Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution 1787-1788: Preface
The object of this book is to show the circumstances under which the Federal Constitution was ratified by Pennsylvania. She was the first of the large states to accept the plan that gave the states having a small population an equal representation in the Senate with the others, and her prompt action influenced the result. Had this action been less prompt or less decided, it would have opened the way to dissensions and amendments that would in all probability have caused the rejection of the Constitution, or have sunk it to the level of the Articles of Confederation. Preceded only by Delaware in taking final action on the Constitution, she was the first to undertake its consideration.
Twenty hours after the Continental Congress submitted the Constitution to the States, the Assembly of Pennsylvania called a convention to ratify or reject it. When formally sent out to the people of the State, the “New Plan” at once became the subject of a violent contest, which continued almost to the day when Washington was sworn into office.
The history of this contest has never been written. In 1830 Jonathan Elliott published a collection of the debates that took place in some of the state conventions, and in this collection Pennsylvania was given a place. But what is there set forth as a record of the debate is false to history and discreditable to the industry of Mr. Elliott. The Convention sat from November 21 to December 15, the debate was exhaustive, the adverse views were strongly and ably urged. Yet Mr. Elliott gives only the preliminary proceedings, the speeches of James Wilson and a single speech of Thomas McKean, each in defence of the Constitution. He simply reprinted the small volume published by Thomas Lloyd in 1788, in which all the arguments of the opposition were suppressed.
It is true, the majority of the Convention refused to have their verdict weakened by allowing the minority to enter their reasons for dissent on the Journal; but these reasons with proposed amendments were issued as a broadside, and spread all over the country. They show that the battle was fought out here and conclusions reached that in many cases commended themselves to the majority of the people. The amendments thus unofficially offered were the frontrunners of those of Massachusetts and Virginia, and undoubtedly formed the basis of what Mr. Madison laid before the House of Representatives in 1789.
The material for a proper showing of the conduct of the people of Pennsylvania during the struggle over the Federal Constitution in 1787, is plentiful and of two sortsthe official proceedings and debates of the Assembly and the Convention, and the essays, squibs, letters, speeches, etc., that were published from day to day in the Journals and Gazettes.
Of the debates, unhappily, no complete report is in existence. The Convention employed no short-hand reporter to take down what was said, the report begun by Alexander J. Dallas for the Pennsylvania “Herald” was soon suppressed, and from November 30, 1787, the sources of information are some notes by James Wilson, some speeches reported by Thomas Lloyd, and the summaries that appeared in the newspapers. From such material has been constructed the account of the debates in the Convention given in Chapter Fourth, which is probably all that can ever be known. The Journal of the Conventiona bare record of meetings, motions, adjournments, and voteshas not been reprinted for the lack of room.
From the squibs and essays, many exceedingly unwise and dry, but all showing forth the popular views of the Constitution, such a selection has been made as seems to fairly represent both the Federal and Antifederal side. Much has been omitted, but whatever has been omitted has generally been said somewhere else in better form.
To preserve the memoirs of the men who were thought fit to represent the people on this occasion, a series of biographical sketches have been added.
Philadelphia, June 9th, 1888.