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
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 Gouverneur Morris, whose instincts had always seemed ahead of his time, made the controversial and seemingly outdated suggestion to “restrain the right of suffrage … Continue reading August 7th: The “Freeholder” Debate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 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 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
The July 14th debate illustrates well the disagreement about whether this federal government would be a union of the States or a Union of the states. It’s hard for us now to recover fully this dispute because, after the Civil War, it became clear to everyone except the state of Texas that the national government was supreme in sovereignty to the state governments. The state governments persisted and have never been treated simply as functionaries of the national government, but there was no longer a question of ultimate supremacy. By contrast, prior to the Civil War, almost all documents say … Continue reading July 14: How Federal Would the Federal Government be?
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
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