George Mason, “Objections to the Constitution”

Circulated early October 1787, published in full in the Virginia Journal (Alexandria), November 22, 1787

Following are excerpts from George Mason’s article, articulating objections to the Constitution, as submitted to the states for ratification:

“Gentlemen, At this important crisis when we are about to determine upon a government which is not to effect us for a month, for a year, or for our lives: but which, it is probable, will extend its consequences to the remotest posterity, it behoves every friend to the rights and privileges of man, and particularly those who are interested in the prosperity and happiness of this country, to step forward and offer their sentiments upon the subject in an open, candid and independent manner.—Let the constitution proposed by the late Convention be dispassionately considered and fully canvassed.—Let no citizen of the United States of America, who is capable of discussing the important subject, retire from the field.”

“The President of the United States has no constitutional council (a thing unknown in any safe and regular government) he will therefore be unsupported by proper information and advice; and will be generally directed by minions and favorites—or he will become a tool to the Senate—or a Council of State will grow out of the principal officers of the great departments; the worst and most dangerous of all ingredients for such a council in a free country; for they may be induced to join in any dangerous or oppressive measures, to shelter themselves, and prevent an inquiry into their own misconduct in office; whereas had a constitutional council been formed (as was proposed) of six members, viz. two from the eastern, two from the middle, and two from the southern States, to be appointed by vote of the States in the House of Representatives, with the same duration and rotation in office as the Senate, the Executive would always have had safe and proper information and advice, the President of such a council might have acted as Vice-President of the United States, pro tempore, upon any vacancy or disability of the chief Magistrate; and long continued sessions of the Senate would in a great measure have been prevented.”

Mason, a critic of the Constitution, expanded on the idea that the president should not simply act on his own, as it raised the specter of monarchy or tyranny. The solution, to Mason, was the establishment of an advisory council comprised of regional members.

This is difficult to imagine for modern Americans, in the manifestation that Mason imagined. While every president has had the benefit of a growing executive branch, complete with a cabinet, it is not structured like the council. It allows for each president to customize the office to best support his or her governing style.

One wonders whether Mason would have been satisfied to know that presidents have come to develop extensive cabinets, which provide each president with a staff to accomplish his or her goals. However, perhaps having a check on that cabinet, by having the House of Representatives vote on cabinet members, is an idea worth consideration.

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