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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 9, 1787

August 09, 2020 - 4 minute read

Tun Tavern

Last night George Washington “dined at the City Tavern and remained there till near ten o’clock,” undoubtedly in conversation with delegates about the proceedings of the Convention. Similar meetings must have been taking place at the Indian Queen and private rooms at Ms. House’s boarding house. Presented by the Committee of Detail with a coherent plan of government based almost entirely on resolutions already approved by the Convention, the delegates are still deeply divided on many issues. 

This morning’s session of the Convention began ominously, with Edmund Randolph’s announcement that he intends to move for reconsideration of yesterday’s vote “concerning money bills.” Hugh Williamson agreed with Randolph, while James Wilson declared his intention to move to reconsider the number of years of citizenship required for members of the House of Representatives. This was not an auspicious beginning.

The Convention then took up the first question of the day, voting quickly and unanimously in favor of Article IV, Sects. 6 and 7 assigning to the House of Representatives “the sole power of impeachment;” authorizing the House “to choose its Speaker and other officers;” and filling vacancies in the House by election in the district where the vacancy occurred.

The four sections of Article V of the proposed constitution create the Senate, consisting of two Senators from each State to be chosen by the State legislatures. Senators will serve six years, but their terms will be staggered so that every two years, one third will be elected. Each Senator shall have one vote. Senators must be at least thirty years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least four years, and a resident of the State for which he shall be chosen. Parts of Sects. 1 and 3 stirred a lively, rancorous debate.

Edmund Randolph wished to postpone consideration of the provision that each Senator should have one vote until the Convention reconsiders its vote concerning “money bills.” Yesterday, the Convention voted to remove the clause requiring that money bills originate in the House of Representatives, but Randolph claims that vote is tied to Senators each having one vote. Benjamin Franklin agreed, “considering the two clauses, the originating of money bills and the equality of votes in the Senate, as essentially connected by the compromise which had been agreed to” weeks earlier. Hugh Williamson said his State, North Carolina, had agreed to equality in the Senate “merely in consideration that money bills should be confined to the other House.”  George Mason joined in, “Unless the exclusive originating of money bills should be restored to the House of Representatives, I should oppose throughout the equality of representation in the Senate.”

In the end, Randolph and his allies lost. Allowing each Senator one vote, meaning two Senators from the same State might vote differently, remained in the report. Randolph gave notice that he should “move to reconsider [both sections], to which he had already given notice.”

Tempers were on the rise but became warmer when the delegates considered the number of years a person must be a citizen of the United States before being eligible to be elected Senator. It started innocently enough when Gouverneur Morris moved to “insert 14 instead of 4 years, urging the danger of admitting strangers into our public councils.” A similar discussion had taken place regarding members of the House of Representatives but had not been as heated as today’s debate concerning the Senate.

Charles Pinckney began by noting the Senate’s power to make treaties and manage foreign affairs, creating a “peculiar danger and impropriety in opening our doors to those who have foreign attachments.” James Madison offered a different view. He is not opposed to some restrictions but does not believe they belong in the constitution. “It will give a tincture of illiberality to the constitution,” he said. “It will discourage the most desirable class of people from emigrating to the United States. Men who love liberty and wish to partake its blessings will be ready to transfer their fortunes hither.”

Pierce Butler disagreed fiercely. They should have a long residence, he insisted, “They bring with them, not only attachments to other countries, but ideas of government so distinct from ours that in every point of view they are dangerous.” Butler was born in Ireland but said “if I had been called into public life within a short time after coming to America, my foreign habits would render me an improper agent in public affairs.” James Wilson is also an immigrant but with a view decidedly different than Butlers and more aligned with Madison’s. “The illiberal complexion” of the proposed fourteen years would discourage “inviting meritorious foreigners among us,” he began. It would create “discouragement and degrading discrimination,” which “he himself experienced” when he moved to Maryland. There “he found himself, from defect of residence, under certain legal incapacities…To be incapable of being appointed is a circumstance grating and mortifying.” If this is approved, Wilson would not be able to serve in the government he helped to create.

Morris was not influenced by sentiment. “We should be governed as much by our reason, and as little by our feelings as possible…As to those Citizens of the World, as they call themselves [did he mean Franklin?], I do not wish to see any of them in our public councils. I do not trust them. The men who can shake off their attachments to their own country can never love any other.” Morris’s motion to replace 4 years with 14 failed 4 – 7. But Morris wasn’t finished. He moved 13 years. It failed 4 – 7. Gen. Pinckney proposed 10 years. It failed 4 – 7.  John Rutledge pointed out that “seven years citizenship have been required for the House of Representatives; “surely a longer time is requisite for the Senate, which will have more power.” Finally, Randolph proposed a compromise – “Agree to 9 years with the expectation that it will be reduced to 7 if we reconsider the vote fixing 7 years for the House of Representatives.” The motion passed 6 – 4 – 1, with North Carolina divided. 

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