Note: this piece was originally published in The Hill, and was written by Checks & Balances member Edward Larson.
At the end of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what sort of government the delegates had framed. “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.” This was not an offhand remark. The Founders turned to novel and untested checks and balances to prevent the federal government from falling into chaos on the left or despotism on the right.
The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia started off with what had been known as the Virginia Plan that Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, and other delegates had drafted while they were waiting for a quorum to assemble. Relying on such checks and balances between the branches to preserve the rule of law, the Virginia Plan would have had the president chosen by Congress somewhat like a parliamentary democracy.
Concern for the separation of powers led the Constitutional Convention toward an independently selected president, which in turn raised worries about potential for excessive executive power. “The first man put at the helm would be a good one,” Franklin said with a nod toward Washington. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards. The executive will always be increasing here, as elsewhere, until it ends in a monarch,” he declared.