Friday, August 31 | Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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This Day in the Four Act Drama 

In Convention. — Mr. KING moved to add to the end of Article 21, the words, “between the said States;” so as to confine the operation of the Government to the States ratifying it.

On the question, nine States voted in the affirmative; Maryland, no; Delaware, absent.

Mr. MADISON proposed to fill the blank in the article with, “any seven or more States entitled to thirty-three members at least in the House of Representatives according to the allotment made in the third Section of Article 4.” This, he said, would require the concurrence of a majority of both the States and the people.

Mr. SHERMAN doubted the propriety of authorizing less than all the States to execute the Constitution, considering the nature of the existing Confederation. Perhaps all the States may concur, and on that supposition it is needless to hold out a breach of faith.

Mr. CLYMER and Mr. CARROLL moved to postpone the consideration of Article 21, in order to take up the Reports of Committees not yet acted on. On this question the States were equally divided, — New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, aye, — 5; Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no, — 5; Connecticut, divided.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS moved to strike out, “conventions of the,” after “ratifications;” leaving the States to pursue their own modes of ratification.

Mr. CARROLL mentioned the mode of altering the Constitution of Maryland pointed out therein, and that no other mode could be pursued in that State.

Mr. KING thought that striking out “conventions,” as the requisite mode, was equivalent to giving up the business altogether. Conventions alone, which will avoid all the obstacles from the complicated formation of the Legislatures, will succeed; and if not positively required by the plan, its enemies will oppose that mode.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS said, he meant to facilitate the adoption of the plan, by leaving the modes approved by the several State Constitutions to be followed.

Mr. MADISON considered it best to require Conventions; among other reasons for this, that the powers given to the General Government being taken from the State Governments, the Legislatures would be more disinclined than Conventions composed in part at least of other men; and if disinclined, they could devise modes apparently promoting, but really thwarting, the ratification. The difficulty in Maryland was no greater than in other States, where no mode of change was pointed out by the Constitution, and all officers were under oath to support it. The people were, in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties were got over. They could alter constitutions as they pleased. It was a principle in the Bills of Rights, that first principles might be resorted to.

Mr. McHENRY said, that the officers of government in Maryland were under oath to support the mode of alteration prescribed by the Constitution.

Mr. GORHAM urged the expediency of “Conventions;” also Mr. PINCKNEY, for reasons formerly urged on a discussion of this question.

Mr. L. MARTIN insisted on a reference to the State Legislatures. He urged the danger of commotions from a resort to the people and to first principles; in which the Government might be on one side, and the people on the other. He was apprehensive of no such consequences, however, in Maryland, whether the Legislature or the people should be appealed to. Both of them would be generally against the Constitution. He repeated also the peculiarity in the Maryland Constitution.

Mr. KING observed, that the Constitution of Massachusetts was made unalterable till the year 1790; yet this was no difficulty with him. The State must have contemplated a recurrence to first principles, before they sent deputies to this Convention.

Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone Article 21, and to take up Article 22; on which question, —

Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, aye, — 5; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 6.

On Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S motion, to strike out “Conventions of the,” it was negatived, —

Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, no, — 6.

On the question for filling the blank, in Article 21, with “thirteen,” moved by Mr. CARROLL and Mr. L. MARTIN, — all the States were no, except Maryland.

Mr. SHERMAN and Mr. DAYTON moved to fill the blank with “ten.”

Mr. WILSON supported the motion of Mr. MADISON, requiring a majority both of the people and of States.

Mr. CLYMER was also in favor of it.

Colonel MASON was for preserving ideas familiar to the people. Nine States had been required in all great cases under the Confederation, and that number was on that account preferable.

On the question for “ten,” —

Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Georgia, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no, — 7.

On the question for “nine,” —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, aye, — 8; Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, no, — 3.

Article 21, as amended, was then agreed to by all the States, Maryland excepted, and Mr. JENIFER being aye.

Article 22 was then taken up, to wit: “This Constitution shall be laid before the United States in Congress assembled, for their approbation; and it is the opinion of this Convention that it should be afterwards submitted to a Convention chosen in each State, under the recommendation of its Legislature, in order to receive the ratification of such Convention.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and Mr. PINCKNEY moved to strike out the words, “for their approbation.”

On this question, —

New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey,1 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, aye, — 8; Massachusetts, Maryland, Georgia, no, — 3.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and Mr. PINCKNEY then moved to amend the article so as to read:

“This Constitution shall be laid before the United States in Congress assembled; and it is the opinion of this Convention, that it should afterwards be submitted to a Convention chosen in each State, in order to receive the ratification of such Convention; to which end the several Legislatures ought to provide for the calling Conventions within their respective States as speedily as circumstances will permit.”

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS said his object was to impress in stronger terms the necessity of calling Conventions, in order to prevent enemies to the plan from giving it the go by. When it first appears, with the sanction of this Convention, the people will be favorable to it. By degrees the State officers, and those interested in the State Governments, will intrigue, and turn the popular current against it.

Mr. L. MARTIN believed Mr. MORRIS to be right, that after a while the people would be against it; but for a different reason from that alleged. He believed they would not ratify it, unless hurried into it by surprise.

Mr. GERRY enlarged on the idea of Mr. L. MARTIN, in which he concurred; represented the system as full of vices; and dwelt on the impropriety of destroying the existing Confederation, without the unanimous consent of the parties to it.

On the question on Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS’S and Mr. PINCKNEY’S motion, —

New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, aye, — 4; Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7.

Mr. GERRY moved to postpone Article 22.

Colonel MASON seconded the motion, declaring that he would sooner chop off his right hand, than put it to the Constitution as it now stands. He wished to see some points, not yet decided, brought to a decision, before being compelled to give a final opinion on this Article. Should these points be improperly settled, his wish would then be to bring the whole subject before another General Convention.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS was ready for a postponement. He had long wished for another Convention, that will have the firmness to provide a vigorous government, which we are afraid to do.

Mr. RANDOLPH stated his idea to be, in case the final form of the Constitution should not permit him to accede to it, that the State Conventions should be at liberty to propose amendments, to be submitted to another General Convention, which may reject or incorporate them as may be judged proper.

On the question for postponing, —

New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, aye, — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 8.

On the question on Article 22, ten States, aye; Maryland, no.

Article 23, being taken up, as far as the words, “assigned by Congress,” inclusive was agreed to, nem. con., the blank having been first filled with the word, “nine,” as of course.

On a motion for postponing the residue of the clause, concerning the choice of the President, &c.” —

Massachusetts, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, aye, — 4; New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, no, — 7.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS then moved to strike out the words, “choose the President of the United States, and;” this point of choosing the President, not being yet finally determined; and on this question, —

Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina,2 Georgia, aye, — 9; New Hampshire, no, — 1; Maryland, divided.

Article 23, as amended, was then agreed to, nem. con.

The Report of the Grand Committee of Eleven, made by Mr. SHERMAN, was then taken up, (See the twenty-eigth of August.)

On the question to agree to the following clause, to be inserted after Article 7, Sect. 4: “nor shall any regulation of commerce or revenue give preference to the ports of one State over those of another,” — agreed to, nem. con.

On the clause, “or oblige vessels bound to or from any State to enter, clear, or pay duties, in another,” —

Mr. MADISON thought the restriction would be inconvenient; as in the river Delaware, if a vessel cannot be required to make entry below the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania.

Mr. FITZSIMONS admitted that it might be inconvenient, but thought it would be a greater inconvenience, to require vessels bound to Philadelphia to enter below the jurisdiction of the State.

Mr. GORHAM and Mr. LANGDON contended, that the Government would be so fettered by this clause, as to defeat the good purpose of the plan. They mentioned the situation of the trade of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the case of Sandy Hook, which is in the State of New Jersey, but where precautions against smuggling into New York ought to be established by the General Government.

Mr. McHENRY said, the clause would not screen a vessel from being obliged to take an officer on board, as a security for due entry, &c.

Mr. CARROLL was anxious that the clause should be agreed to. He assured the House that this was a tender point in Maryland.

Mr. JENIFER urged the necessity of the clause in the same point of view.

On the question for agreeing to it, —

Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 8; New Hampshire, South Carolina, no, — 2.

The word “tonnage,” was struck out, nem. con., as comprehended in “duties.”

On the question on the clause of the Report, “and all duties, imposts, and excises, laid by the Legislature, shall be uniform throughout the United States,” it was agreed to, nem. con.3

On motion of Mr. SHERMAN, it was agreed to refer such parts of the Constitution as have been postponed, and such parts of Reports as have not been acted on, to a Committee of a member from each State; the Committee, appointed by ballot, being, Mr. GILMAN, Mr. KING, Mr. SHERMAN, Mr. BREARLY, Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, Mr. DICKINSON, Mr. CARROLL, Mr. MADISON, Mr. WILLIAMSON, Mr. BUTLER, and Mr. BALDWIN.


1 In the printed Journal, New Jersey, no. 

2In the printed Journal, South Carolina, no. 

3In the printed Journal, New Hampshire and South Carolina entered in the negative. 

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