Without question, July 16 and 17 were two of the most important days of the Constitutional Convention. That’s because across the span of those two days, the delegates reached what gets called “The Great Compromise.” (Sometimes you’ll also hear this talked about as “The Connecticut Compromise” or “Sherman’s Compromise.”) To that point, there had been difficult debate between large and small states over their representation in the proposed Senate. Larger states, not surprisingly, wanted representation in the Senate to be proportional, with states that contributed more to national defense and finance having more representatives. Smaller states, again not surprisingly, wanted … Continue reading July 16-17: The Great Compromise, and Beyond
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
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
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
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
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