August 31: Ratification and Republicanism

Gouverneur Morris suffered a rare defeat, and on a key issue, on August 31. The topic was the mode of ratification for the proposed Constitution, which by then was taking reasonably clear shape as the Convention neared the end of its work. Morris, attempting to expedite ratification, suggested relaxing the draft’s requirement for popular conventions, instead allowing states to ratify as they saw fit. Madison’s response underscores his underlying republicanism. If state legislatures were allowed to drive the consideration of the Constitution, they would manipulate the process to preserve their own power. Then he struck at the heart of the … Continue reading August 31: Ratification and Republicanism

August 9, 10 and 11: Republican Nationalism

Today is catchup day: reflections on the debates of August 9, 10 and 11. On August 9, the delegates discussed an issue with contemporary resonance: immigration. The question was how long senators should have to have been citizens before serving. The proposition on the table was four years. Gouverneur Morris, fearing foreign agents as senators—or at least foreign intrigues to influence the Senate—moved to extend it to 14 years. That sparked firm responses from Madison, Franklin and Wilson. Madison felt the restriction involved “a tincture of illiberality” that might affect all immigrants, not just senators. If the Constitution succeeded, “men who … Continue reading August 9, 10 and 11: Republican Nationalism

August 8th: Morris Redeems Himself

Having made the controversial argument the day before that the national vote ought to be restricted to freeholders, Morris makes an argument much more friendly to our ears on the next day. Up until this point, the Convention had mostly danced around the controversial question of slavery. The South would only enter the Union if slavery were secure; the North wanted the South to enter the Union and so it was willing to compromise on the question of slavery. On this day, it seems Morris couldn’t hold it in anymore: “He never would concur in upholding domestic slavery. It was … Continue reading August 8th: Morris Redeems Himself

August 7th: The “Freeholder” Debate

After having paused for about a month while the Committee of Detail composed a draft of the Constitution itself, the Representatives returned on August 6th to consider this draft. August 6th consisted of little more than reading the draft. On August 7th, they took up a more robust debate about the details of the new Constitution. Among other things debated that day, the question of who would have the right to vote in national elections arose. Gouverneur Morris, whose instincts had always seemed ahead of his time, made the controversial and seemingly outdated suggestion to “restrain the right of suffrage … Continue reading August 7th: The “Freeholder” Debate

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 12 in the Constitutional Convention: The South Throws Down the Gauntlet

It’s hard to tell on the basis of Madison’s Notes alone but one gets the sense from the text that tensions had grown high between the North and the South on this day. The Southern representatives continue to insist on a principle of representation that counts “both the white and the black people.” Insofar as “the black people” were essentially all slaves, this meant the Southern states were demanding a principle of full “representation” for their non-voting slaves; they were demanding that their votes count for more than their Northern compatriots. William Davies from North Carolina gives what one can … Continue reading July 12 in the Constitutional Convention: The South Throws Down the Gauntlet

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

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