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 20: Impeachment

Having discussed the great strength of the President during the previous day, the Convention now turned to the crucial control on that strength: impeachment. The form of the Constitution not just here but throughout the structure always ties power to responsibility. The President can be vigorous because the President is subject both to reelection and to impeachment. All-too-often when our political culture discusses the Constitution too much emphasis is placed on the checks. In placing such emphasis on these checks, we assume the essential purpose of the Constitution was to limit governmental power. But the Presidency is the example par-excellence … Continue reading July 20: Impeachment

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 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 10 in the Constitutional Convention: The North/South Divide

In light of the subsequent history of the Union, July 10 is important insofar as it continues to indicate the key fault line that will divide the Union through the Civil War and even beyond. Much of the debate about representation in the legislature up to this point had concentrated on the apparent friction between the large and small states. The small states were worried that the large states would dominate the national government at their expense. Rufus King argues on this day, however, that this isn’t the true source of the tension. He say that he “was fully convinced … Continue reading July 10 in the Constitutional Convention: The North/South Divide

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

The Dilemma of State Representation

As though he too, were also studying the Constitutional Convention’s debates as my colleague, Greg Weiner, did today, Noah Millman has an interesting article in the New York Times calling for America to break up its biggest states. Given that this is the very same day, July 7th, that the Constitutional Convention took up in earnest the question of state representation, Millman’s article is especially interesting. Millman is trying to find a way to represent the political diversity within the large states that is not currently represented. For instance, in the state of New York, neither New York City, nor … Continue reading The Dilemma of State Representation

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