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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.

Wednesday, August 8, 1787

August 08, 2020 - 4 minute read

Gouverneur Morris

Yesterday the Convention voted 1 – 7 – 1 to defeat Gouverneur Morris’s motion to strike the proposed qualifications for voting for members of the House of Representatives and to find a way to limit the vote to landowners. However, it had not voted on the entire first section of Article IV. That was left until this morning.

John Mercer repeated the position he had laid out just before adjournment yesterday, that he “disliked the whole plan” and “in his opinion it could never succeed.” Somewhat exacerbated because the issue has been thoroughly debated in both the Committee of Detail and on the Convention floor, Nathaniel Gorham countered, saying he “had never seen any inconveniency from allowing such as were not freeholders to vote.” Moreover, the people of America “have long been accustomed to this right …and will never allow it to be abridged.” Article IV, Sect. 1 was agreed to nem. con.

The second section of Article IV provides that members of the House of Representatives be at least twenty-five years of age, a citizen of the United States for at least three years, and at the time of his election a resident of the State in which he shall be elected. George Mason moved the term be seven years. While he wants to encourage immigration, he is concerned that three years is not enough time to ensure that a representative would have sufficient knowledge for the position. “Seven years” was agreed to. In fairly short order the Convention also voted to replace the word “resident” with “inhabitant.”

Turning to Article IV, Sect. 3, the Convention agreed that the first Congress will consist of sixty-five members and allocated specific numbers of members to each State “until the number of citizens and inhabitants shall be taken in the manner hereafter described.” Hugh Williamson moved to strike the words in quotation marks and insert ”according to the rule hereinafter to be provided for direct taxation.” The motion passed quickly 9 – 2 but alarmed Rufus King. “What influence did the vote just passed, have on the succeeding part of the report concerning the admission of slaves into the rule of representation?” he asked. Article VII, Sect. 3. incorporates the three-fifths compromise for the purpose of regulating proportions of direct taxation. Did the motion just passed incorporate the three-fifths compromise for counting the people for purposes of representation also?

King continued, noting that the report prohibits taxation on exports and on “the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit,” meaning slaves. It goes further by prohibiting the national government from stopping “such immigration or importation.” King was outraged. He had “hoped that some accommodation would have taken place on this subject; that at least a time would have been limited for the importation of slaves…There is so much inequality and unreasonableness in all this that the people of the northern States could never be reconciled to it.” Roger Sherman “regards the slave trade as iniquitous,” but preferred addressing “that point in another place of the report.” However, the subject has been raised, igniting the passions of anti-slavery delegates, including Gouverneur Morris. Indignant, raising himself to his full height on his peg leg, Morris moved to insert “free” before the word “inhabitants.”

Slavery, he bellowed, “is a nefarious institution. It is the curse of heaven on the States where it prevails. Upon what principle is it that the slaves shall be computed in the representation? Are they men? Then make them citizens and let them vote. Are they property? Why then is no other property included? The admission of slaves into the representation when fairly explained comes to this: that the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa, and in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in the government instituted for protection of the rights of mankind, than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New Jersey who views with a laudable horror, so nefarious a practice.”

Morris wasn’t finished. “What is the proposed compensation to the northern States for a sacrifice of every principle of right, of every impulse of humanity? They are to bind themselves to march their militia for the defense of the southern States, for their defense against those very slaves of whom they complain…Let it not be said that direct taxation is to be proportioned to representation.” In closing, Morris declared he “would sooner submit himself to a tax for paying for all the Negroes in the United States than saddle posterity with such a Constitution.”

There was little debate on Morris’s motion to insert “free” into the section under consideration because, as James Wilson said, “the motion is premature.” The motion failed 1 – 10. New Jersey supported Morris.

Article IV, Sect. 4 was readily agreed to with one amendment. The Section provides that the legislature, when apportioning the number of representatives, must provide one for every forty thousand inhabitants. Dickinson’s amendment simply added, “provided that each State shall have one representative at least.”

Sect. 5 provides that all bills raising or appropriating money and for fixing the salaries of officers of the national government must originate in the House of Representatives and cannot be altered by the Senate. The debate ranged from striking the entire section, to keeping it as written, to “not thinking the clause of any consequence.”

George Mason was simply tired of the topic, “unwilling to travel over this ground again.” Yet, he believed, “to strike out the section is to unhinge the compromise of which it made a part.” John Mercer, who had not participated in the earlier debates to which Mason referred, is a States’ rights man. He “considers the exclusive power of originating money bills as so great an advantage, that it renders the equality of votes in the Senate of no consequence.”

Charles Pinckney moved to strike the entire Sect. 5. With little debate, the motion passed 7 – 4. Three small States, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut voted “no.”

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