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Convention: A Daily Journal

Center for Civics Education

Convention: A Daily Journal

Convention: A Daily Journal is a day-by-day journal of the 1787 Constitutional Convention convened by twelve of the original thirteen states to amend the Articles of Confederation and create a “more perfect union.” It chronicles the daily activities of the Convention, profiles the delegates and their interactions with each other, and looks back to life in America in the 1780s. Writing in the first person, the story is told from an “observer” hearing events as told in contemporary newspaper accounts and delegates’ personal notes and letters.

Friday, August 24, 1787

August 24, 2020 - 5 minute read

Major William Jackson

Today’s entry into the official Convention Journal begins simply with: “The honorable Mr. Livingston, from the Committee of Eleven to whom were referred the two remaining clauses of the 4th section, and the 5th and 6th sections of the 7th article, informed the House that the Committee were prepared to report. The report was then delivered in at the Secretary’s table, was once read, and is as follows:

"Strike out so much of the 4th section of the 7th article as was referred to the Committee and insert: “The migration or importation of such persons as the several States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Legislature prior to the year 1800 – but a Tax or Duty may be imposed on such migration or importation at a rate not exceeding the average of the Duties laid on Imports.” The 5th section to remain as in the report. The 6th section to be stricken out."

At least this entry includes some substantive language. Most of the Journal entries each day are as cryptic as these: “It was moved and seconded to strike out the 2nd and 3rd sections of the 9th article;” “Separate questions being taken on the 1st 2nd and 3rd clauses of the 1st section – 10th article, as reported, they passed in the affirmative;” “On the question to agree to the following clause ‘shall be chosen by electors, it passed in the negative [Ayes-4; noes-; divided – 2];” and “It was moved and seconded to strike out the words ‘officers’ and insert the words ‘to offices’ after the word ‘appoint’ in the 2 sect. of the 10 article.”

Unless one has a copy of the original plans proposed by John Randolph and William Paterson and the reports issued by a number of special committees, each charged with special instructions, the official Journal is practically to useless for historians. However, the proceedings of the Convention, including the official record, are confidential. Whether the Journal was designed by the Convention’s secretary, William Jackson, to be sparse for secrecy’s sake, or just an indifferent approach to record keeping will never be known.

Jackson’s work tells us nothing of the debates themselves, of who said what, or of who disagreed with whom. It reports votes on phrases, but not on entire sections or articles. It records the results of votes but does indicate how each State voted. Nor does it provide a daily attendance list. All of this is left to the personal notes kept by several delegates, including John Lansing, Rufus King, James McHenry, Alexander Hamilton, William Paterson, and William Pierce. As useful as these are, they are far from complete. At best, along with personal diaries, letters, and newspapers, they are merely supplements to the daily, detailed, copious notes kept by James Madison. Unfortunately for historians in 1787, Madison will bequeath his notes to his wife, Dolly Payne Todd Madison, and they will not be available until her death in 1836.

On May 25, the first day of the Convention, James Wilson nominated Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson to be Secretary. Alexander Hamilton nominated William Jackson who had lobbied for the position. On April 20, Jackson had written to George Washington. “Flattered by the opinions of some of my friends who have expressed a wish that I would offer myself a candidate for the Office of Secretary to the federal Convention,” Jackson asked Washington to use his “influence in procuring me the honor of that appointment.”

Jackson was born in Cumberland, England, and sent to Charleston, South Carolina, after the death of his parents. He was raised by a family friend who was a merchant as well as commander of a militia battalion. Not yet eighteen years of age, young Jackson took the Patriot side, joined the militia, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1776. Serving with distinction, including several months as a prisoner of war and in a brief stint in France with Thomas Paine and others seeking French aide for the rebellious colonies. In 1783, he resigned his commission and became Robert Morris’s agent in England. In the months before the Convention, Jackson has been studying law in Philadelphia under William Lewis.

Returning to Madison’s notes in order to fill in details omitted in Jackson’s Journal, Sect. 5 of Article 7 “remains in the report,” prohibiting “a capitation tax.” Sect. 6, pertaining to “navigation acts,” is “to be stricken out.” The remainder the Committee’s recommendation (quoted above) will be considered tomorrow. The Convention then turned its attention to Article IX, Sections 2 and 3, finely tuned details regarding disputes and controversies between States. Several delegates commented the provisions are unnecessary. Both sections were struck 8 – 2 – 1 (absent).

Article X concerns the executive and is certain to evoke disagreement. Sect. 1 provides that “the executive power of the United States shall be vested in a single person. His style shall be ‘The President of the United States of America’ and his title shall be ‘His Excellency.’ He shall be elected by ballot by the legislature. He shall hold his office during the term of seven years; but shall not be elected a second time.”

The first three points were approved without discussion – the executive consisting of a single person, his style, and title. Then John Rutledge moved to insert “joint” before the word “ballot,” as “the most convenient mode of electing.” Roger Sherman interpreted this as “depriving the States represented in the Senate of the negative intended them in that house.” Nathaniel Gorham disagreed. “Great delay and confusion,” he said, “would ensue of the two Houses should vote separately, each having a negative on the choice of the other.” New Jersey’s Jonathan Dayton insisted adding “joint” to the proposition would “in fact give the appointment to one House.” He would never agree to the clause without it.

In a surprise move, Daniel Carroll interjected, moving that the executive be elected “by the people.” The issue having been thoroughly discussed in the past, it died a quick 2 – 9 procedural death. At the end of debate, inserting “joint” before “ballot” was approved 7 – 4. The remaining parts of section 1 were postponed until tomorrow “at the insistence of the Deputies of New Jersey.”

Finally, it was unanimously agreed to reschedule meetings from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

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