The 1787 Constitutional Convention – No Decision on the Slave Trade

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August 24, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

The delegates heard a committee report which recommended prohibiting interference with slave trade until 1800. No decision was made on that matter. The delegates agreed to one executive titled the President of the United States but didn’t decide about how to elect the President.

Influences on the Delegates

Roger Sherman did want to require the president to appoint new senior military officers. So he objected to the motion by Morris which seemed to suggest those officers would have to be appointed by a new president:

Mr. SHERMAN objected to the sentence, “and shall appoint officers in all cases not otherwise provided for in this Constitution.” He admitted it to be proper that many officers in the Executive department should be so appointed; but contended that many ought not, — as general officers in the army, in time of peace, &c. Herein lay the corruption in Great Britain. If the Executive can model the army, he may set up an absolute government; taking advantage of the close of a war, and an army commanded by his creatures. James the Second was not obeyed by his officers, because they had been appointed by his predecessors, not by himself. He moved to insert, “or by law,” after the word “constitution.”

Sherman referred to the experience of Britain during the term of James the Second. 

The slave trade report was not acted on during this session.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Supreme Law and State Militias

photo-1444850321296-e568c6a10d26_optAugust 23, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates declined titles of nobility either here or from other lands while serving in the new government. The delegates showed distrust of standing armies during a discussion of the role of the general and state governments. Some wanted more national control over the militias while others believed more national control would not be accepted by the state governments. The delegates approved a clause which described the Constitution as “the supreme law of the several States and of their citizens and inhabitants.”

Influences on the Delegates

The delegates considered many things today although it is not obvious what influenced their opinions. On one occasion, the delegates referred to the King of England as a way to illustrate their various points regarding the making of treaties. Wilson wanted to give Congress power to ratify all treaties.

Mr. WILSON. In the most important treaties, the King of Great Britain, being obliged to resort to Parliament for the execution of them, is under the same fetters as the amendment of Mr. MORRIS will impose on the Senate. It was refused yesterday to permit even the Legislature to lay duties on exports. Under the clause without the amendment, the Senate alone can make a treaty requiring all the rice of South Carolina to be sent to some one particular port.
Mr. DICKINSON concurred in the amendment, as most safe and proper, though he was sensible it was unfavorable to the little States, which would otherwise have an equal share in making treaties.
Doctor JOHNSON thought there was something of solecism in saying that the acts of a minister with plenipotentiary powers from one body should depend for ratification on another body. The example of the King of Great Britain was not parallel. Full and complete power was vested in him. If the Parliament should fail to provide the necessary means of execution, the treaty would be violated.

The matter was deferred for the time being.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Southern States Stand on Slavery

August 22, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

The delegates debated slavery’s place in the new nation and prohibited bills of attainder and ex post facto laws. The delegates referred the slavery question to a committee.

Influences on the Delegates

The delegates began the slavery debate the day before today’s session. In essence, they were debating these sections of Article VII:

Sect. 3. The proportions of direct taxation shall be regulated by the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three-fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, (except Indians not paying taxes); which number shall, within six years after the first meeting of the Legislature, and within the term of every ten years afterwards, be taken in such a manner as the said Legislature shall direct.
Sect. 4. No tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited.

I wrote yesterday that the debate left me with little doubt that many of the delegates did not attempt to incorporate Christianity into their thinking. They didn’t appeal to religion and in fact South Carolina’s Rutledge denied that religion or humanity had anything to do with the matter.
In today’s discussion, Christian delegate Roger Sherman sounded the voice of compromise.

Mr. SHERMAN was for leaving the clause as it stands. He disapproved of the slave-trade; yet as the States were now possessed of the right to import slaves, as the public good did not require it to be taken from them, and as it was expedient to have as few objections as possible to the proposed scheme of government, he thought it best to leave the matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition of slavery seemed to be going on in the United States, and that the good sense of the several States would probably by degrees complete it. He urged on the Convention the necessity of despatching its business.

In what has become a famous speech, George Mason ranted about how evil slavery was and attempted to integrate Christian ideas. However, as a slave holder, his rant rang a little hollow.

Colonel MASON. This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British Government constantly checked the attempts of Virginia to put a stop to it. The present question concerns not the importing States alone, but the whole Union. The evil of having slaves was experienced during the late war. Had slaves been treated as they might have been by the enemy, they would have proved dangerous instruments in their hands. But their folly dealt by the slaves as it did by the tories. He mentioned the dangerous insurrections of the slaves in Greece and Sicily; and the instructions given by Cromwell to the commissioners sent to Virginia, to arm the servants and slaves, in case other means of obtaining its submission should fail. Maryland and Virginia, he said, had already prohibited the importation of slaves expressly. North Carolina had done the same in substance. All this would be in vain, if South Carolina and Georgia be at liberty to import. The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands; and will fill that country with slaves, if they can be got through South Carolina and Georgia. Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the emigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of Heaven on a country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world, they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects, Providence punishes national sins by national calamities. He lamented that some of our Eastern brethren had, from a lust of gain, embarked in this nefarious traffic. As to the States being in possession of the right to import, this was the case with many other rights, now to be properly given up. He held it essential in every point of view, that the General Government should have power to prevent the increase of slavery.

While we can commend Mason for his negative comments about slavery, we can’t say as David Barton did recently, that American slavery was a human issue and not a race issue to the founders. At least in the case of Mason, he clearly preferred whites over blacks coming into the country.
Connecticut’s Ellsworth called out Mason (by implication) as a slave holder.

Mr. ELLSWORTH, as he had never owned a slave, could not judge of the effects of slavery on character. He said, however, that if it was to be considered in a moral light, we ought to go further and free those already in the country. As slaves also multiply so fast in Virginia and Maryland that it is cheaper to raise than import them, whilst in the sickly rice swamps foreign supplies are necessary, if we go no further than is urged, we shall be unjust towards South Carolina and Georgia. Let us not intermeddle. As population increases, poor laborers will be so plenty as to render slaves useless. Slavery in time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts. As to the danger of insurrections from foreign influence, that will become a motive to kind treatment of the slaves.

Sadly, Mason was more right than Ellsworth on the eventual result of slavery. We did suffer a national calamity because slaves were not considered useless by Southern states leaders.
Next, the delegates Pinckney justified slavery and invoked fairness as a value. It wouldn’t be fair to Georgia or South Carolina if slavery were curtailed.

Mr. PINCKNEY. If slavery be wrong, it is justified by the example of all the world. He cited the case of Greece, Rome, and other ancient states; the sanction given by France, England, Holland, and other modern states. In all ages one half of mankind have been slaves. If the Southern States were let alone, they will probably of themselves stop importations. He would himself, as a citizen of South Carolina, vote for it. An attempt to take away the right, as proposed, will produce serious objections to the Constitution, which he wished to see adopted.
General PINCKNEY declared it to be his firm opinion, that if himself and all his colleagues were to sign the Constitution, and use their personal influence, it would be of no avail towards obtaining the assent of their constituents. South Carolina and Georgia cannot do without slaves. As to Virginia, she will gain by stopping the importations. Her slaves will rise in value, and she has more than she wants. It would be unequal, to require South Carolina and Georgia to confederate on such unequal terms. He said the Royal assent, before the Revolution, had never been refused to South Carolina, as to Virginia. He contended, that the importation of slaves would be for the interest of the whole Union. The more slaves, the more produce to employ the carrying trade; the more consumption also; and the more of this, the more revenue for the common treasury. He admitted it to be reasonable that slaves should be dutied like other imports; but should consider a rejection of the clause as an exclusion of South Carolina from the Union.

Did the delegates respond to Mason’s warnings about God’s disapproval? Not at all, the arguments here were not religious or even designed to counter religious arguments. If theology had been argued here, one might suggest that the delegates wanted a Christian republic but disagreed about doctrine or points of theology. The only reference again to religious arguments was Randolph’s fear that the Quakers and Methodists would oppose the Constitution over slavery.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for committing, in order that some middle ground might, if possible, be found. He could never agree to the clause as it stands. He would sooner risk the Constitution. He dwelt on the dilemma to which the Convention was exposed. By agreeing to the clause, it would revolt the Quakers, the Methodists, and many others in the States having no slaves. On the other hand, two States might be lost to the Union. Let us then, he said, try the chance of a commitment.

In the end, the delegates committed the question to a committee.

On the question for committing the remaining part of Sections 4 and 5 of Article 7, — Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 7; New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no, — 3; Massachusetts, absent.
 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Religion Unrelated to Slavery

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August 21, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates discussed taxation and slavery. The topics were related because direct taxation was tied to the population of whites and 2/3 of “other persons.” The delegates also discussed the slave trade with no resolution during this session.

Influences on the Delegates

Britain was again an example, this time a negative one:

Mr. GERRY was strenuously opposed to the power over exports. It might be made use of to compel the States to comply with the will of the General Government, and to grant it any new powers which might be demanded. We have given it more power already than we know how will be exercised. It will enable the General Government to oppress the States, as much as Ireland is oppressed by Great Britain.
Mr. FITZSIMONS would be against a tax on exports to be laid immediately; but was for giving a power of laying the tax when a proper time may call for it. This would certainly be the case when America should become a manufacturing country. He illustrated his argument by the duties in Great Britain on wool, &c.

Slavery opponents again tried to limit the slave trade. South Carolina’s Pinckney said there would be no approval from SC if the slave trade was limited.

Mr. L. MARTIN proposed to vary Article 7, Section 4, so as to allow a prohibition or tax on the importation of slaves. In the first place, as five slaves are to be counted as three freemen, in the apportionment of Representatives, such a clause would leave an encouragement to this traffic. In the second place, slaves weakened one part of the Union, which the other parts were bound to protect; the privilege of importing them was therefore unreasonable. And in the third place, it was inconsistent with the principles of the Revolution, and dishonorable to the American character, to have such a feature in the Constitution.

Mr. RUTLEDGE did not see how the importation of slaves could be encouraged by this section. He was not apprehensive of insurrections, and would readily exempt the other States from the obligation to protect the Southern against them. Religion and humanity had nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations. The true question at present is, whether the Southern States shall or shall not be parties to the Union. If the Northern States consult their interest, they will not oppose the increase of slaves, which will increase the commodities of which they will become the carriers.

Mr. ELLSWORTH was for leaving the clause as it stands. Let every State import what it pleases. The morality or wisdom of slavery are considerations belonging to the States themselves. What enriches a part enriches the whole, and the States are the best judges of their particular interest. The old Confederation had not meddled with this point; and he did not see any greater necessity for bringing it within the policy of the new one.

Mr. PINCKNEY. South Carolina can never receive the plan if it prohibits the slave-trade. In every proposed extension of the powers of Congress, that State has expressly and watchfully excepted that of meddling with the importation of negroes. If the States be all left at liberty on this subject, South Carolina may perhaps, by degrees do of herself what is wished, as Virginia and Maryland already have done.

This is a remarkable account of the discussion on slavery. Luther Martin who was a slave holder believed the slave trade was “dishonorable to the American character” and should not be allowed by the Constitution. Then South Carolina’s Rutledge and Pinckney dropped the threat of withdrawal. They were joined by Ellsworth of Connecticut who said the states could decide what was moral.

This is a devastating passage for those who want us to believe that the delegates were crafting a Christian biblically based Constitution. Not only did these delegates deny the role of religion, they took a terrible stance regarding human bondage. Some of the delegates had qualms about it (Morris was quite articulate on the subject) but they were not willing to risk the union over the matter.

In this exchange, it seems very clear that the delegates were not using Christianity or the Bible as a guide. They didn’t look to revelation for the principles of government we now live by. While they held true to Republican principles because rationally they seemed to be fair and respectful of natural rights, they didn’t self-consciously appeal to Christianity for the content of those principles.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – No Religious Test Proposed, Treason Debated

August 20, 1787 (click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney introduced a bill of rights. These came from the proposal he introduced on the first day of business. A presidential cabinet was discussed as well as more powers for Congress.  Treason and how to define it was also discussed.

Influences on the Delegates

Of special note for this blog series is this proposal by Pinckney:

No religious test or qualification shall ever be annexed to any oath of office, under the authority of the United States.

This and many other proposals were referred to the Committee of Detail without debate.
Treason and how to define it was a focus with Madison raising British definitions as a touchstone. Even though some believe the Bible may have been inspirational for the requirement to have two witnesses, there is no indication from this debate of that influence. Instead, the delegates spoke much about English law.  Treason was defined in Article VII, Section 2 as ordered in the August 6, 1787 report from the Committee of Detail:

Sect. 2. Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against the United States, or any of them; and in adhering to the enemies of the United States, or any of them. The Legislature of the United States shall have power to declare the punishment of treason. No person shall be convicted of treason, unless on the testimony of two witnesses. No attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, nor forfeiture, except during the life of the person attained.

Several delegates liked the idea to take the same language as the British statute which originally came from common law.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and Mr. RANDOLPH wished to substitute the words of the British statute, and moved to postpone Article 7, Section 2, in order to consider the following substitute: “Whereas it is essential to the preservation of liberty to define precisely and exclusively what shall constitute the crime of treason, it is therefore ordained, declared, and established, that if a man do levy war against the United States within their territories, or be adherent to the enemies of the United States within the said territories, giving them aid and comfort within their territories or elsewhere, and thereof be provably attainted of open deed, by the people of his condition, he shall be adjudged guilty of treason.”

Eventually, the words “aid and comfort” requiring two witnesses were added.  Giving aid and comfort to the enemy was part of the definition of high treason in British law.
 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – More Congressional Powers Suggested

photo-1467912407355-245f30185020_optAugust 18, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

The delegates continued to discuss the enumeration of powers of Congress and formed a committee to make recommendations about new powers to include.

Influences on the Delegates

Although some founders wanted a very limited national government, Madison and Pinckney wanted an expansion of federal powers. Look at what they wanted Congress to oversee.

In Convention, — Mr. MADISON submitted, in order to be referred to the Committee of Detail, the following powers, as proper to be added to those of the General Legislature:
“To dispose of the unappropriated lands of the United States.
“To institute temporary governments for new States arising therein.
“To regulate affairs with the Indians, as well within as without the limits of the United States.
“To exercise exclusively legislative authority at the seat of the General Government, and over a district around the same not exceeding — square miles; the consent of the Legislature of the State or States, comprising the same, being first obtained.
“To grant charters of corporation in cases where the public good may require them, and the authority of a single State may be incompetent.
“To secure to literary authors their copyrights for a limited time.
“To establish a university.
“To encourage by premiums and provisions the advancement of useful knowledge and discoveries.
“To authorize the Executive to procure, and hold for the use of the United States, landed property for the erection of forts, magazines, and other necessary buildings.”
These propositions were referred to the Committee of Detail which had prepared the Report; and at the same time the following, which were moved by Mr. PINCKNEY, — in both cases unanimously:
“To fix and permanently establish the seat of government of the United States, in which they shall possess the exclusive right of soil and jurisdiction.
“To establish seminaries for the promotion of literature and the arts and sciences.
“To grant charters of incorporation.
“To grant patents for useful inventions.
“To secure to authors exclusive rights for a certain time.
“To establish public institutions, rewards, and immunities for the promotion of agriculture, commerce, trades, and manufactures.
“That funds which shall be appropriated for the payment of public creditors, shall not during the time of such appropriation, be diverted or applied to any other purpose, and that the Committee prepare a clause or clauses for restraining the Legislature of the United States from establishing a perpetual revenue.
“To secure the payment of the public debt.
“To secure all creditors under the new Constitution from a violation of the public faith when pledged by the authority of the Legislature.
“To grant letters of marque and reprisal.
“To regulate stages on the post-roads.”

Great Britain was a positive influence for Mason:

Mr. MASON was much attached to the principle, but was afraid such a fetter might be dangerous in time of war. He suggested the necessity of preventing the danger of perpetual revenue, which must of necessity subvert the liberty of any country. If it be objected to on the principle of Mr. RUTLEDGE’S motion, that public credit may require perpetual provisions, that case might be excepted; it being declared that in other cases no taxes should be laid for a longer term than — years. He considered the caution observed in Great Britain on this point, as the palladium of public liberty.

 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – National Power to Curb Rebellions

August 17, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates debated many details relating to the enumeration of Congressional powers.

Influences on the Delegates

Madison again referred to the example of Great Britain as instructive for the Constitution. The Statute of Anne was the first British law to establish copyright protection.

Mr. MADISON. Felony at common law is vague. It is also defective. One defect is supplied by Statute of Anne, as to running away with vessels, which at common law was a breach of trust only. Besides, no foreign law should be a standard, further than it is expressly adopted. If the laws of the States were to prevail on this subject, the citizens of different States would be subject to different punishments for the same offence at sea. There would be neither uniformity nor stability in the law. The proper remedy for all these difficulties was, to vest the power proposed by the term “define,” in the National Legislature.

Relevant to discussions now about the Civil War and the permission of the national government to intervene in state matters, the delegates seemed divided on the matter even as they voted to include this power in the Constitution.

The clause, “to subdue a rebellion in any State, on the application of its Legislature,” was next considered.
Mr. PINCKNEY moved to strike out, “on the application of its Legislature.”
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS seconds.
Mr. L. MARTIN opposed it, as giving a dangerous and unnecessary power. The consent of the State ought to precede the introduction of any extraneous force whatever.
Mr. MERCER supported the opposition of Mr. MARTIN.
Mr. ELLSWORTH proposed to add, after “legislature,” “or Executive.”
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. The Executive may possibly be at the head of the rebellion. The General Government should enforce obedience in all cases where it may be necessary.
Mr. ELLSWORTH. In many cases the General Government ought not to be able to interpose, unless called upon. He was willing to vary his motion, so as to read, “or without it, when the Legislature cannot meet.”
Mr. GERRY was against letting loose the myrmidons of the United States on a State, without its own consent. The States will be the best judges in such cases. More blood would have been spilt in Massachusetts, in the late insurrection, if the general authority had intermeddled.
Mr. LANGDON was for striking out, as moved by Mr. PINCKNEY. The apprehension of the National force will have a salutary effect, in preventing insurrections.
Mr. RANDOLPH. If the National Legislature is to judge whether the State Legislature can or cannot meet, that amendment would make the clause as objectionable as the motion of Mr. PINCKNEY.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. We are acting a very strange part. We first form a strong man to protect us, and at the same time wish to tie his hands behind him. The Legislature may surely be trusted with such a power to preserve the public tranquillity.
On the motion to add, “or without it [application] when the Legislature cannot meet,” it was agreed to, —
New Hampshire, Connecticut, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, aye, — 5; Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, no, — 3; Pennsylvania, North Carolina, divided.
Mr. MADISON and Mr. DICKINSON moved to insert, as explanatory, after “State,” “against the Government thereof.” There might be a rebellion against the United States. The motion was agreed to, nem. con.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – The Powers of Congress

August 16, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes)

Summary

The delegates took up debate on the powers of Congress. They easily agreed that Congress should have power to lay and collect taxes, regulate international and interstate commerce, coin money, regulate foreign coin, fix standards of weights and measures, and to establish post roads and post offices. They voted down a clause allowing Congress to print paper money (“emit bills”).

Influences on the Delegates

The one biblical reference in today’s proceedings was to the book of Revelation. Delaware’s George Read said:

Mr. READ thought the words, if not struck out, would be as alarming as the mark of the Beast in Revelation.

Read made these comments at the end of a debate on the power of Congress to “emit bills on the credit of the United States.” Gouverneur Morris moved to strike that clause followed by strenuous discussion. Bills of credit or paper money had become a problem in some states and was in great disfavor. The delegates voted to remove the clause, 9 in favor, 2 opposed. Read’s comment was followed by New Hampshire’s Langdon who said:

Mr. LANGDON had rather reject the whole plan, than retain the three words, “and emit bills.”

The matter was of great importance to the delegates as indicated by the strong words and lopsided vote. Thus, Read’s comment was rhetorical and not indicative of using the Bible in a policy making manner.
As is obvious, things have surely changed. If paper money was hated, can you imagine their bewilderment and distrust of digital transactions. This discussion of paper money is a reminder that visiting the past through these journals is like visiting another world. They lived in an entirely different environment with difference conditions. What the founders did can’t always or perhaps even frequently be our guide.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Presidential Veto Debated

photo-1467912407355-245f30185020_optAugust 15, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

The delegates debated the way bills would be introduced in the legislature and then moved to affirm the power of the president to veto legislation. Madison struck out after four tries to get a committee of revision for legislation. Instead the veto was established as a way for the executive branch to negative bills.

Influences on the Delegates

Mr. Mercer appealed positively to the example of Great Britain:

Mr. MERCER should hereafter be against returning to a reconsideration of this section. He contended (alluding to Mr. MASON’S observations) that the Senate ought not to have the power of treaties. This power belonged to the Executive department; adding, that treaties would not be final, so as to alter the laws of the land, till ratified by legislative authority. This was the case of treaties in Great Britain; particularly the late treaty of commerce with France.

Dickinson appealed to the example of the “Justiciary of Arragon.” This Spanish reference is explained here, but he was signaling his fear that judges would become makers of law.

Mr. DICKINSON was strongly impressed with the remark of Mr. MERCER, as to the power of the Judges to set aside the law. He thought no such power ought to exist. He was, at the same time, at a loss what expedient to substitute. The Justiciary of Arragon, he observed, became by degrees the law-giver.

Morris got in references to Sparta, Rome, England and Pennsylvania:

The most virtuous citizens will often, as members of a Legislative body, concur in measures which afterwards, in their private capacity, they will be ashamed of. Encroachments of the popular branch of the Government ought to be guarded against. The Ephori at Sparta became in the end absolute. The Report of the Council of Censors in Pennsylvania points out the many invasions of the Legislative department on the Executive, numerous as the latter1  is, within the short term of seven years; and in a State where a strong party is opposed to the Constitution, and watching every occasion of turning the public resentments against it. If the Executive be overturned by the popular branch, as happened in England, the tyranny of one man will ensue. In Rome, where the aristocracy overturned the throne, the consequence was different. He enlarged on the tendency of the Legislative authority to usurp on the Executive, and wished the section to be postponed, in order to consider of some more effectual check than requiring two thirds only to overrule the negative of the Executive.

Wilson did not want to become like England.

Mr. WILSON, after viewing the subject with all the coolness and attention possible, was most apprehensive of a dissolution of the Government from the Legislature swallowing up all the other powers. He remarked, that the prejudices against the Executive resulted from a misapplication of the adage, that the Parliament was the palladium of liberty. Where the Executive was really formidable, king and tyrant were naturally associated in the minds of people; not legislature and tyranny. But where the Executive was not formidable, the two last were most properly associated. After the destruction of the King in Great Britain, a more pure and unmixed tyranny sprang up in the Parliament, than had been exercised by the monarch. He insisted that we had not guarded against the danger on this side, by a sufficient self-defensive power, either to the Executive or Judiciary Department.
 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Avoiding Aristocracies

August 14, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)

Summary

A lot of debate today with little action. The delegates decided that the legislators should be paid from the National Treasury and debated over their fears of creating an aristocracy.

Influences on the Delegates

The delegates worried a lot about creating a system which would be exploited by men wanting power and wealth. Sherman summed up by saying:

The Constitution should lay as few temptations as possible in the way of those in power. Men of abilities will increase as the country grows more populous, and as the means of education are more diffused.

James Wilson was fond of referring to the positives in his own state of Pennsylvania.

 Mr. WILSON could not approve of the section as it stood, and could not give up his judgment to any supposed objections that might arise among the people. He considered himself as acting and responsible for the welfare of millions not immediately represented in this House. He had also asked himself the serious question, what he should say to his constituents, in case they should call upon him to tell them why he sacrificed his own judgment in a case where they authorized him to exercise it? Were he to own to them that he sacrificed it in order to flatter their prejudices, he should dread the retort, — did you suppose the people of Pennsylvania had not good sense enough to receive a good government? Under this impression, he should certainly follow his own judgment, which disapproved of the section. He would remark, in addition to the objections urged against it, that as one branch of the Legislature was to be appointed by the Legislatures of the States, the other by the people of the States; as both are to be paid by the States, and to be appointable to state offices; nothing seemed to be wanting to prostrate the National Legislature, but to render its members ineligible to national offices, and by that means take away its power of attracting those talents which were necessary to give weight to the Government, and to render it useful to the people. He was far from thinking the ambition which aspired to offices of dignity and trust an ignoble or culpable one. He was sure it was not politic to regard it in that light, or to withhold from it the prospect of those rewards which might engage it in the career of public service. He observed that the State of Pennsylvania, which had gone as far as any State into the policy of fettering power, had not rendered the members of the Legislature ineligible to offices of government.

The experience of the states was critical in the formation of the Constitution.

 Mr. MADISON. If the House of Representatives is to be chosen biennially, and the Senate to be constantly dependent on the Legislatures, which are chosen annually, he could not see any chance for that stability in the General Government, the want of which was a principal evil in the State Governments. His fear was, that the organization of the Government supposing the Senate to be really independent for six years, would not effect our purpose. It was nothing more than a combination of the peculiarities of two of the State Governments, which separately had been found insufficient. The Senate was formed on the model of that of Maryland. The revisionary check, on that of New York. What the effect of a union of these provisions might be, could not be foreseen. The enlargement of the sphere of the Government was indeed a circumstance which he thought would be favorable, as he had on several occasions, undertaken to show. He was, however, for fixing at least two extremes not to be exceeded by the National Legislature in the payment of themselves.
 

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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