Conceived in Liberty:
The Story of the Constitutional Convention
Michael L. Chadwick
Boise, Idaho: Liberty Park USA Publishing Company
P. O. Box 16184. Boise, Idaho 83715
Copyright © 2007 by Michael L. Chadwick. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2007 of Electronic Texts by Michael L. Chadwick. All rights reserved. No part of this electronic text may be reproduced, distributed, stored in electronic databases, personal computers, search engine databases, web sites or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods without the prior written permission of the publisher. Electronic fingerprints have been placed in the text to prevent copyright violations.
Table of Contents
Famous Quotations on the Founding Fathers and the Constitution
- Federal Convention of 1787: An Introduction
- List of Delegates to the Federal Convention of 1787(1)
Famous Quotations on the Founding Fathers and the Constitution
"Whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it is a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which should best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country."
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of Providential agency."
"With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people–a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established their general liberty and independence.
"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.
''I beg I may not be understood to infer, that our general Convention was divinely inspired when it form 'd the new federal Constitution, merely because that Constitution had been unreasonably and vehemently opposed; yet I must own I have so much Faith in the general Government of the World by Providence, that I can hardly conceive a Transaction of such momentous Importance to the Welfare of Millions now existing, and to exist in the Posterity of a great Nation, should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenc'd, guided and governed by that omnipotent and beneficent Ruler, in whom all inferior Spirits live & move and have their Being."
Letter to the Editor of the Gazette
"The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted [in the Constitutional Convention], and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.
'I have always regarded that Constitution as the most remarkable work known to men in modern times to have been produced by the human intellect.
Former Prime Minister of England
"The example of changing a Constitution, by assembling the wise men of the State, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we have given them. The Constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberations is unquestionably the wisest ever presented to men."
"It appears to me, then, little shorts of a miracle, that the delegates from so many different states (which states you know are also different from each other, in their manners, circumstances, and prejudices) should unite in forming a system of national government."
"It is impossible to consider the degree of concord which ultimately prevailed [in the Constitutional Convention] as less than a miracle."
"America probably never will see an assembly of men of like number more respectable."
–Richard Henry Lee Prominent Anti-Federalists
(Letters from the Federal Farmer, V, in Herbert J. Storing, The Complete Anti-Federalist, Chicago, 1381, Volume 2, entry number 8, paragraph 62.)
When the great work was done and published, I was struck with amazement. Nothing less than the superintending Hand of Providence, that so miraculously carried us through the war could have brought it about so complete, upon the whole."
Madison's Notes on the Federal Convention
"One . . . choice was made on May 25, (1787) perhaps the most fortunate of its kind in American history. Nominated, as it were, by himself and elected by the indulgence of his fellow delegates, (James) Madison embarked on a labor of love and duty as the unofficial secretary of the Convention. Suspecting that Jackson would confine himself to keeping a simple record of motions and votes, and knowing that posterity would be grateful for 'an exact account of what might pass in the Convention,' he made his decision reluctantly but firmly. . . .
"The labor to which Madison committed himself was stupefying; its fruit is a narrative so unique as to render it a major treasure of the Republic. While other delegates-notably Yates, Lansing, King, McHenry, Paterson, Hamilton, and Pierce–kept notes at one time or another, Madison is the principle source of our knowledge of the debates in the Convention. . . . Madison seems to have been a faithful and honest reporter. As one learns in comparing his notes with those of the other self-appointed but only part-time scribes, the record he left us is remarkable full, impartial, and accurate."
1787: The Grand Convention, New York: The MacMillan Company, 1966, pp. 162-163.)
Federal Convention of 1787: An Introduction
"The deliberate union of so great and various a people in such a place [as the Constitutional Convention] is, " John Adams wrote on December 26, 1787, "without all partiality or prejudice, if not the greatest exertion of human understanding, the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen." (Letter to Rufus King, quoted in Charles Warren, The Making of the Constitution, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1937, forward.)
There has not been a greater event in American political history than the drafting of the Constitution in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787. In fact, there has not been many greater events in the history of the world.
The miraculous work of the framers led Thomas Jefferson to observe:
"The example of changing a Constitution, by assembling the wise men of the State, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had given them. The Constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberations is unquestionably the wisest ever presented to men." (Ibid.)
The "former examples" Jefferson meant was the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and its announcement to the world that people have a natural right of self-government. The drafting of the Constitution was the capstone to the Revolution begun in 1776.
The nature, meaning, origin, purpose and consequences of the Federal Convention of 1787, along with its illustrious cast of characters, has long been an event which historians and political scientists have written and speculated about. The Convention, like the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, is a subject that scholars are continually reexamining. It is an event of such magnitude that it must be restudied and retold by each generation.
The Framers shaped history as no other group of Americans have ever done. They made, in the words of one historian, "a gamble with the destiny of the American people so hazardous and yet so calculated, so contingent and yet so prudent, that they command the highest homage granted to makers of history: an endless retelling of the manner of their ascent to glory." (Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention, New York: The MacMillan Co., 1966, p. 20.)
It is only fitting that we re-acquaint ourselves with the Federal Convention of 1787. However, before we discuss the Grand Convention, let us look briefly at the events which led to the calling of that historic meeting. An appropriate place to begin is with a discussion o£ the Articles of Confederation. The Articles became operative in July of 1778. By the time the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, their weaknesses had become apparent. The Articles had created a confederation of States rather than a national government. Article II outlined: "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."
Although there was a one-chamber Congress, the Articles failed to contain any provision for an executive or judicial branch. In addition, there were a number of institutional deficiencies in the Confederation. For example, the Continental Congress did not recognize the people, but the individual States. Each State had only one vote and the Articles required that major legislation could not pass without the consent of nine States. This policy allowed one or two States to effectively veto any legislation they opposed. Congress was also prohibited £rom levying taxes, borrowing money, supporting a navy and army, regulating commerce among the States and executing its own laws. Since there was no judicial branch, the Confederation was unable to settle disputes among the States and citizenry.
A number of Founding Fathers, such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, felt that the Union was in jeopardy of collapsing under the Articles and that a new national government was necessary.
In a "Circular to the States," on June 8, 1783, Washington wrote:
"For, according to the system of Policy the States shall adopt at this moment, they will stand or fall, and by their confirmation or lapse, it is yet to be decided, whether the Revolution must ultimately be considered as a blessing or a curse: a blessing or a curse, not to the present age alone, for with our fate will the destiny of unborn Millions be involved." (Washington, "Circular to the States," June 8, 1783, in Writings of George Washington, vol. 26, p. 486.)
Several attempts were made to convene a convention to discuss the problems facing the Confederation. However, it was not until the Annapolis Convention that the States decided to move toward concrete solutions.
Since Congress was unauthorized to regulate commerce among the States, several of the States had erected trade barriers and tariffs. The resulting economic disruptions not only caused financial disarray, but threatened to divide the Union.
The Annapolis Convention, which was called by Virginia, was held in September of 1786. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Edmund Randolph were the leading figures of the meeting. However, only five States sent delegates and the Convention was prevented from redressing the major trade problems facing the States. The Convention did suggest that a future meeting be held in Philadelphia on the second Monday in May of 1787.
The Virginia legislature promptly appointed ten delegates to the future convention: John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, James McClurg, Edmund Randolph, George Washington, George Wythe, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Nelson. The latter three chose not to serve. Shortly thereafter, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Jersey, Delaware and Georgia appointed delegates.
Pennsylvania appointed eight delegates: George Clymer, Thomas Fitzsimmons, Benjamin Franklin, Jared Ingersoll, Thomas Mifflin, Gouveneur Morris, Robert Morris and James Wilson. North Carolina appointed seven delegates: William Blount, William R. Davie, Alexander Martin, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Hugh Williamson, Richard Coswell and Willie Jones. The latter two also declined to serve. New Jersey appointed seven delegates: David Brearly, Jonathan Dayton, William Churchill Houston, William Livingston, William Paterson, John Neilson and Abraham Clark The latter two declined to serve. Delaware joined North Carolina and Delaware by appointing five delegates: Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford, Jr., Jacob Broom, John Dickinson and George Read. Georgia appointed six delegates: Abraham Baldwin, William Pew, William Houston, William Pierce, George Walton and Nathaniel Pendleton. The latter two declined to serve.
The remaining seven States failed to appoint delegates to the Convention because they believed that only the Continental Congress could approve amendments to the Articles of Confederation. In order to accommodate these States, Congress passed a resolution stating that the Convention was to meet for the "sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall, when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States, render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union."
Since the Convention was limited to only making recommendations to Congress, the remaining States, with the exception of Rhode Island, appointed delegates. Connecticut appointed four delegates: Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman and Erastus Wolcott. The latter delegate declined to serve. Massachusetts appointed five delegates: Elbrdge Gerry, Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, Caleb Strong and Francis Dana. The latter delegate declined to serve. New York appointed three delegates: Alexander Hamilton, John Lansing and Robert Yates. New Hampshire appointed four delegates: Nicholas Gilman, John Langdon, John Pickering and Benjamin West. The latter two declined to serve. Maryland appointed ten delegates: Daniel Carroll, Daniel of St. Thomas Jennifer, Luther Martin, James McHenry, John Francis Mercer, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Gabriel Duvall, Robert Hansen Harrison, Thomas Sim Lee and Thomas Stone. The latter five declined to serve. South Carolina appointed five delegates: Pierce Butler, Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Rutledge and Henry Laurens. The latter delegate declined to serve. Rhode Island refused to appoint any delegates to the Federal Convention.
Although 74 delegates were appointed from twelve States, only 55 traveled to Philadelphia. Of the 55 delegates, two came late, five missed most of the proceedings, and seven delegates left early in the summer. Thirty-nine of the 55 delegates signed the Constitution. Elbridge Gerry, Luther Martin, George Mason and Edmund Randolph did not.
Although 55 distinguished men attended the Convention at various times during the sixteen and one half weeks that the meeting was underway, there were 17 delegates which were primarily responsible for the drafting of the Constitution. They were mainly from five States: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and South Carolina. A brief biographical sketch of the central framers follows:
"GEORGE WASHINGTON was the most distinguished and revered member of the Convention. He had retired to Mount Vernon and described himself as a Virgnia planter, but agreed to participate when he was persuaded that his presence was necessary to the success of the Convention. He was unanimously elected president of the Convention after the withdrawal of Benjamin Franklin. Though Washington spoke little in the course of the debates, partly because of his position as president, he was influential in informal discussion outside the actual meetings. At the time of the Convention, he was fifty-five years old.
"JAMES MADISON was thirty-six at the time of the Convention. He was a small man, shy, and described as 'always dressed in black.' Though a retiring person by nature, he had been active in politics both in Virginia and in Congress, and in the movement for a revision of the Articles. Madison was generally acknowledged to be the most profound scholar and theorist of government in the America of his time. His record of the debates is the principal source of knowledge about the Convention. He was not only important for his theories of government, but also a party to the debate on almost every major provision of the Constitution. . . .
"EDMUND RANDOLPH, thirty-four, the governor of Virginia, was the nominal head of his delegation. The Resolutions that bear his name are . . . (generally accepted) to be the work of Madison. Randolph spoke little in the Convention and often did not express his thought clearly, but he was an important political figure and carried weight for that reason. He refused to sign the Constitution. . . .
"GEORGE MASON, also from Virginia, was sixty-two. He was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, and he was a sturdy champion of popular, especially agrarian, democracy. He refused to sign the Constitution and also opposed it in the Virginia convention, partly because he wanted a Bill of Rights included.
"BENJAMIN FRANKLIN of Pennsylvania, at eighty-one, was the oldest member of the Convention. At the time he enjoyed a world reputation both as a philosopher and a statesman. Despite his years he took an active part in the proceedings, depending upon his friend, James Wilson, to read his speeches. . . Several delegates took occasion to extoll him as a great man and to praise his part in soothing ruffled tempers and helping to promote a spirit of healthy compromise.
"JAMES WILSON was easily the ablest and most influential member of the Pennsylvania delegation. He was born and educated in Scotland and did not come to America until he was twenty-three. Nevertheless, he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and had served several times in Congress. He was regarded as one of the ablest lawyers in the United States and later served as a justice of the Supreme Court. Most authorities acknowledge him to have been, next to Madison, the most profound student of government and of political economy in the Convention. In 1787, he was forty-five.
"GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, also of Pennsylvania, was thirty-three. A New Yorker by birth, Morris had moved to Pennsylvania when he was defeated for election to Congress in 1779. A lawyer, merchant, and financier, he had been one of the drafters of the New York Constitution of 1777 and had served as Assistant to the Superintendent of Finance (Robert Morris, also of Pennsylvania) under the Confederation. He spoke more than any other member of the Convention and was thought to be brilliant. . . .
"JOHN RUTLEDGE, forty-eight, was the head of the South Carolina delegation. He had been attorney general and governor of South Carolina as well as a member of Congress. A man of great ability, he was also regarded as the great orator of his day. Rutledge was not prominent in the debates, but was chairman of the Committee of Detail.
"CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY, also of South Carolina, was an Oxford educated planter and a lawyer of great promise. He had risen to be a general during the Revolution and was greatly respected by the Convention delegates. He spoke seldom, but with great conviction and effect.
"CHARLES PINCKNEY, ten years younger than his cousin, was at twenty-nine one of the youngest members of the Convention. He was a lawyer and had been a member of Congress. Opinions differ both on his abilities and on his influence. . His views (which favored a strong central government) were important in shaping the final Constitution.
"OLIVER ELLSWORTH, forty-two years old, was one o£ three able delegates from Connecticut. He was a lawyer and had been a member of Congress from Connecticut as well as a judge of the state supreme court. He took an important role in defending the small states and in securing the Connecticut Compromise.
"ROGER SHERMAN, the mayor of New Haven, had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a member of Congress. At sixty-six, he was, next to Franklin, the oldest member of the Convention. He initially favored a revised Articles rather than a new Constitution, but introduced the Connecticut Compromise when he saw the need for a more radical amendment of the existing system. Like Ellsworth, he was moderate and judicious in his political views, and despite his small-state sympathies, worked ably for the ratification of the Constitution.
"ELBRIDGE GERRY, forty-three, was prominent in Massachusetts politics and a successful merchant with a deep interest in economic issues. An important figure in the Revolution and in the Congress of the Articles, he was noted for his stern and dogmatic republicanism. Originally, in the Convention, he supported a strong central government, but then opposed it and later the Constitution itself, because they failed to accord with his republican doctrines.
"RUFUS KING was a second important delegate from Massachusetts. He supported both a national policy and a strong central government, and worked for ratification in Massachusetts. Later a strong supporter of Hamilton and of Hamilton's doctrines, he became the last Federalist candidate for President in 1819.
"ALEXANDER HAMILTON of New York, at thirty, was one of the youngest members of the Convention. Though he did not attend the Convention for its full term and was not, directly, one of the most influential figures there, Hamilton had been an important figure in calling the Convention and in promoting the movement for a strong national government by his work in the New York legislature, in the Continental Congress, and in the Annapolis Convention. With John Jay and James Madison, Hamilton wrote The Federalist to secure ratification of the Constitution in strategically located New York.
"JOHN DICKINSON was the most noted member of the Delaware deputation, especially for his early lead in opposition to British rule He was the author of the "Farmer's Letters," a member of the Continental Congress, and chairman of the committee of Congress that drafted the Articles of Confederation. He had also been president of the executive councils of Delaware and of Pennsylvania. A "small-state" man who later supported the Constitution vigorously, he spoke little in the Convention, but was important in moderating the differences between other groups.
"LUTHER MARTIN of Maryland had the distinction of being the most active opponent of the Constitution among the delegates present. He was a lawyer, forty-three years old, and had served as a member of Congress and as attorney-general of Maryland. Allegedly, he was sent by interested parties to Philadelphia expressly to oppose the Constitution, and later attempted to prevent ratification by Maryland. Martin was a frequent and tiresome speaker in the Convention. . . . He was influential in pressing the 'states' rights' point of view." (David G. Smith, The Convention and the Constitution, New York: St. Martins Press, 1965, pp. 94-97.)
The delegates who framed the Constitution were indeed a group of remarkable men. As Charles A. Beard has noted: "The delegates who attended the Federal Convention of 1787 were indeed statesmen of the highest order. Never in the history of the world has there been an assembly of men richer in practical knowledge and political experience. . . ."
Concerning this illustrious group of governors, judges, lawyers, planters, and generals, J. Reuben Clark Jr., former Under-Secretary of State and Ambassador to Mexico wrote: "What a group of men of surpassing abilities, attainments, experience, and achievement! There has not been another such group of men in all . . . our history, no group that even challenged the supremacy of this group. . . .
"The Framers were deeply read in the facts of history; they were learned in the forms and practices and systems of governments of the world, past and present; they were, in matters political, equally art home in Rome, in Athens, in Paris, and in London; had a long, varied, and intense experience in the work of governing their various Colonies; they were among the leaders of a weak and poor people that had successfully fought a revolution against one of the great powers of the earth; there were among them some of the ablest, most experienced and seasoned military leaders of the world.
"As to all matters under consideration by the [Constitutional] Convention, the history of the world was combed for applicable experiences and precedents." (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Stand Fast By the Constitution.)
Clinton Rossiter declared that the Framers were men of the highest standing: "I call these men heroes in deliberate defiance of the ban placed upon this word by most serious minded historians. By hero I mean a leader of men who engages with clear eye and stout heart in an uncertain enterprise for some purpose larger than the gratification of his own ambition or the rewarding of his own friends, and whose deeds work a benevolent influence on the lives of countless other men. I would contend that an experiment in nationhood as vast and successful as the American Republic could not have been brought through at least a half-dozen of its trials except by men of heroic stature, and that few trials could have demanded more extraordinary talent, virtue, hope, and tenacity than their year of political creation. If not every one of the fifty-five men who gathered in Philadelphia was a hero–then or before or after–the Grand Convention itself was both uncertain enough in prospect and benevolent enough in result to be classed as a heroic event. If not every one of its leading figures was as clear of eye as Madison, as stout in heart as Washington, or as selfless of purpose as Franklin–then or before or after–at least a dozen other delegates rose, in the long struggle to build the political and emotional foundations of nationhood, to join these three giants on the high plateau of heroism. . . .
"The men of 1787 were, in short, both dutiful wards of the past and creative makers of the future, and that is why they should have a special appeal to the troubled men of this generation. They were heroes who stayed within the limits of the political, social, economic, and cultural circumstances of their time, heroes who seemed to know instinctively just how far to push their luck in choosing among the alternatives that were to be found within these limits . . . .
"The Framers shaped history as no other group of Americans has ever done. . . . The Framers made a gamble with the destiny of the American people so hazardous and yet so calculated, so contingent and yet so prudent, that they command the highest homage granted to makers of history: an endless retelling of the manner of their ascent to glory." (Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention, New York, The MacMillan Co., 1966, pp. 18-20.)
Although various scholars and historians have heaped praise upon the Framers for their unrivaled labors in drafting the Constitution, the finest, and perhaps the most fitting tribute to be given to the delegates at the Federal Convention, came from James Madison. He wrote: "Whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny of the edifice prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional system which should best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country." (E. H. Scott, editor, Journal of the Federal Convention, Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1898, Vol. I, p. 51.)
And "devising and proposing a constitutional system" is what the delegates actually did. The actual work of the Convention began on May 25, 1787. On that day George Washington was elected President and Major William Jackson was appointed secretary.
Although the Convention had an official secretary, James Madison believed that the Framers were providing an invaluable lesson for other nations. Therefore, he decided to keep a detailed journal of the proceedings, realizing that future generations would highly value a report of the Convention. Concerning this herculean task, he wrote: "The curiosity I had felt during my researches into the history of the most distinguished confederacies, particularly those of antiquity, and the deficiency I found in the means of satisfying it, more especially in what related to the process, the principles, the reasons, and the anticipations, which prevailed in the formation of them, determined me to preserve, as far I could, an exact account of what might pass in the Convention while. executing its trust; with the magnitude of which I was duly impressed, as I was by the gratification promised to future curiosity by an authentic exhibition of the objects, the opinions, and the reasonsings, from which the system of government was to receive its peculiar structure and organization. Nor was I unaware of the value of such a contribution to|the fund of materials for the history of a Constitution on which would be staked the happiness of a people great even in its infancy, and possibly the cause of liberty throughout the world.
"In pursuance of the task I had assumed, I chose a seat in front of the presiding member, with the other members on my right and left hands. In this favorable position for hearing all that passed, I noted, in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself, what was read from the Chair or spoken by the members; and losing not a moment unnecessarily between the adjournment and reassembling of the Convention, I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session, or within a few finishing days after its close, in the extent and form preserved in my own hand on my files.
"In the labor and correctness of this I was not a little aided by practice, and by a familiarity with the style and the train of observation and reasoning which characterized the principal speakers. It happened, also, that I was not absent a single day, nor more than a casual fraction of an hour in any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one.
"It may be proper to remark, that, with a very few exceptions, the speeches were neither furnished, nor revised, nor sanctioned, by the speakers, but written out from my notes aided by the freshness of my recollections. A further remark may be proper, that views of the subject might occasionally be presented, in the speeches and proceedings, with a latent reference to a compromise on some middle ground, by mutual concessions. The exceptions alluded to were,–first, the sketch furnished by Mr. Randolph of his speech on the introduction of his propositions on the 29th day of May; secondly, the speech of Mr. Hamilton, who happened to call on me when putting the last hand to it, and who acknowledged its fidelity, without suggesting more than a very few verbal alterations which were made; thirdly, the speech of Gouverneur Morris on the second day of May, which was communicated to him on a like occasion, and who acquiesced in it without even a verbal change. The correctness of his language and the distinctness of his enunciation were particularly favorable to a reporter. The speeches of Doctor Franklin, excepting a few brief ones, were copied from the written ones read to the Convention by his colleague, Mr. Wilson, it being inconvenient to the Doctor to remain long on his feet. (E.H. Scott, editor, Journal of the Federal Convention, Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1898, Vol. I, pp. 49-50.)
As noted by Professor Herbert J. Storing: "Madison's Notes, especially at first reading, often make it seem that the debates were without any order at all, but there is an order. It is not the kind of order one finds in a systematic exposition of general principles but rather the rhythm of sustained, high-level political debate." ("The Federal Convention of 1787," quoted in Ralph A. Rossum and Gary L. McDowell, editors, The American Founding, Port Washington, N.Y., Kennekot Press, 1981, p. 15.)
The world is deeply indebted to James Madison. Without his record, our knowledge of the day-to-day debates would be meager indeed. Out of respect for his fellow colleagues, the notes were not published until after the last delegate had died. In fact, James Madison was the last framer to die. In his will we find the following: ''Considering the peculiarity and magnitude of the occasion which produced the Convention at Philadelphia, in 1787, the characters who composed it, the Constitution which resulted from their deliberations, its effects during a trial of so many years on the prosperity of the people living under it, and the interest it has inspired among the friends of free government, it is not an unreasonable inference that a careful and extended report of the proceedings and discussions of that body, which were with closed doors, by a member who was constant in his attendance, will be particularly gratifying to the people of the United States, and to all who take an interest in the progress of political science and the cause of true liberty." (James Madison, Provision of Will, E. H. Scott, editor, Journal of the Federal Convention, Chicago s Scott, Foresman and Co., 1898, Vol. I, p. 3.)
And gratifying it is. Professor Clinton Rossiter has called the Notes, "a major treasure of the Republic." (Clinton Rossiter, 178-7: The Grand Convention, New York: The MacMillian Co., 1966, pp. 162-163.)
Madison's notes were published in 1840 by the U.S. Government.
In a letter to John G. Jackson, dated December 27, 1821, James Madison wrote that, "most of us carried into the Convention a profound impression produced by the experienced inadequacy of the old Confederation . . . as to the necessity of binding the States together by a strong Constitution. . . ." (Quoted in Adrienne Koch, The American Enlightenment, New York: George Braziller, 1965, p. 463.)
True to their word, a number of delegates opened the Convention with a plan for a "strong Constitution."
On May 29, 1987, Edmund Randolph, a member of the Virginia and Governor of Virginia, introduced 15 Resolutions. The resolutions called for the construction of a national legislature, a national executive and a national judiciary. The very next day, Charles Pinckney, a delegate from South Carolina submitted another plan for a constitution.
On Wednesday, May 30th, the delegates formed a Committee of the Whole and Gouverneur Morris introduced a motion that "a national government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme Legislature, Executive and Judiciary." The motion was accepted by a vote of six to one. (The delegates voted as States. Each State was allowed one vote.) This was perhaps one of the most important votes cast in the entire Convention. Had this motion failed, the delegates may have been forced to merely revise the Articles of Confederation and the dream of a national government may have vanished forever.
During the next two weeks the delegates debated and amended the Randolph resolutions. The first proposition was withdrawn and Morris' motion substituted. The second proposition–"the right of suffrage in the National legislature, to be proportional to the quotas of contribution, or the number of free inhabitants as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases" was postponed after to placate George Read of Delaware. Read had threatened that the Delaware delegates might have "to retire from the Convention," if the proposition was adopted. (Farrand, Records, Vol. I, p. 37.) The Delaware deputies had been specifically instructed by their commission not to assent to any rule of representation.
It was readily apparent that the Convention was divided into those who favored a national government and those who supported a mere revision of the Articles of Confederation. (The larger States versus the smaller States.)
For the next two weeks the delegates debated and amended each of the Randolph resolutions. The Committee of the Whole agreed that the national legislature should have two branches; that each branch should originate its own laws; that the legislature should pass laws where the State legislatures were incompetent; that the national executive should possess power to execute the national laws; that the executive was to be chosen by the national legislature; that the executive would be ineligible for a second term and subject to impeachment; that the national judiciary was to consist of' one supreme tribunal and of inferior tribunals; that the judiciary was to be chosen by the national legislature and hold their office during good behavior; that new States would be admitted to the Union; that provision be made for amendments to the Constitution; that a Republican Government was to be guaranteed to each State; and that the Constitution was to be ratified by Conventions of the people of the States.
On June 11th the delegates began debating the right of suffrage in the national legislature again. The smaller States felt that unless their representation was equal to that of the larger States, they would be continually out voted in the national legislature. Delegates from the larger States believed that it was grossly unfair to expect that Delaware with a population of less than 50,000 people should have the same number of representatives in Congress as Virginia, who had a population of approximately 800,000.
Although the delegates had agreed that representation should be proportional in the House, they still faced a most perplexing question: How should representation be allotted?
Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed that "the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the branch, or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more " (Scott, p. 142.)
The Committee of the Whole voted by 9 to 2 that representation should be proportionate "to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex, and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons in each State " (Scott, p. 147.)
Mr. Sherman then moved that each State shall have one vote in the upper house. He declared that "the smaller States would never agree to the plan (the new Constitution) on any other principle than an equality of suffrage in this branch " (Scott, p. 148.) The motion of Mr. Sherman failed by 5 to 6. James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton then moved that the ratio of representation in the upper house should be the same as in the lower house. The motion passed by a vote of 6 to 5.
The smaller States became quite very alarmed at the motion which had just passed. On June 14th William Patterson of New Jersey stunned the Committee. Madison explains that: was the wish of several Deputations, particularly that of New Jersey, that further time might be allowed them to contemplate the plan reported from the Committee of the Whole, and to digest one purely federal, and contra-distinguished from the reported plan. . . . They hoped to have such an one ready by to-morrow to be laid before the Convention. . . The Convention then adjourned that the plan could be prepared.
On June 15th, Patterson laid before the Convention a "plan which he said several-of the Deputations wished to be substituted in place of that proposed by Mr. Randolph." (Scott, p. 163.) The New Jersey Plan, as it was called, was the collective work of the delegates from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Delaware. The first resolution stated that the "Articles of Confederation ought to be revised, corrected and enlarged, as to render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."
The smaller States were determined to abandon the plan for a national government. The New Jersey Plan was referred to the Committee of the Whole and debate ensued.
On June 16th James Wilson of Pennsylvania contrasted the two plans before the Committee as follows: "1. In the Virginia plan there are two, and in some degree three, branches in the Legislature; in the plan from New Jersey there is to be a single Legislature only. 2. Representation of the people at large is the basis of one; the States Legislatures the pillars of the other. 3. Proportional representation prevails in one, equality of suffrage in the other. 4. A single Executive Magistrate is at the head of the one; a plurality is held out in the other. 5. In the one, a majority of the people of the United States must prevail; in the other, a minority may prevail. 6. The National Legislature is to make laws in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, (c.; in place of this, Congress are to have additional power in a few cases only. 7. A negative on the laws of the States, in place of this, coercion to be substituted. 8. The Executive to be removable on impeachment and conviction, in one plan; in the other, to be removable at the instance of a majority of the Executives of the States. 9. Revision of the laws provided for, in one; no such check in the other. 10. Inferior national tribunals, in one; none such in the other. 11. In the one, jurisdiction of national tribunals to extend, (c.; an appellate jurisdiction only allowed in the other. 12. Here, the jurisdiction is to extend to all cases affecting the national peace and harmony; there, a few cases only are marked out. 13. Finally, the ratification is, in this, to be by the people themselves; in that, by the legislative authorities, according to the thirteenth Article of the Confederation. (Scott, pp. 170-171.)
According to Madison's Notes, Wilson "could not persuade himself that the State Governments and sovereignties were so much the idols of the people, nor a National Government so obnoxious to them, as some supposed. Why should a National Government be unpopular? Has it less dignity? Will each citizen enjoy under it less liberty or protection? Will a citizen of Delaware be degraded by becoming a citizen of the United States? Where do the people look at present for relief from the evils of which they complain? Is it from an internal reform of their governments? No, sir. It is from the national councils that relief is expected. For these reasons, he (Wilson) did not fear that the people would not follow us into a National Government; and it will be a further recommendation of Mr. Randolph's plan, that it is to be submitted to them, and not to the Legislatures, for ratification. (Scott, pp. 171-172.)
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina outlined the mayor impasse which was nearly paralyzing the Convention. He stated: "The whole comes to this, as he conceived. Give New Jersey an equal vote, and she will dismiss her scruples, and concur in the National system. He thought the Convention authorized to go any length, in recommending, which they found necessary to remedy the evils which produced this Convention." (Scott, p. 173.)
Edmund Randolph of Virginia decided it was time to defend the resolutions he had introduced on May 29th. He boldly stated that when, "the salvation of the Republic was at stake, it would be treason to our trust, not to propose what we found necessary." He then went on to say: "The true question is, whether we shall adhere to the Federal plan, or introduce the National plan. The insufficiency of the former has been fully displayed by the trial already made. There are but two modes by which the end of a General Government can be attained: the first, by coercion, as proposed by Mr Patterson's plan; the second, by real legislation, as proposed by the other plan. Coercion he pronounced to be impracticable, expensive, cruel to individuals. It tended, also, to habituate the instruments of it to shed the blood, and riot in the spoils, of their fellow citizens, and consequently trained them up for service of ambition. We must resort therefore to a national legislation over individuals, for which Congress are unfit. To vest such power in them would be blending Legislative with the Executive, contrary to the received maxim on this subject. If the union of these powers, heretofore, in Congress has been safe, it has been owing to the general impotency of that body. Congress are, moreover, not elected by the people, but by the Legislatures, who retain even a power of recall. They have therefore no will of their own; they are a mere diplomatic body, and are always obsequious to the views of the States, who are always encroaching on the authority of the United States. A provision for harmony among the States, as in trade, naturalization, (c.; for crushing rebellion, whenever it may rear its crest; and for certain other general benefits, must be made. The powers for these purposes can never be given to a body inadequate as Congress are in point of representation, elected in the mode in which they are, and possessing no more confidence than they do: for notwithstanding what has been said to the contrary, his own experience satisfied him, that a rooted district of Congress pretty generally prevailed A National Government alone, properly constituted, will answer the purpose; and be begged it to be considered that the present is the last moment for establishing one. After this select experiment, the people will yield to despair." (Scott, pp. 174-175.)
The next day, on June 18th, the Committee voted overwhelmingly to postpone discussion of Patterson's first resolution. Ten states voted yes. Only Pennsylvania was divided on its vote. After this important vote, Alexander Hamilton introduced eleven propositions as amendments which he would probably offer to those of Edmund Randolph. During this famous speech, Hamilton stated that: "the British Government was the best in the world" and he doubted "whether anything short of it would do in America." (Scott, p. 181.) In his remarks, he advocated that "one branch of the Legislature hold their places for life, or at least during good behavior," and that the Executive be appointed "for life." For years afterwards, Hamilton would be called a "monarchist."
Hamilton's bold call for an elective monarch was never discussed or debated. His plan did have one good effect, however. It moved the Virginia Plan to the center of the constitutional spectrum and made it appear more digestible.
On June 19th James Madison of Virginia observed that the "great difficulty lies in the affairs of representation; and if this could be adjusted, all others would be surmountable." Madison's statement was prophetic. If the delegates could solve the representative issue, the Convention could proceed. However, during the next two weeks it looked as though the Convention would come to a standstill.
On the 19th of June the Committee voted to resume consideration of Randolph's resolutions. They immediately returned to debating the components of the national legislature. On June 20th the word "national" was dropped from in front of government and legislature. On June 21st the Committee agreed that the Legislature would consist of two branches. During the next few days the Committee agreed that the term of the first branch would be two years; and that members of the first branch would be 25 years of age.
On June 28th a motion to provide that the right of suffrage in the lower house should be based on equality of States was postponed. The positions and feelings of the small and large States over representation in the national legislature were so intense and set that the Convention was deadlocked over this issue. It was during this most trying time that Benjamin Franklin gave one of the most important speeches of his life.
"Mr. President, The small progress we have ma-de after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other–our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes-is, me thinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist. Ad we have viewed modern states all round Europe, but find none of their constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights, to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending Providence in our favor. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth–that God governs in the affairs of men. And a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded; and we ourselves shall become a reproach and by-word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter, from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments of human wisdom,'and leave it to chance, war and conquest.
"I therefore beg leave to move–that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service." (Scott, pp. 259-260.)
Although public prayers were not offered in the Convention, Franklin's remarks caused the delegates to reflect upon their own fallibility and the need to reach Heavenward for a compromise on this decisive issue.
On June 29th Alexander Hamilton said that it "is a miracle that we are now here. . . ." (Scott, p. 267.) Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts declared that the present Confederation was in the process of dissolving and the "fate of the Union" was to be decided by the Convention. He "lamented that, instead of coming here like a band of brothers, belonging to the same family, we seem to have brought with us the spirit of political negotiators." (Scott, p. 268.)
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut observed that: "We were partly national, partly federal. The proportional representation in the first branch was conformable to the national principle, and would secure the large States against the small. An equality of voices were conformable to the national principle, and would secure the large States against the small. An equality of voices was conformable to the federal principle, and was necessary to secure the small States against the large." He "trusted that on this middle ground a compromise would take place." (Scott, p. 269.)
The issue of representation continued to divide the Committee. On June 20th James Wilson proposed that there be "one Senator" in each State for every hundred thousand souls, and let the States not having that number of inhabitants be allowed one." He was "willing himself to submit to this temporary concession to the small States; and threw out the idea as a ground of compromise." (Scott, p. 278.)
The proposal did not seem to appease the delegates from the smaller States. Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey stated that the "evils we have experienced have proceeded from the equality now objected to; and . . . the seeds of dissolution for the State Governments are now sown in the General Government." He considered the Virginia Plan "a novelty, an amphibious monster." He was "persuaded that it would never be received by the people." (Scott, p. 280.)
The smaller States sincerely believed that they would be absorbed into the new National Government and were determined to maintain their State sovereignty.
A few moments after Dayton had finished his speech, Gunning Bedford dropped a bomb on the Convention floor. He said: "Are not the large States evidently seeking to aggrandize themselves at the expense of the small? They think, no doubt, that they have right on their side, but interest had blinded their eyes. Look at Georgia. Though a small State at present, she is actuated by the prospect of soon being a great one. South Carolina is actuated both by present interest, and future prospects. She hopes, too, to see the other States cut down to her own dimensions. North Carolina has the same motives of present and future interest. Virginia follows. Maryland is not on the side of the question. Pennsylvania has a direct and future interest. Massachusetts has a decided and palpable interest in the part she takes. Can it be expected that the small States will act from pure disinterestedness. Look at Great Britain. Is the representation there less unequal? But we shall be told again, that is the rotten part of the Constitution. Have not the boroughs, however, held fast their constitutional rights? And are we to act with greater purity than the rest of mankind? An exact proportion in the representation is not preserved in any one of the States. Will it be said that an inequality of power of power will not result from an inequality of votes. Give the opportunity, an ambition will not fail to abuse it. The whole history of mankind proves it. The three large States have a common interest to bind them together in commerce. But whether a combination, as we supposed, or a competition, as others supposed, shall take place among them, in either case the small States must be ruined. We must, like Solon, make such a government as the people will approve. Will the smaller States ever agree to the proposed degradation of them? It is not true that the people will not agree to enlarge the powers of the present Congress. The language of the people has been, that Congress ought to have the power of collecting an impost, and of coercing the States where it may be necessary. On the first point they have been explicit, and, in a manner, unanimous in their declarations. And must they not agree to this, and similar measures, if they ever mean to discharge their engagements? The little States are willing to observe their engagements, but will meet the large ones on no ground but that of the Confederation. We have been told, with a dictatorial air, that this is the last moment for a fair trial in favor of a good government. It will be the last, indeed, if the propositions reported from the Committee go forth to the people. He was under no apprehensions. The large States dare not dissolve the Confederation. If they do, the small ones will find some foreign ally, of more honor and good faith, who will take them by the hand, and do them justice. He did not mean, by this, to intimidate or alarm. It was a natural consequence, which ought to be avoided by enlarging the Federal powers, not annihilating the Federal system." (Scott, pp. 281-282.)
It appeared that neither the small States nor the larger States were willing to budge on this resolute issue of representation.
On July 2nd the Committee voted on a motion to allow each State one vote in the upper branch. It was 5 to 5. Georgia's delegation was divided. Concerning this important vote, Professor Herbert J. Storing has said:
"The result seems to suggest that Franklin's prayer for divine providence was not altogether fruitless, though human reason also played its part. The Maryland delegation was divided on this question, Daniel Jennifer being opposed to equal representation and Luther Martin in favor of it. Providentially, Jennifer was late in taking his seat that morning and Martin was thus able to cast the vote of Maryland in favor of the motion. The consequence of this was that when Georgia, the last state to be polled, was reached, instead of the question having been decided in the negative, five states had voted in favor of the motion and five states against. Ordinarily the whole of the four-man Georgia delegation would have voted against equal representation, but it happened that two of the members were absent. One of the remaining Georgians was Abraham Baldwin, who was a native of Connecticut and is supposed to have come under the moderating influence of the Connecticut delegation. In any case, Baldwin apparently feared that the Convention would break up unless a concession was made to the small states. By chance or providence, the absence of two of his colleagues put in his hands the power perhaps to determine whether there was to be a Union or not. Voting, contrary to his convictions, in favor of equal representation in the second branch, Baldwin divided Georgia's vote, maintained the tie, and kept open the way for compromise." (Herbert J. Storing, "The Constitutional Convention: Toward a More Perfect Union," in Morton J. Frisch and Richard G. Stevens, eds., American Political Thought: The Philosophical Dimension of American Statesmanship, 2d ed., Itasca, Ill.: F.E. Peacock, 1983, p. 68.)
After the vote was taken, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney proposed that: "a Committee consisting of a member from each State should be appointed to devise and report some compromise." Roger Sherman of Connecticut declared that: "We are now at full stop; and nobody supposed . . . that we should break up without doing something." He thought the "most likely to hit on some expedient." (Scott, p. 285.) Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts stated that: "Something must be done, or we shall disappoint not only America, but the whole world." (Scott, p. 289.)
On July 5th the Committee recommended that "in the first branch of the Legislative each of the States in the Union shall be allowed one member for every forty thousand inhabitants." All bills for raising money were to "originate in the first branch of the Legislature." In the second branch, "each State shall have an equal vote." (Scott, p. 290.)
The foundation for the "Great Compromise" had been laid. However, the larger States were still determined to move for proportional representation in the upper house or Senate. James Madison stated that: "Harmony in the convention was, no doubt, much to be desired. Satisfaction to all the States, in the first instance, still more so. But if the principal States comprehending a majority of the people of the United States, should concur in a just and judicious plan, he had the firmest hopes that all the other States would by degrees accede to it. " (Scott, p. 293.)
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania thought the compromise proposal was "wrong." He "came here as a Representative of America; he flattered himself he came here in some degree as a Representative of the whole human race; for the whole human race will be affected by the proceedings of this Convention." He "wished (the) gentlemen to extend their views beyond the present moment of time; beyond the narrow limits of place from which they derive their political origin." If he "were to believe some things," that he had heard, he "should suppose that we were assembled to truck and bargain for our particular States. . . . Ne must look forward to the effects of what we do. These alone ought to guide us. Much has been said of the sentiments of the people. They were unknown. They could not be known. All that we can infer is, that, if the plan we recommend be reasonable and right, all who have reasonable minds and sound intentions will embrace it, notwithstanding what had been said by some gentlemen. Let us suppose that the larger States shall agree, and that the smaller refuse; and let us trace the consequences. The opponents of the system in the smaller States will no doubt make a party, and a noise for a time, but the ties of interest, of kindred, and of common habits, which connect them with other States, will be too strong to be easily broken. In New Jersey, particularly," he was sure, "a great many would follow the sentiments of Pennsylvania and New York. This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will." (Scott, pp. 293-294.)
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut believed that some "compromise was necessary" and he "saw none more convenient or reasonable." (Scott, p. 296.)
William Patterson of New Jersey complained of the manner in which Mr. Madison and Mr. G. Morris had treated the small States." (Scott, p. 297.) Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts stated that: "If no compromise should take place, what will be the consequence. A secession . . . would take place; for some gentlemen seemed decided on it . . . . If we do not come to some agreement among ourselves, foreign sword will probably do the work for us." (Scott, p. 297.)
George Mason of Virginia stated that: "(The) Report was meant not as specific propositions to be adopted, but merely as a general ground of accommodation. There must be some accommodation on this point, or we shall make little further progress in the work. Accommodation was the object of the House in the appointment of the Committee, and of the Committee in the report they had made. And, however liable the Report might be to objections," he "thought it preferable to an appeal to the world by the different sides, as had been talked of by some gentlemen. It could not be more inconvenient to any gentleman to remain absent from his private affairs, than it was for him, but "he "would bury his bones in this city, rather than expose his country to the consequences of a dissolution of the Convention without any thing being done." (Scott, p. 297.)
For the next week and a half the Committee sharply debated and amended the reported proposal. On July 16th the Great Compromise was completed when the States voted 5 to 4 to agree to the amended report which included equality in the second branch. The resolutions which were agreed upon read: "Resolved, that in the original formation of the Legislature of the United States, the first branch thereof shall consist of sixty-five members, of which number New Hampshire shall send, 3; Massachusetts, 8; Rhode Island, 1; Connecticut, 5; New York, 6; New Jersey, 4; Pennsylvania, 8; Delaware, 1; Maryland, 6; Virginia, 10; North Carolina, 5; South Carolina, S; Georgia, 3. But as the present situation of the States may probably alter in the number of their inhabitants, the Legislature of the United States shall be authorized, from time to time, to apportion the number of Representatives, and in case any of the States shall hereafter be divided, or enraged by addition of territory, or any two or more States united, or any new States created within the limits of the United States, the Legislature of the United States shall possess authority to regulate the number of Representatives in any of the foregoing cases, upon the principle of their number of inhabitants, according to the provisions hereafter mentioned: provided always, that representation ought to be proportioned according to direct taxation. And in order to ascertain the alteration in the direct taxation, which may be required from time to time by the changes in the relative circumstances of the States
"Resolved, that a census be taken within six years from the first meeting of the Legislature of the United States, and once within the term of every ten years afterwards, of all the inhabitants of the United States, in the manner and according to the ratio recommended by Congress in their Resolution of the eighteenth day of April, 1783; and that the Legislature of the United States shall proportion the direct taxation accordingly.
"Resolved, that all bills for raising or appropriating money, and for fixing the salaries of officers of the Government of the United States, shall originate|in the first branch of the Legislature of the United States; and shall not be altered or amended in the second branch; and that no money shall be drawn from the public Treasury, but in pursuance of appropriations to be originated in the first branch.
"Resolved, that in the second branch of the Legislature of the United States, each State shall have an equal vote." (Scott, pp. 355-356.)
Even though the Great Compromise had been accepted by a narrow margin of the State delegation, a number of the delegates were still fuming about the vote to allow equality votes in the Senate. Edmund Randolph, the Governor of Virginia stated that: "The vote of this morning (involving an equality of suffrage in the second branch) had embarrassed the business extremely. All the powers given in the Report from the Committee of the Whole were founded on the supposition that a proportional representation was to prevail in both branches of the Legislature.'' When he arrived at the Convention that morning, his "purpose was to have offered some propositions that might, if possible, have united a great majority of votes, and particularly might provide against the danger suspected on the part of the smaller States, by enumerating the cases in which it might lie, and allowing an equality of votes in such cases. But finding from the preceding vote, that they persist in demanding an equal vote in all cases; that they have succeeded in obtaining it; and that New York, if present, would probably be on the same side;" he "could not but think (that) we were unprepared to discuss this subject further. It will probably be in vain to come to any final decision, with a bare majority on either side. For these reasons" he "wished the Convention to adjourn, that the large States might consider the steps proper to be taken, in the present solemn crisis of the business; and that the small States might also deliberate on the means of conciliation." (Scott, pp, 357-358.)
Randolph's words were not taken lightly. William Patterson of New Jersey announced that it was: "high time for the Convention to adjourn; that the rule of secrecy ought to be rescinded; and that our constituents should be consulted. No conciliation could be admissible on the part of the smaller States, on any other ground than that of an equality of votes in the second branch. Of Mr. Randolph would reduce to form his motion for an adjournment sine die, he would second it with all his heart." (Scott, p. 358.)
General Pinckney asked the Committee whether Mr. Randolph was proposing that the Convention adjourn sine die or only for the day. Mr. Randolph apologized to the Committee for the apparent misunderstanding. He said that he was: "strongly misinterpreted," and only desired to adjourn until tomorrow in order that "some conciliatory experiment might, if possible, be devised; and that in case the smaller States should continue to hold back, the larger might then take such measures–he would not say what–as might be necessary." (Scott, p. 358.)
From the above dialogue it is apparent that the discussions were indeed heated and fierce. Randolph, a delegate from a larger State was adamantly opposed to an equality of representatives in the upper house. And he was determined to change the procedure if he could.
Just after the previous exchange of words, John Rutledge of South Carolina quickly caught the attention of the delegates when he said there was no need of an adjournment because there was "no change of a compromise." He announced, no doubt to the dismay of the delegations from the larger States, that the "little States were fixed. They had repeatedly and solemnly declared themselves to be so. All that the large States, then, had to do was, to decide whether they would yield or not. For his part, he conceived, that, although we could not do what we thought best in itself, we ought to do something. Had we not better keep the Government up a little longer, hoping that another convention will supply our omissions, than abandon every thing to hazard? Our constituents will be very little satisfied with us if we take the latter course." (Scott, p. 359.)
He spoke the right words. The larger States were fearful that another convention would destroy any possibility for a strong national government. This fear was transformed into votes the next day. On July 17th Gouverneur Morris moved to reconsider the resolution which the Committee had agreed to on July 16th, concerning the equality of votes in the upper house. His motion was not even seconded. The larger States had finally agreed to compromise on the issue of proportional representation.
With this monumental issue finally settled, the Committee turned its focus on the powers of the national legislature. A motion to extend the power of the legislature to cases affecting the general interests of the Union was agreed to. The Committee of the ~hole also agreed to a motion to provide that the acts of the national legislature and treaties made in pursuance of the constitution shall bind the several States.
The delegates next turned their attention to the national executive. A motion to provide that the executive would be chosen by the people and a motion allowing electors appointed by the state legislators to choose the executive were defeated.
On July 18th the Committee passed a motion to provide that the power of the national judiciary would extend to all cases arising under the national laws, or involving the national peace and harmony. However, a motion to provide–that the members of the judiciary be appointed by the national executive was defeated.
On July 19th the Committee returned to a discussion of the national executive. The method of selecting the executive was to be the second major problem area for the delegates. A motion to provide that the executive be chosen by electors selected by the State legislatures passed. However, a number of delegates were not happy with this plan and spent the next few days devising alternative amendments to present to the Committee. In the meantime the Committee turned again to the national judiciary.
On July 21st James Wilson introduced an amendment that "the Supreme National Judiciary should be associated with the Executive in the revisionary power." This amendment had been presented before and failed to pass. And Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts was determined to keep the executive and judicial branches separate. He complained that it "was combining and mixing together the legislative and the other departments." He considered the amendment as "establishing an improper coalition between the Executive and Judiciary departments. It was making statesmen of the Judges, and setting them up as the guardians of the rights of the people." He felt this was a bad precedent. He relied "on the Representatives of the people, as the guardians of their rights and interests. It was making the expositors of the laws the legislators, which ought never to be done." (Scott, p. 400.)
Caleb Strong of Massachusetts joined his colleague in denouncing the amendment. He stated that the "power of making, ought to be kept distinct from that of expounding, the laws."
Luther Martin of Maryland agreed with the delegates from Massachusetts. He thought "the association of the judges with the executive "was a dangerous innovation." He said: "A knowledge of mankind, and of Legislative affairs, cannot be presumed to belong in a higher degree to the Judges than to the Legislature. And as to the constitutionality of laws, that point will come before the Judges in their official character. In this character they have a negative on the laws. Join them with the Executive in the revision, and they will have a double negative. It is necessary that the Supreme judiciary should have the confidence of the people." (Scott, p. 402.)
Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts also joined his two colleagues in opposing this amendment. He said: "All agree that a check on the Legislature is necessary. But there are two objections against admitting the Judges to share in it, which no observations on the other side seem to obviate. The first is, that the Judges ought to carry into the exposition of the laws no prepossessions with regard to them; the second, that, as the Judges will outnumber the Executive, the revisionary check would be thrown entirely out of the Executive hands, and, instead of enabling him to defend himself, would enable the Judges to sacrifice him." (Scott, p. 405.)
The arguments of the delegates from the smaller States were persuasive and Mr Wilson's motion was defeated by a vote of 3-4. Pennsylvania and Georgia were divided and New Jersey was not present.
On July 23rd the capstone to the Great Compromise was laid forth when Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts proposed that representation in the second branch consist of two members from each State. The vote was 9 to 1.
On this same historic day General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney reminded the Committee that "if the Committee should fail to insert some security to the Southern States against an emancipation of slaves and taxes on exports," that he "should be bound by duty to his State to vote against their report." (Scott, p. 418.)
The decisive issue of slavery nearly brought the Convention to a standstill. The delegates side-stepped this issue while they continued discussing the national executive.
On July 24 a motion to provide that the national executive be appointed by the national legislature, and not by special electors chosen by the State legislatures was passed by the Committee. However, a number of delegates were unhappy with this mode of selecting the executive. And on the next day they moved to have the executive appointed by the State legislatures. This motion failed.
In frustration, James Madison declared that there "are objections against every mode that has been, or perhaps can be, proposed. The election must be made, either by some existing authority under the National or State Constitutions,–or by some special authority derived from the people,–or by the people themselves." (Scott, p. 427.)
Madison's plea did not fall on deaf ears. A solution was forthcoming. The Committee would also agree that the executive should consist of one person. A number of delegates felt that there should be three equal presidents. However, this proposal was defeated and on July 26th the Committee voted 6-3 that "a National Executive be instituted, to consist of a single person." (Scott, p.437.)
Two days earlier the Committee had agreed to refer the resolutions which they had agreed upon along with the Pinckney Plan and the New Jersey Plan to a Committee of Detail. The members of this important committee were chosen by ballot of the Committee of the Whole. They included: John Rutledge of South Carolina, Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut and James Wilson of Pennsylvania. The make up of this Committee is interesting. There were three delegates from the smaller States and two from the larger States. The quiet war continued between the delegates from these two opposing, yet increasingly conciliatory, camps.
As agreed, on July 26th the Committee of the Whole referred the Virginia Plan which had now been expanded to 23 resolutions and the resolutions of Charles Pinckney and William Patterson to the Committee of Detail. This important Committee was charged with the responsibility of preparing the first draft of the new Constitution. The Convention then adjourned for ten days to allow the Committee time to prepare its report or draft.
On August 6th Mr. Rutledge delivered the Report of the Committee of Detail to the Convention.
It should be noted that the Committee enlarged the resolutions and added numerous proposals that had not been voted upon. This necessitated that the delegates spend the next month carefully debating, amending and voting upon each sentence, clause and article in the report*. A number of controversial issues still faced the Convention. These included slavery, selection of the president and powers of congress.
Article VI of the report contained a list of suggested powers to be given to the new legislature including a clause that allowed it to "make all laws that shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any department or office thereof." (Article VII, Scott, p. 454.) Section 4 of Article VII also contained a clause which stated that, "No tax or duty shall be laid by the legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons (slaves) as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited." (Scott, p. 455.)
And Section 1 of Article X contained a clause which declared that the "Executive powers of the United States shall be vested in a single person . . . He shall be elected by ballot by the Legislature. He shall hold his office during the term of seven years; but shall not be elected a second time." (Scott, p. 457.)
On August 8th the Committee of the Whole began discussing direct taxation and how it was to be proportioned. Section 3 of Article VII of the report stated that the "proportions of direct taxation shall be regulated by the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons (slaves) not comprehended in the foregoing description, (except Indians not paying taxes) . . . ." (Scott, pp.454-455.)
During this debate Rufus King of Massachusetts observed "the admission of slaves was a most grating circumstance to his mind" and he believed it "would be so to a great part of the people of America." (Scott, p. 476.) He "hoped that some accommodation would have taken place on this subject; that at least a time would have been limited for the importation of slaves." (Scott, p. 477.)
Perhaps he was unaware that he had just laid the groundwork for the second great compromise of the Convention concerning slavery. During the debate on import and export duties, the compromise would be forged. This will be discussed shortly.
On the same day Gouverneur Morris attacked the institution of slavery as the delegates discussed proportional representation in the lower house. He said that: "(He) never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was a nefarious institution. It was the curse of Heaven on the States where it prevailed. Compare the free regions of the Middle States, where a rich and noble cultivation marks the prosperity and happiness of the people, with the misery and poverty which overspread the barren wastes of Virginia, Maryland, and the other States having slaves. Travel through the whole continent, and you behold the prospect continually varying with the appearance and disappearance of slavery. The moment you leave the Eastern States, and enter New York, the effects of the institution become visible. Passing through the Jerseys and entering Pennsylvania, every criterion of superior improvement witnesses the change. Proceed southwardly, and every step you take, through the great regions of slaves, presents a desert, increasing with the increasing proportion of these wretched beings. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens, and let them vote. Are they property? Why, then, is no other property included? The houses in this city (Philadelphia) are worth more than all the wretched slaves who cover the rice swamps of South Carolina.
"The admission of slaves into the representation, when fairly explained, comes to this, that the inhabitants of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa, and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections, and damns them to the most cruel bondage, shall have more votes in a government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey, who views with a laudable horror so nefarious a practice . . . . " (Scott, pp. 478-479.)
On August 9th a motion by Gouverneur Morris was introduced to insert fourteen years instead of four years citizenship as a qualification for Senators. During debate over the motion Pierce Butler of South Carolina stated that he "was decidedly opposed to the admission of foreigners without a long residence in this country." He warned that they "bring with them, not only attachments to the other countries, but ideas of government so distant from ours, that in every point of view they are dangerous." (Scott, p. 487.)
This same argument was raised on August 13th when James Wilson and Edmund Randolph moved to insert four years instead of seven years as the term of citizenship necessary to qualify for the House of Representatives.
During the debate over the motion, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts remarked that he hoped that in the future "the eligibility might be confined to natives." He believed that "Foreign powers will intermeddle in our affairs, and spare no expense to influence them. Persons having foreign attachments will be sent among us and insinuated into our councils, in order to be made instruments for their purpose. Everyone knows the vast sums laid out in Europe for secret services." (Scott, pp. 506-507.)
James Madison noted that he "was not singular in these ideas. A great many of the most influential men in Massachusetts reasoned in the same manner."
George Mason of Virginia observed that, "If persons among us attached to Great Britain should work themselves into our councils, a turn might be given to our affairs, and particularly to our commercial regulations, which might have pernicious consequences." He warned that the "great houses of British merchants would spare no pains to insinuate the instruments of their views into the Government." (Scott, p. 510.)
During the debate over citizenship qualification for the lower house on August 13th John Dickinson of Delaware uttered a now famous statement. He declared that "Experience must be our only guide" since "Reason may mislead us." (Scott, p. 517.)
The Committee eventually agreed that a member of the lower house should be a citizen of the United States for seven years and the upper house required nine years.
On August 16th Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania moved to strike out "and emit bills of credit of the United States" from Section 1 of Article VII. This clause had originally read, "To borrow money, and emit bills on the credit of the United States (p. 454)." The controversy over paper money had caused a monetary crisis in America. Many of the delegates were determined to prevent further monetary disruptions in the States. Morris warned that the "moneyed interest will oppose the plan of government, if paper emissions be not prohibited." (Scott, p. 542.)
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut observed that it was a "favorable moment, to shut the door against paper-money. The mischiefs of the various experiments which had been made were now fresh in the public mind, and had excited the disgust of all the respectable parts of America. By withholding the power from the new Government, more friends of influence would be gained by it than by almost anything else." (Scott, pp. 543-544.)
Morris and Ellsworth were discussing the influential bankers in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Although the motion to delete the controversial clause was defeated 9 to 2, the controversy over paper currency would surface again when the First Bank of the United States was proposed.
On August 22nd, the Committee resumed discussion of Section 4 in Article VII. This controversial clause had prohibited a tax on imported slaves and allowed the States to continue bringing slaves into the country.
As the debate began Roger Sherman of Connecticut stated that he favored leaving the clause "as it stands." He "disapproved of the slave trade; yet as the States were now possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public good did not require it to be taken from them, and as it was expedient to have as few objections as possible to the proposed scheme of government, he thought it best to leave the matter as we find it." He "observed that the abolition of slavery seemed to be going on in the United States, and that the good sense of the several States would probably by degrees complete it." He "urged on the Convention the necessity of despatching its business." (Scott, p. 578.)
George Mason of Virginia disagreed. He felt that this "infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing States alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they might have been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves as it did by the tories . . . ." (Scott, pp. 578-579.)
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut stated that he had never owned a slave and "could not judge of the effects of slavery on character." He believed that if slavery "was to be considered in a moral light, we ought to go further and free those already in the country." (Scott, p. 579.)
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina stated that: "If slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world. He cited the case of Greece, Rome and other ancient States, the sanction given by France, England, Holland and other modern states. In all ages one half of mankind have been slaves. If the Southern States were let alone, they will probably of themselves stop importations. He would himself, as a citizen of South Carolina, vote for it. An attempt to take away the right, as proposed, will produce serious objections to the Constitution, which he wished to see adopted." (Scott, p. 580.
General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney stated that "it . . (was) his firm opinion that if himself and all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution and use their personal influence, it would be of no avail towards obtaining the assent of their constituents. South Carolina and Georgia (couldn't) do without slaves." (Scott, p. 580.)
Elbridge Gerry voiced his opinion that the national government should have "nothing to do with the conduct of the States as to slaves." However, he felt that the Committee "ought to be careful not to give any sanction to it." (Scott, p. 581.)
John Dickinson of Delaware strongly believed that it was "inadmissible, on every principle of honor and safety, that the importation of slaves should be authorized to the States by the Constitution. The true question was, whether the national happiness would be promoted or impeded by the importation; and this question ought to be left to the National Government, not to the States particularly interested. If England and France permit slavery, slaves are, at the same time, excluded from both those kingdoms. Greece and Rome were made unhappy by their slaves. He could not believe that the Southern States would refuse to confederate on the account apprehended; especially as the power was not likely to be immediately exercised by the General Government." (Scott, pp. 581-582.)
Hugh Williamson of North Carolina stated that he "thought the Southern States could not be members of the Union, if the clause should be rejected." (Scott, p. 582.)
General Pinckney did not believe that "South Carolina would stop her importations of slaves." (Scott, p. 582.)
John Rutledge of South Carolina left no doubt in the minds of the delegates when he warned that "If the Convention thinks that North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia will ever agree to the plan, unless their right to import slaves be untouched, the expectation is vain. The people of those States will never be such fools, as to give up so important an interest." (Scott, pp. 582-583.) The Southern delegate was adamant against striking the clause in the report.
Edmund Randolph of Virginia said he "could never agree to the clause as it stands." He "would sooner risk the Constitution." (Scott, p. 583.) The Virginian delegate "dwelt on the dilemma to which the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, it would revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many others in States having no slaves. On the other hand, two States might be lost." (Scott, p. 583.)
The Convention voted 7 to 3 to refer the controversial clause to a special eleven member committee for reconsideration.
On August 24th the foundation was firmly established for the second major compromise of the delegates. After careful consideration of Section 4 of Article VII, the Committee of Eleven proposed the following amendment: "The migration or importation of such persons as the several States, now existing, shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Legislature prior to the year 1800; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such migration or importation, at a rate not exceeding the average of the duties laid on imports." (Scott, p. 599.)
The next day, on August 25th, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina moved to strike out the words, "the year eighteen hundred," from the amendment proposed by the Committee of Eleven to Section 4 of Article VII and to substitute the words, "the year eighteen hundred and eight."
The amended version of the amendment passed the Committee by a vote of 7 to 4. With the proportional representation and slavery issues settled, the Committee was able to resolve the remaining issues including election of the executive.
Earlier, on August 24th, Gouverneur Morris had introduced a motion that the President "shall be chosen by Electors to be chosen by the people of the several States." (Scott, p. 603.)
Although the motion failed by a vote of 5 to 6, a modification of it was later accepted. On September 4th, the Committee of Eleven reported an amendment concerning the election of the President. It read: "Each State shall appoint, in such manner as its Legislature may direct, a number of Electors equal to the whole number of Senators and members of the House of Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Legislature. The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by ballot for two persons, of whom one at least shall not be an inhabitant of the same State with themselves; and they shall make a list of all the persons voted for, and of the number of votes for each, which list they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the General Government, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall in that House open all the certificates, and the votes shall be then and there counted. The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if such number be a majority of that of the Electors; and if there be more than one who have such a majority, and have an equal number of votes, then the Senate shall immediately choose by ballot one of them for President; but if no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list, the Senate shall choose by ballot the President; and in every case after the choice of the President, the person having the greatest number of votes shall be Vice President; but if there should remain two or more who have equal votes, the Senate shall choose from them the Vice President. The Legislature may determine the time of choosing and assembling the Electors, and the manner of certifying and transmitting their votes." (Scott, pp. 654-655.)
This amendment was postponed. However, on September 6th the Committee approved a motion to elect the president by electors from each of the States.
The last major hurdle was overcome and the delegates quickly reached a consensus on the remaining clauses of the report. On September 8th a Committee of Detail was appointed by ballot to "revise the style of, and arrange, the articles which have been agreed to by the House." (Scott, p. 691.)
The Committee consisted of Alexander Hamilton of New York, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, James Madison of Virginia, Rufus King of Massachusetts and William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut. The report of the Committee of Style was read~ and printed on September 12th. It began with these memorable words: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." (Scott, p. 700.)
For the next five days the delegates went over the second draft word by word and comma by comma. They made several minor additions.
On September 12th, while the Committee of the Whole was carefully studying the report of the Committee of the Style, George Mason of Virginia stated that he "wished the plan had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights, and would second a motion if made for the purpose." He said a bill of rights would "give quiet to the people; and with the aid of the State Declarations, a bill might be prepared in a few hours." (Scott, p. 717.)
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts agreed with Mason and moved for "a Committee to prepare a Bill of Rights." Mason then seconded the motion. A vote followed and the motion lost on a 5 to 5 vote.
On September 14th George Mason explained that he "thought the plan of amending the Constitution exceptionable and dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, and in the second ultimality, on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind, would ever be obtained by the people, if the Government should become oppressive." (Scott, p. 737.)
Gouverneur Morris and Elbridge Gerry then moved to amend the Article to "require a Convention on application of two-thirds of the States." (Scott, p. 737.)
This safeguard would allow the people through their electoral State representatives to propose amendments if the national legislature failed to heed the requests of the people.
During the discussion over the report of the Committee of Style, Roger Sherman of Connecticut noticed that the general welfare clause of Article I, Section 8, clause 2, had been separated from clause 1, making it a separate grant of power. When the Constitution was finally engrossed it was put back into clause 1 where the Committee of the Whole had originally placed it. (See Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, 1974 ed., New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 181-182.)
On September 17th the Constitution was completed and ready for signing. However, before this historic event took place, Benjamin Franklin offered the second most important speech of his life. The speech was read by his colleague, James Wilson.
"I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment, of others. Most men, indeed, as well as most sects in religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them, it is so far error. Steele, a Protestant, in a dedication, tells the Pope, that the only difference between our churches, in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines, is, 'the Church Rome is infallible, and the Church of England is never in the wrong.' But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who, in a dispute with her sister, said, 'I don't know how it happens, sister, but I meet with nobody but myself, that is always in the right–il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.'
"In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a General Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government, but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and believe further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded, like those of the builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us, in returning to our constituents, were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavour to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion–on the general opinion of the goodness of the government as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope, therefore, that for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress and confirmed by the Conventions) wherever~our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavours to the means of having it well administered.
"On the whole, sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument." (Scott, pp. 741-743.)
After his heart-rending speech, Benjamin Franklin moved that the Constitution be signed by the members. Thirty-nine members of the Convention then affixed their signatures to the Constitution.
While the delegates were in the process of affixing their signatures to the new Constitution, James Madison recorded the following conversation: "Whilst the last members were signing, Doctor Franklin, looking towards the President's chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting sun. I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun."
And so it was! The Constitution has served this nation and the world in a remarkable fashion. The Framers were endowed from on high to complete their work. The paper edifice which they created is a national symbol of their devotion to the liberty and happiness of the American people and the cause of self-government.
As we enter the 21 century, it is fitting that we re-examine the proceedings of the Federal Convention of 1787. I feel confident that each person who reads Madison's Notes will come away with a renewed appreciation for the monumental work of the Framers and the Constitution itself.
No greater political document exists in the world today. It must be preserved at all costs. And Heaven knows that tens of thousands of Americans have given their lives that this nation may continue to live in a state of unparalleled freedom under our inspired Constitution.
List of Delegates to the Federal Convention of 1787(1)
New Hampshire John Langdon
Massachusetts (Francis Dana)
Rhode Island No appointment
Connecticut William Samuel Johnson
[Erastus Wolcott was elected but declined to serve.]
New York Robert Yates
John Lansing, Junior
New Jersey David Brearley
William Churchill Houston
Pennsylvania Thomas Mifflin
Delaware George Read
Gunning Bedford, Junior
Maryland James McHenry
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer
John Francis Mercer
[Charles Carroll of Carrollton, Gabriel Duvall,
Robert Hanson Harrison, Thomas Sim Lee,
and Thomas Stone were elected by declined to serve.]
Virginia George Washington
James Madison, Junior
[Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thoams Nelson
were elected but declined to serve.]
North Carolina Alexander Martin
William Richardson Davie
Richards Dobbs Spaight
[Richard Caswell and Willie Jones were elected but declined to serve.]
South Carolina John Rutledge
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Georgia William Few
(1) Those whose names are in parenthesis did not attend.
(2) Philadelphia newspapers of May 19, 1787, in their lists of delegates included the names of John Sparhawk and Pierce Long from New Hampshire.