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.

Tuesday, August 28, 1787

August 28, 2020 - 4 minute read

The First Africans in Virginia and the Establishment of Slavery in America

Today, Articles XI through XV of the report of the Committee of Detail were approved in almost rapid-fire fashion. Fundamental principles having generally been decided, few details of the plan are generating serious division. However, the report contains twenty-three articles, leaving ample opportunity for the entire project to be derailed.

Most of Article XI’s provisions pertaining to the judiciary were amended and approved yesterday, but today the delegates reinforced two fundamental legal rights – trial by jury and habeas corpus. Although trial by jury is already incorporated into Article XI, the change assures trial by jury throughout the States. Following Charles Pinckney’s advice to “secure the benefit of the habeas corpus in the most ample manner,” Gouverneur Morris moved that it could be suspended only “in cases of rebellion or invasion when the public safety might require it.” Originating in 12th century England, habeas corpus is a legal order requiring a prisoner to be brought to court to determine if the prisoner is being lawfully attained.

Article XII simply states that “no State shall coin money; nor grant letters of marque and reprisals; nor enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; nor grant any title of nobility.” Letters of marque and reprisal are commissions granted by a government to private individuals to take the property of a foreign government or its citizens as a reparation for an injury committed by them. Because they pertain to foreign nations, only the national government, not the States, will be permitted to grant them.

James Wilson and Roger Sherman jointly moved to add to Article XII the provision that States shall not “emit bills of credit, nor make anything but gold and silver a tender in payment of debts.” The issue of paper money has been plaguing the United States economy since the Revolutionary War. James Madison had earlier noted that one of the defects they had come to Philadelphia to remedy was that “in the internal administration of the States, a violation of contract had become familiar in the form of depreciated paper made a legal tender.” Sherman succinctly explained the importance of his motion: “If the consent of the legislature could authorize emissions of paper money, the friends of paper money would make every exertion to get into the legislature in order to license it. The motion passed easily 9 – 1 – 1.

John Rutledge’s motion to prohibit the States from passing “bills of attainder or retrospective laws” also passed with little opposition 7 – 3. A bill of attainder is an act by a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of a crime and punishing them, often without a trial. In short, they are singled out specifically, by name, and their civil rights are violated.

As amended, Article XII passed without dissent.

Article XIII places additional restrictions on the States, including, but not limited to, emitting bills of credit, keeping troops or ships of war in time of peace, entering into agreements with foreign powers, and engaging in war. In addition, States may not “lay imposts or duties on imports.” Rufus King moved that “ or exports” be included, “so as to prohibit the States from taxing either.” His motion was approved 6 – 5. Sherman then moved that after the word “exports,” be added “nor with such consent but for the use of the United States.” By this, the proceeds of taxes on imports and exports will “go into the common [national] treasury.”

Morris supports this regulation as necessary to prevent the “Atlantic States from endeavoring to tax the Western States – and promote their interest by opposing the navigation of the Mississippi which would drive the Western peoples into the arms of Great Britain.”

Morris’s statement evoked a response from normally quiescent George Clymer of Pennsylvania. “Encouragement of the Western country is suicide on the old States,” he declared. “If the States have such different interests that they cannot be left to regulate their own manufactures, without encountering the interests of other States, it is a proof that they are not fit to compose one nation.”

George Clymer is the son of a sea captain, orphaned at an early age and raised by an aunt and uncle, a successful merchant family. Clymer is very wealthy, yet unassuming and “much esteemed” by his colleagues. An early supporter of independence, he chaired the group that organized the Philadelphia Tea Party, Pennsylvania’s version of the event held in Boston on December 16, 1773. Nine days after that historic event, the British tea ship Polly sailed up the Delaware River to Chester, Pennsylvania, carrying 697 chests of tea. On December 27, eight thousand Philadelphians gathered in the State House yard, the largest mass meeting in the American colonies up to that date. It was resolved that “the tea…shall not be landed.” Captain Ayres, the commander of Polly, refitted his ship with food and water and sailed back to England, Polly still laden with its cargo of tea. Ayres was undoubtedly influenced by a broadside distributed by “The Committee for Tarring and Feathering.”

Clymer raised funds for the war effort and served as treasurer of the Continental Congress for one year, signed the Declaration of Independence, and was rewarded by the British in 1777 who destroyed his country home outside Philadelphia while his wife and children hid in the nearby woods watching the devastation.

Articles XIV and XV passed easily, providing that the citizens of each State are entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States, and that persons charged with crimes and flee to other States shall be “delivered up and removed to the State having jurisdiction of the offense.” General Pinckney was dissatisfied. He “seemed to wish some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.” His motion to that effect, in collaboration with Pierce Butler, received no support and was withdrawn. Article XV was then agreed to nem. con.

Back to top