The Anti-Federalist Papers No. 71: Agrippa, and A Customer

The Presidential Term of Office

Agrippa, February 5, 1788; A Customer, March 13, 1788

Part 1: Luther Martin, The Genuine Information. Part 2: An excerpt from the 18th letter of “Agrippa” appearing in The Massachusetts Gazette on February 5, 1788. Part 3: From by “A Customer” in the Maine Cumberland Gazette, March 13, 1788.

…. 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 re-eligible 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 re-eligible 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….


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Format, font, and spelling modernizations of this edition of the Anti-Federalist Papers Copyright 2011 Steve Farrell. The copyright for the original Anti-Federalist Papers is in the Public Domain.