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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.

Thursday, August 30, 1787

August 30, 2020 - 5 minute read

Mountain Overview

When the Convention adjourned yesterday, Article XVII pertaining to the admission of new States had been approved. However, this morning Gouverneur Morris moved to “strike out so much of the article as requires the consent of the State to its being divided.” He went further to suggest “it might be proper to provide that nothing in the Constitution should affect the right of the United States to lands ceded by Great Britain in the treaty of peace.” He further proposed it be committed to yet another committee. His proposal to commit failed 3 – 8, but the article itself passed 8 – 3. The final version reads, “New States may be admitted by the Legislature into the Union; but no new State shall be hereafter formed or erected within the jurisdiction of any of the present States without the consent of the Legislature of such State as well as of the General Legislature.”

This was not the end of it, however. Delaware’s John Dickinson moved to insert an additional clause: “nor shall any State be formed by the junction of two or more States or parts thereof, without the consent of the Legislatures of such States, as well as of the Legislature of the United States.” It was approved without dissent, but Daniel Carroll was ready with another phrase, generally echoing Morris’s defeated motion. After a brief discussion, Carroll withdrew his motion and moved yet another, providing that nothing in the Constitution should be construed to alter claims of the United States or of individual States to the Western territories and that such claims be decided in the Supreme Court.

As the subject became more and more complicated and confusing, Carroll’s motion was committed to a committee. Article XVII temporarily shelved, the Convention then took up Article XVIII, “guaranteeing to each State a Republican form of government” and requiring the national government to “protect each State against foreign invasions, and, on the application of its Legislature, against domestic violence.” The word “foreign” was struck as being superfluous. Several minor amendments were defeated but one important amendment was approved. Offered by Dickinson, it added “or executive” to the phrase “on the application of its legislature.” The reason for the addition, Dickinson explained, “is the occasion itself might hinder the Legislature from meeting.”

Article XIX was up next, proposing a process for amending the Constitution. “On the application of the Legislatures of two-thirds of the States in the Union…the Legislature of the United States shall call a Convention for that purpose.” Gouverneur Morris suggested the Legislature “should be left at liberty to call a Convention whenever they please” but the article was readily agreed to without debate or dissent, and without Morris’s motion. On numerous occasions, several delegates have held the idea of holding another convention to remedy the defects of the current one. However, others are gravely concerned about the uncertainty and inconsistency that would result from having multiple conventions. The amendment process is likely to be raised again before this business is complete.

The pace of the Convention is quickening, with only four more articles to be considered. Article XX requires “members of the Legislature, and the Executive and Judicial officers of the United States, and of the several States,” to be “bound by oath to support this Constitution.” Immediately, the delegates added “or affirmation” after the word “oath.” They also approved Charles Pinckney’s motion to add, “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.” Roger Sherman believed the motion unnecessary, “the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security against such tests.” Nevertheless, the provision was added nem. con. Article XX as amended was approved. Only North Carolina voted “no.”

How the new Constitution is to be ratified provoked an animated discussion. Article XXI of the report stipulates that “ratification of the Conventions of ------ States shall be sufficient for the commencement of the plan.” James Wilson proposed to fill in the blank with “seven.” It represents a majority of the whole number of States and should be sufficient, he argued. Edmund Randolph preferred “nine,” it being a “respectable majority of the whole” and “a number made familiar by the constitution of the existing Congress.” In the existing Confederation Congress, all important decisions require nine votes.

Dickinson had some questions. “Is concurrence of the existing Congress essential to establishing the new system?” he asked. “Would the refusing States in the Confederacy be deserted?” As a member of the Committee of Detail, Wilson replied, “As the Constitution stands, the States only which ratify can be bound.” Madison disagreed, “If the blank should be filled with “seven,” “eight,” or “nine” – the Constitution as it stands might be in force over the whole body of the people, though less than a majority of them should ratify it.”

The Convention continued to haggle over the number of States required to ratify the Constitution and whether the new government would apply to States that do not ratify. Pierce Butler favored “nine” States; Carroll wanted thirteen, “unanimity being necessary to dissolve the existing confederation which had been unanimously established.” Rufus King agreed, “otherwise, as the Constitution now stands it will operate on the whole though ratified by a part only.” The conversation concluded without a vote.

Benjamin Rush, Philadelphia’s most respected medical doctor, is a friend to many of the delegates. The rule of secrecy has prevented him from learning details of the Convention’s proceedings, but he has heard enough to be able to write today to his friend Timothy Pickering. “The new federal government,” he wrote, “like a new Continental wagon will overset our State dung cart, with all its dirty contents (reverend, and irreverent) and thereby restore order and happiness to Pennsylvania. From the conversations of the Members of the Convention, there is reason to believe the federal Constitution will be wise–vigorous–safe–free–and full of dignity. General Washington it is said will be placed at the head of the new Government, or in the style of my simile, will drive the new wagon”

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