Skip to Main Content

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, June 21, 1787

June 21, 2020 - 4 minute read

General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Another delegate arrived today. On November 24, 1786, New Jersey had been the second of the thirteen States to call for a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. Of the four delegates named to represent New Jersey, Jonathan Dayton was not among them. The State had appointed at least two others who declined to attend, including Abraham Clark whose health kept him from the Convention, and Elias Dayton, Jonathan’s father, who declined in favor of his son. At twenty-six, Dayton is the youngest of the delegates.

Last week, on June 16, the Convention lost the wisdom and experience of George Wythe of Virginia. For more than twenty years as a professor at William and Mary College, he had been teacher and mentor to students and legal apprentices such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Marshall, Henry Clay, and others. William Pierce’s “character sketches” describe him as “one of the most learned legal characters of the present age…He has acquired a complete knowledge of the dead languages and all the sciences. He is remarked for his exemplary life, and universally esteemed for his good principles. No man, it is said, understands the history of Government better than Mr. Wythe…Yet from his too favorable opinion of men, he is no great politician. He is a neat and pleasing Speaker, and a most correct and able writer.” 

Wythe left the Convention on June 4 to care for his dying wife. On June 16, he wrote to Governor Randolph, advising him of his resignation. 

The Convention is at a stalemate over the contentious issues of representation in the proposed national legislature and the relationship of a new national government to the States. Neither side appears willing to moderate its position sufficiently to achieve compromise, but no one is yet prepared to abandon the effort. Perhaps finding agreement on less volatile issues can help advance consensus on the more difficult ones. 

This morning, the Convention considered the second resolution of the report of the Committee of the Whole, that “the national legislature ought to consist of two branches.” Connecticut’s William Samuel Johnson started the debate. At fifty-nine years of age, he is among the oldest members of the Convention and is deferentially called “Dr. Johnson” because of his reputation for intellect and learning. He earned two degrees at Yale as well as honorary degrees from Harvard and Oxford. He is a conciliator, seeking to find common ground. He also represents a small State whose interests he must protect.

Johnson hopes the States “should retain some sovereignty,” even though they might not

have “a distinct and equal vote for the purpose of defending themselves in the general councils.”

James Wilson responded, “with respect for Dr. Johnson.” Johnson had inquired about how the States might protect themselves from the national government. Might it not, on the other hand, Wilson queried, be asked how the national government could protect itself against the States? His concern is that “the general government would be in perpetual danger of encroachments from the State governments,” simply because the States share a “similar interest” and may combine together against the national government.

James Madison supported Wilson, citing examples from history as well as our own time, but the debate had strayed and was not addressing the resolution on the table – that the national legislature should consist of two houses. In fact, that issue had been discussed at length days ago when the Committee of the Whole was considering the Virginia Plan. The vote this morning, 7 – 3 – 1, reflected that earlier decision – favoring a bicameral legislature. New York, New Jersey, and Delaware voted “nay;” Maryland was divided. 

Next, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina rose for the purpose of amending the third resolution in the Committee’s report. Pinckney, second cousin to Charles Pinckney and fellow delegate, is a formidable personality. His mother single-handedly introduced indigo to the colonies. A plant used from ancient times to produce a deep blue dye, indigo eventually accounted for one third of all South Carolina exports. Gen. Pinckney’s father was a judge and, for several years, represented the colony in England where his son studied law at Oxford and the Middle Temple in London. 

Gen. Pinckney enlisted as a captain at the beginning of the Revolutionary War and by 1783 had risen to Brigadier General. After fighting in the battles of Germantown, Brandywine, and others, he was captured and imprisoned by the British in 1780. Falling ill in prison, he was allowed to return home if he promised not to raise arms against the British and remain on his property. He arrived home to learn his only son had died and his parole revoked. He returned to the prison and was released in February 1782. His wife, Sarah Middleton, the daughter of the colony’s wealthiest planter, died two years later. Last year, he remarried and his new wife, Mary Stead, accompanied him here to Philadelphia for the Convention.

Gen. Pinckney moved “the first branch, instead of being elected by the people, should be elected in such manner as the legislature of each State should direct.” Gen. Pinckney is for a strong national government but believes popular elections in such a government are impractical. Luther Martin and Rufus King agree; Wilson and Madison take the opposite view. Wilson considers “the election of the first branch by the people not only as the corner stone, but as the foundation of the fabric; and that the difference between a mediate and immediate election is immense.” 

Once again, ground that had been trod thoroughly in the Committee of the Whole has been raised and disposed of fairly quickly, but only by a narrow vote of 4 – 6 – 1. Gen. Pinckney then revised his motion to read, “the first branch be elected by the people in such mode as the legislatures should direct.” But, being advised that his motion should be “more properly tried in the detail of the plan,” he withdrew it. On the question of “election of the first branch by the people” passed, with only New Jersey against and Maryland, as usual, divided.

Before adjourning today’s session and after a short, amicable debate, a term of two years for members of the first branch of the national government was approved nem. com.

Back to top