Elliot’s Debates: Volume 1

Federal Convention

The day appointed by this resolution for the meeting of the Convention was the 2d Monday in May, [1787;] but the 25th of that month was the first day upon which a sufficient number of members appeared to constitute a representation of a majority of the states. They then elected

George Washington their president, and proceeded to business, at the city of Philadelphia.

On the 29th of May, Mr. Edmund Randolph presented to the Convention fifteen resolutions, and Mr. C. Pinckney laid before them the draft of a federal government, which were referred to a committee of the whole; which debated the resolutions, from day to day, until the 13th of June, when the committee of the whole reported to the Convention a series of nineteen resolutions, founded upon those which had been proposed by Mr. Randolph.

On the 15th of June, Mr. Patterson submitted to the Convention his resolutions, which were referred to a committee of the whole, to whom were also recommitted the resolutions reported by them on the 13th.

On the 19th of June, the committee of the whole reported that they did not agree to Mr. Patterson’s propositions, but reported again the resolutions which had been reported before.

The Convention never afterwards went into committee of the whole; but, from the 19th of June till the 23d of July, were employed in debating the nineteen resolutions reported by the committee of the whole on the 13th of June, some of which were occasionally referred to grand committees of one member from each state, or to select committees of five members.

After passing upon the nineteen resolutions, it was, on the 23d of July, resolved, “That the proceedings of the Convention for the establishment of a national government, except what respects the supreme executive, be referred to a committee for the purpose of reporting a constitution conformably to the proceedings aforesaid.”

This committee, consisting of five members, and called in the journal “the committee of detail,” was appointed on the 24th of July; and, with the proceedings of the Convention, the propositions submitted to the Convention, by Mr. Charles Pinckney, on the 29th of May, and by Mr. Patterson, on the 15th of June, were referred to them.

On the 26th of July, a resolution respecting the executive, and two others, offered for the consideration of the Convention, were referred to the committee of detail; and the Convention adjourned till Monday, the 6th of August, when the committee reported a Constitution for the establishment of a national government. This draft formed the general text of debate from that time till the 8th of September; many additional resolutions being, in the course of the deliberations, proposed, and referred to and reported upon by the same committee of detail, or other committees of eleven, (a member from each state,) or of five.

On the 8th of September, a committee of five was appointed “to revise the style of and arrange the articles agreed to by the house.”

On the 12th of September, this committee reported the Constitution, as revised and arranged, and the draft of a letter to Congress. It was ordered that printed copies of the reported Constitution should be furnished to the members, and they were brought in the next day.

On the 17th day of September, 1787, the Convention dissolved itself, by an adjournment without day, after transmitting the plan of the Constitution, which they had prepared, to Congress, to be laid before conventions, delegated by the people of the several states, for their assent and ratification.

The last act of the Convention was a resolution that their journal and other papers should be deposited with their president, to be retained by him, subject to the order of the Congress, if ever formed under the Constitution.

On the 19th of March, 1796, President Washington deposited in the department of state three manuscript volumes; one containing, in 153 pages, the Journal of the Federal Convention of 1787; one the Journal of the Proceedings of the same Convention, while in committee of the whole, in 28 pages; and one, three pages of lists of yeas and nays, on various questions debated in the Convention; and after an interval of eight blank pages, five other pages of like yeas and nays. There were also two loose sheets, and one half sheet of similar yeas and nays; a printed draft of the Constitution, as reported on the 6th of August, 1787, with erasures and written interlineations of amendments afterwards adopted; two sheets containing copies of the series of resolutions offered to the Convention by Mr. Edmund Randolph, in different stages of amendment, as reported by the committee of the whole; and seven other papers, of no importance, in relation to the proceedings of the Convention.

The volume containing the Journal of the Convention was in an incomplete state. The journal of Friday, September 14, and a commencement of that of Saturday, September 15, filled three fourths of the 153d page; then terminated abruptly, and were, with the exception of five lines, crossed out with a pen. President Madison, to whom application for that purpose was made, has furnished, from his own minutes, the means of completing the Journal, as now published.

The yeas and nays were not inserted in the journals, but were entered partly in a separate volume, and partly on loose sheets of paper. They were taken, not individually, but by states. Instead of publishing them as they appear in the manuscript, they are now given immediately after each question upon which they were taken.

General Joseph Bloomfield, executor of David Brearly, one of the members of the Convention, transmitted to the department of state several additional papers, which are included in this publication.

The paper purporting to be Colonel Hamilton’s Plan of a Constitution is not noticed in the journals. It was not offered by him for discussion, but was read by him, as part of a speech, observing that he did not mean it as a proposition, but only to give a more correct view of his ideas.

The return of the members in the several states appears to have been an estimate used for the purpose of apportioning the number of members to be admitted from each of the states to the House of Representatives.

In order to follow, with clear understanding, the course of proceedings of the Convention, particular attention is required to the following papers, which, except the third, successively formed the general text of their debates:—

1. May 29, 1787. The Fifteen Resolutions offered by Mr. Edmund Randolph to the Convention, and by them referred to a committee of the whole.

2. June 13. Nineteen Resolutions reported by this committee of the whole, on the 13th, and again on the 19th of June, to the Convention.

3. July 26. Twenty-three Resolutions, adopted and elaborated by the Convention, in debate upon the above nineteen, reported from the committee of the whole; and on the 23d and 26th of July, referred, together with the plan of Mr. C. Pinckney, and the propositions of Mr. Patterson, to a committee of five, to report a draft of a Constitution.

4. August 6. The Draft of a Plan of a Constitution, reported by this committee to the Convention; and debated from that time till the 12th of September.

5. September 13. Plan of a Constitution, brought in by a committee of revision, appointed on the 8th of September, consisting of five members, to revise the style and arrange the articles agreed to by the Convention.

The second and fourth of these papers are among those deposited, by President Washington, at the department of state.

The first, fourth, and fifth, are among those transmitted by General Bloomfield.

The third is collected from the proceedings of the Convention,as they are spread over the Journal from June 19th to July 26th.

This paper, together with the plan of Mr. C. Pinckney, a copy of which has been furnished by him, and the propositions of Mr. Patterson, included among the papers forwarded by General Bloomfield, comprise the materials upon which the first draft was made of the Constitution, as reported by the committee of detail, on the 6th of August.

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General Overview

In 1787 and 1788, following the Constitutional Convention, a great debate took place throughout America over the Constitution that had been proposed.

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