July 25: Who Wrote the Virginia Plan?

On July 25, as the Convention moved gradually toward an Electoral College as the mode of choosing Presidents, Madison took a stand against appointment by Congress:  Election by the legislature was, he said, liable to insuperable objections. Besides the general influence of that mode on the independence of the Executive, 1. the election of the Chief Magistrate would agitate & divide the legislature so much that the public interest would materially suffer by it. Public bodies are always apt to be thrown into contentions, but into more violent ones by such occasions than by any others. 2. the candidate would intrigue with … Continue reading July 25: Who Wrote the Virginia Plan?

July 23 and 24: ‘The Authority of the People’

July 23 and 24 featured different debates with an overlapping theme: the extent and, perhaps more important, the nature of popular sovereignty. The question on July 23 was whether the proposed Constitution should be submitted to state legislatures or popular conventions for approval. Some of that dispute revolved around whether the state legislatures, which would lose power if the Constitution was adopted, had a conflict of interest. But Virginia’s George Mason cut to the heart of the matter: Col. Mason considered a reference of the plan to the authority of the people as one of the most important and essential … Continue reading July 23 and 24: ‘The Authority of the People’

July 21: The Council of Revision

July 21 witnessed an abortive attempt to revive the Council of Revision, which would have empowered a panel of Supreme Court justices and the President to veto Congressional bills. Curiously, James Wilson and James Madison—the Convention’s and, later, The Federalist’s foremost advocates of the separation of powers—were also champions of the Council of Revision. Both said on July 21 that it would involve judges in vetoing laws on both Constitutional and policy grounds. Wilson argued that judicial review after bills became law was insufficient: Laws may be unjust, may be unwise, may be dangerous, may be destructive; and yet may … Continue reading July 21: The Council of Revision

July 18 in the Constitutional Convention: Judicial Confirmations

The central issue on July 18 was the mode of appointing justices to the Supreme Court. The first motion put to the Convention would have assigned that authority to the Senate alone. Nathaniel Ghorum of Massachusetts thought the accountability of a legislative body would be too diffuse: No one member would feel responsible for a given appointment. He moved that the President appoint judges with the advice and consent of the Senate. The ensuing debate focused on how to obtain what Luther Martin called “a fit choice.” Some thought appointment by the Senate would avoid the concentrated power involved in … Continue reading July 18 in the Constitutional Convention: Judicial Confirmations

More on July 17: Madison’s Lead Balloon

In addition to Susan’s excellent analysis of the events of July 16 and 17—the hinge of the Convention, she accurately writes, defined as the days were by the Great Compromise—another issue repays careful attention. That issue, which was debated on the 17th, was Madison’s lead balloon, or, perhaps better put, his white whale: the national veto on state laws. The motion on the floor was to empower the national government to strike down state laws that contravened the Constitution. Even this much was not enough for Madison, who had written to Washington before the Convention—with emphasis in the original—that the … Continue reading More on July 17: Madison’s Lead Balloon

July 13: Morris Anticipates, and Demolishes, Calhoun

July 13 features, as have recent days, a naked display of the real basis of the three-fifths compromise: Southern states wanted enslaved people counted toward representation for the sole purpose of perpetuating their enslavement. Pierce Butler of South Carolina did not attempt to hide it: “The security the Southn. States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them, which some gentlemen within or without doors, have a very good mind to do.” Butler was responding to the delegate from whom we have heard so much: Gouverneur Morris. Morris had struck at the fatal flaw of the attempt to … Continue reading July 13: Morris Anticipates, and Demolishes, Calhoun

July 11: Gouverneur Morris, Aristotelian

Recent days in the Convention are most significant for the ongoing discussion of how, or whether, to count enslaved people toward representation in the lower House. But a side remark by Gouverneur Morris on July 11 deserves attention. Among the questions before the delegates was how to apportion representatives for the new states that were anticipated to the west. Morris remarked: Among other objections it must be apparent they [the new Western states] would not be able to furnish men equally enlightened, to share in the administration of our common interests. The Busy haunts of men not the remote wilderness, … Continue reading July 11: Gouverneur Morris, Aristotelian

July 9 in the Constitutional Convention

On July 9, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention took up the question of the initial representation of each state in the lower House. The committee report on the floor consisted of two parts. The first apportioned representatives initially; the second provided a principle of growth. The principle of growth was apportionment according to wealth and population. The issue simmering barely under the surface was enslavement, and William Paterson put it in the open. His argument would have echoes later in American history. According to Madison’s notes, Paterson “was also agst. such an indirect encouragemt. of the slave trade; observing … Continue reading July 9 in the Constitutional Convention

Today in the Constitutional Convention

We’re trying something new at The Constitutionalist: Over the summer, we’ll revisit what happened in the Constitutional Convention on the corresponding date. Today, July 7, was a short session, a Saturday, with a heated question on the table: the equality of states in the Senate. Two days before, the Convention had taken up the report of the “Gerry Committee,” which was impaneled to consider the Connecticut Compromise. The Committee endorsed it. On July 5, Madison had been steamed: He conceived that the Convention was reduced to the alternative of either departing from justice in order to conciliate the smaller States, … Continue reading Today in the Constitutional Convention