Jared Sparks: Journal

Jared Sparks

April 19, 1830

It was necessary for the old Congress to sit with closed doors, because it was the executive as well as legislative body; names of persons and characters came perpetually before them; and much business was constantly on hand which would have been embarassed if it had gone to the public before it was finished. It was likewise best for the convention for forming the Constitution to sit with closed doors, because opinions were so various and at first so crude that it was necessary they should be long debated before any uniform system of opinion could be formed. Meantime the minds of the members were changing, and much was to be gained by a yielding and accommodating spirit. Had the members committed themselves publicly at first, they would have afterwards supposed consistency required them to maintain their ground, whereas by secret discussion no man felt himself obliged to retain his opinions any longer than he was satisfied of their propriety and truth, and was open to the force of argument. Mr. Madison thinks no Constitution would ever have been adopted by the convention if the debates had been public. No chaplain was chosen for the convention at any period of its session, although Dr. Franklin proposed one, as has been reported, after the convention had been some time sitting…

In the recent “History of the Convention for Framing the Constitution,” published by order of the government in connection with the “Secret Journal,” there is a draft of a Constitution said to have been presented by Charles Pinckney. It is remarkable for containing several important features in exact accordance with the Constitution as it was passed. This is the more strange, as some of these very points grew out of the long debates which followed the presentation of the draft.

Mr. Madison seems a good deal perplexed on the subject. He says Charles Pinckney presented a draft at the beginning of the session, that it went to a committee with other papers, and was no more heard of during the convention. It was not preserved among the papers on the files of the convention. When the above-mentioned history was published, Mr. J. Q. Adams was Secretary of State, and prepared the manuscript for the press. He wrote to Mr. Pinckney for a copy of his draft, and received from him that which was printed. How it happened that it should contain such particulars as it does, Mr. Madison cannot tell; but he is perfectly confident that they could not have been contained in the original draft as presented by Mr. Pinckney, because some of them were the results of subsequent discussions. Mr. Madison supposes that Mr. Pinckney must at the time have added certain points as the convention proceeded, particularly such as he approved, and as he thought would make his draft more perfect, and that this altered draft had lain by him till he had forgotten what parts were changed or improved; and thus he copied the whole. But however this may be explained, says Mr. Madison, it certainly is not the draft originally presented to the convention by Mr. Pinckney. It is obvious that Mr. Madison feels some embarrassment on the subject, because in his papers on the convention he has probably ascribed several of these particulars to the Virginia delegates, from whom they originated; and when his papers shall be made public, there will be found a discrepancy between them and Pinckney’s draft. After the draft was printed, he intended to write to Mr. Pinckney asking, and even requiring, an explanation; but Mr. Pinckney died, and the opportunity was lost. It is known that Mr. Madison took down sketches of the debates of the convention, and preserved copies of all the important proceedings. He told me that nothing of his would come out till after his death…

April 25th, Wednesday. – … Rode thence to Mr. Madison’s, …where I spent the day most agreeably…

The following anecdote he also mentioned as a remarkable instance of the failure of memory: -

It is well known that Hamilton inclined to a less democratical form of government than the one that was adopted, although he was a zealous friend of the Constitution in its present shape after it had received the sanction of the Convention. He considered it less perfect than it might have been, yet he thought it an immense improvement on the old confederation. He drew up a plan in accordance with his own views, which he put into the hands of Mr. Madison, who took a copy of it, and returned the original to the author, telling him at the same time that he had preserved a copy. Mr. Madison says he knew not Hamilton’s motive for doing this, unless it was for the purpose of securing a written record of his views, which might afford a ready confutation of any future false statements respecting them.

Some time after the Convention a report went abroad that Hamilton was in favor of a system approaching a monarchy, and particularly that he wished the President to be elected for life. Mr. Pickering wrote to Hamilton asking if this report was true; to which he replied in the negative, and added, moreover, that, so far from its being true, he proposed the presidential office to continue for three years only, as would he seen by his plan of a Constitution put by him into the hands of Mr. Madison. Now it is remarkable that, on this very plan, the duration of the presidential office is fixed during good behavior. Mr. Madison expressed his belief very decidedly that this mistake arose from a want of recollection, for it was impossible that he should make the statement, and refer to the only source where it could be confuted, if he meant to deceive…

In the Convention Dr. Franklin seldom spoke. As he was too feeble to stand long at a time, his speeches were generally written. He would arise and ask the favor of one of his colleagues to read what he had written. Occasionally, however, he would make short extemporaneous speeches with great pertinency and effect…

It was Mr. Madison’s custom, after he entered Congress, to take memoranda of the debates, rough sketches and copies of all the principal papers. The debates and proceedings of the Convention for adopting the Constitution he took much pains to record at the time, and has preserved the whole. Yate’s book he speaks of as extremely imperfect, the author having been absent a good deal of the time, and both he and Lansing strenuously opposed to the Constitution…

May 4th, Tuesday. – I mentioned to Mr. Adams (J. Q.) what Mr. Madison had said to me respecting Charles Pinckney’s draft of a Constitution. Mr. Adams said that he prepared the manuscript of the history of the convention published by order of Congress, that the materials in the Department of State were very defective; that Pinckney’s draft was not there; that he wrote to him for a copy, and received from him the one that is printed, together with a letter, in which he claimed to himself great merit for the part he took in framing the Constitution. Mr. Adams said he spoke once to Mr. Rufus King on the subject of the draft, who replied that Mr. Pinckney presented a draft, or a sketch of some sort, at the beginning of the convention, which went with other papers to a committee, and was never afterwards heard of. This accords with what Mr. Madison told me.

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