Renowned historian Raphael (Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation, 2011, etc.) delivers an authoritative biography of the Constitutional Convention and the herculean task faced by the representatives.
The author paints a picture of heroes—Edmund Randolph, George Mason, James Wilson and James Madison, among others—noting that the founders developed a government presupposing that George Washington would be the first chief executive. They believed Washington would set a nonpartisan tone and establish precedents for the office. Knowing the first man at the helm would be a good one, they then had to imagine successors who might not be quite as upright and accommodating. In order to show how their views evolved as they toiled, Raphael explores the founders’ writings in chronological order. The office developed slowly and with fervent discussions, and many wished the executive branch to be a committee out of fear of another monarchy like the one they had just rejected. They struggled with questions of popular or legislative election, term of office and re-eligibility before they ever began to worry about the powers the executive would wield. The question of direct election by the people was rejected out of hand, and selection by the senate would inextricably tie the executive to it. The electoral system involved the legislators while successively filtering the people’s wishes. The fear of a strong executive played equally against the notion that the aristocratic senate would overpower the government as they debated the division of powers. Remarkably, by the fall of 1787 two branches of the government were up and running, only awaiting the appointment of judges to complete the third.
Raphael’s exceptional history of the beginning years of the United States should be required reading, especially in an election year.