jury, call upon them to support that free and excellent Constitution, which it has cost the blood of thousands of our friends and fellow citizens to establish; that Constitution which has carefully separated and distinguished the principal departments of power, that they might never combine against the liberty of the subject - if it is not a necessary article in a constitution?If necessary in a State constitution, why not in one for the whole people?Was it not as easy to have said the President should be chosen every fourth year, as to have said the Representatives shall be chosen every second year?The celebrated Mr. King observes that this is not a confederation of States - for the style is in the name of the people. Therefore, it appears to me, the rights of the people should be as well guarded, on this point, here, as in the constitution of a State. . . .