History of the Ordinance of 1787

Edward Coles

June 9, 1856

…This brings to my recollection what I was told by Mr. Madison, and which I do not remember ever to have seen in print. The Old Congress held its sessions in 1787 in New York while at the same time the convention which made the constitution of the United States held its sessions at Philadelphia. Many individuals were members of both bodies, and thus were enabled to know what was passing in each, each setting with closed doors and in secret sessions. The distracting question of slavery was agitating and retarding the labours of both, and led to conferences and inter-communications of the members, which resulted in a compromise by which the northern or anti-slavery portion of the country agreed to incorporate into the Ordinance and Constitution the provision to restore fugitive slaves; and this mutual and concurrent action was the cause of the similarity of the provision contained in both, and had its influence in creating the great unanimity by which the Ordinance passed, and also making the constitution the more acceptable to slaveholders. Among the first passed by the first Congress and approved by President Washington, August 7, 1789, was one to adopt the Ordinance to the new constitution of the United States. It thus received the sanction of Congress under the present constitution, as it had previously done of the Old Congress under the Articles of Confederation…

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