Reinventing the Traditional Principles of Republicanism

Why did Mason, Gerry and Randolph feel so strongly that money bills should originate solely in the House?

Mason and Gerry were members of the Gerry Committee that proposed the Connecticut Compromise. A generally overlooked component of the Compromise was the agreement that money bills would originate in the House and could not be amended in the Senate. This feature was vital in winning over Mason and Gerry, as well as Randolph, who introduced the wholly national Virginia Plan. These three delegates were willing to buy into the partly national, partly federal arrangement if the principle of no taxation without popular representation were followed.

On August 6, the Committee of Detail Report was presented and Article IV, Section 5 honored this agreement. On August 8, however, the delegates agreed to drop this provision. On August 13, Dickinson attempted to reassure Randolph, Mason and Gerry that as far as money bills were concerned, “Experience should be our only guide. Reason may mislead us.” The defeat of the money bills provision marks the critical moment for the three dissenters. By early September, all three delegates had become concerned that Constitution had given far too much authority to the Senate and that the executive contained the seeds of monarchy.

What were their objections towards the final draft of the Constitution?

By September 10, Randolph was convinced that Congress now possessed sufficient powers to turn the Philadelphia Constitution into a wholly national document. He decided to withhold his signature because he thought the Constitution contained the potentiality to shift rapidly from the republican foundation insisted upon in the Virginia Plan that Randolph introduced.

Randolph objected to twelve provisions, among which were: “the necessity of 3/4 instead of 2/3 of each house to overrule the negative of the President” and “the smallness of the number of the representative branch.” The delegates reached out to Randolph during the last week and responded to each of his objections, but to no avail. He was particularly concerned about “the general clause concerning necessary and proper laws,” as a major source of future tyranny.

On September 15, Gerry concurred: “the rights of the citizens were… rendered insecure” by 1. “The general power of the Legislature to make what laws they may please to call ‘necessary and proper;’” 2. “to raise armies and money without limit;” and 3. “to establish a tribunal without juries, which will be a Star-Chamber as to Civil Cases.” Gerry would drop his eight other objections if these three were overcome.

On September 15, Mason listed sixteen objections, among which were the absence of a declaration of rights, the 1808 compromise on the slave trade, and the general power of the Senate in the system, the “shadow of representation” in the House, and the powers of the President. He too criticized the presence of the necessary and proper clause in the Constitution:

Under their own construction of the general clause, at the end of the enumerated powers, the Congress may grant monopolies in trade and commerce, constitute new crimes, inflict unusual and severe punishments, and extend their powers as far as they think proper; so that the State legislatures have no security for the powers not presumed to remain to them, or the people for their rights.

-George Mason

On what principle were their objections founded?

Interestingly, Mason, Gerry, and Randolph were more concerned that the Constitution departed from the traditional principles of republicanism than that the Constitution departed too far from the traditional principles of federalism.

Major ThemesPrioritizing SecrecyImproving GovernancePreserving Power
Attaining StabilityCrafting the GovernmentCongressional PowerSlave Trade
Electoral College & PresidencyJudicial LimitsReinventing RepublicanismGeorge Washington