For several days the Convention has been reviewing the report of the Committee of Detail article by article and section by section, making good, if often punctuated, progress. Of the twenty-three articles in the report, fifteen of them have been approved, albeit with numerous amendments as well as postponement of some parts.
This morning, Article XVI was taken up, providing that “full faith shall be given in each State to the acts of the legislatures, and to the records and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrates of every other State.” Hugh Williamson preferred they replace it with the words on the same subject found in the Articles of Confederation. When Charles Pinckney weighed in with language of his own, “to establish uniform laws” on bankruptcy and other topics, it was overwhelmingly and quickly decided to refer the article to a committee. Then, Gouverneur Morris proposed a “full faith and credit” clause. It, too, was committed to a committee without dissent, and an ad hoc committee was immediately established, consisting of John Rutledge (S. Carolina), Edmund Randolph (Virginia), Nathaniel Gorham (Massachusetts), James Wilson (Pennsylvania), and William Samuel Johnson (Connecticut).
Utilizing committees to address divisive issues has served the Convention well. Small groups of delegates, representing different regions and differing opinions, focus on specific propositions in order to craft compromises, clarify meanings, and anticipate opposing views. They can explore propositions more fully than is possible on the Convention floor, with the obvious exception of the most controversial issues which must be deliberated by the full body.
Last Wednesday, the Convention voted to commit to a committee composed of one delegate from each State Article VII Sect. 6, providing that “no navigation act shall be passed without the assent of two thirds of the members present in each House.” Today, the committee recommended the entire section be deleted. At that point, Charles Pinckney proposed postponing Sect. 6 to consider his own proposition, “that no act of the legislature for the purpose of regulating the commerce of the United States with foreign powers, or among the States, shall be passed without two thirds of the members of each House.”
Pinckney proceeded to identify “five distinct commercial interests” in the United States: “1) the fisheries and West India trade, which belonged to the New England States; 2) the interest of New York lay in a free trade; 3) wheat and flour and staples of the two Middle States; 4) tobacco, the staple of Maryland and Virginia (and partly of N. Carolina); and 5) rice and indigo, the staples of S. Carolina and Georgia.” These different interests, Pinckney warned, “will be a source of oppressive regulations if no check to a bare majority should be provided.”
If anything, Pinckney’s motion would expand the navigation act provisions in the Committee’s report, which the Committee recommends be stricken altogether. Dropping it had been part of the bargain over the slave trade and taxation of imported slaves. Reviving it could threaten that compromise. His cousin, General Pinckney, was the first to speak against it. “The true interest of the southern States,” he began, is “to have no regulation of commerce.” However, he confessed, his attitude has changed. “He had himself prejudices against the Eastern States before he came here but would acknowledge that he had found them as liberal and candid as any men whatsoever.”
Pinckney was unable to secure sufficient support for his motion, except from George Mason, Hugh Williamson, and Edmund Randolph. Notwithstanding Gen. Pinckney’s overture, Randolph has become increasingly wary of the direction the Convention is taking. Randolph had presented the Virginia Plan which formed the basis of the entire scheme of government under consideration, but now, he said, “there are features so odious in the Constitution as it now stands, I doubt whether I should be able to agree to it. A rejection of this motion would complete the deformity of the system.” Madison’s notes summarized Randolph’s ominous conclusion: “What he had in view was merely to pave the way for a declaration which he might be hereafter obliged to make if an accumulation of obnoxious ingredients should take place, that he could not give his assent to the plan.”
The report of the committee for striking out Sec. 6 requiring two-thirds of each House to pass a navigation act was then agreed to nem. con.
Just prior to adjournment yesterday, Gen. Pinckney and Pierce Butler attempted to add language to Art XV’s extradition clause, “seeming to wish some provision should be included in property of slaves.” But Butler withdrew the motion, “in order that some particular provision might be made apart from this article.” Today, he was ready with that “particular language.” It read: “If any person bound to service or labor in any of the United States shall escape into another State, he or she shall not be discharged from such service or labor, in consequence of any regulations subsisting in the State to which they escape, but shall be delivered up to the person justly claiming their service or labor.” Butler’s language, a euphemism for “fugitive slave law,” passed without debate or dissent. The bargain over slavery had just been strengthened in favor of slavery…and union.
Admission of new States to the union is described in Article XVII, providing that new States may be admitted upon approval of two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate and will be considered equal to existing States. If a new State arises from within an existing State, its admission will also require consent of that State’s legislature. If the new State has a public debt, Congress may establish conditions concerning that debt. The Article was approved, including an amendment proposed by Gouverneur Morris deleting the two-thirds vote requirement.
Finally, Article XVI was committed to a committee. It provides that “full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the acts of the legislatures, and to the records and judicial proceedings of the courts and magistrate of every other State.”