Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Had George Washington Not Been at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 We Might Have Had a Presidency by Committee

The General's presence might have been the only thing keeping our country from going in a radically different direction.   This is from Plain Honest Men by Richard Beeman, p. 128 in the 2010 Random House paperback edition:
Washington was not the only one whose support of a new constitution would be essential to its success, but he was the only man in the room who could be assured of unanimous support in the role of a unitary executive.  [Edmund] Randolph's remarks about the dangers of "executive tyranny" [to which our framers were acutely sensitive after living under British rule for so long] may well have been more vehement had Washington not been present, and indeed it is likely that the debates over the character of the American presidency that whole summer were influenced by the presence of America's first citizen. Washington's very reluctance to assume power combined with his unique qualifications as the only man in America who could shape the office of the presidency such that it would prevent others using it to subvert liberty were crucial factors in guiding the thinking of virtually everyone in the convention.  Had Washington been absent, it is entirely possible that the framers of the Constitution would have created a multiple executive.