The 1787 Constitutional Convention – The New Jersey Plan Debated

June 16, 1787

Summary

Today, the delegates debated the New Jersey proposal.

Influences on the Constitution

As in past sessions, there was no mention of the Bible or religion as a factor in support or opposition to either plan before the Convention.
An influence I haven’t mentioned in past posts shows up today: the people. While I have noticed in my reading an occasion reference to citizen acceptance, that factor jumped at at me today from the opening comments by New York delegate John Lansing:

In Committee of the Whole, on the Resolutions proposed by Mr. PATTERSON and Mr. RANDOLPH, — Mr. LANSING called for the reading of the first Resolution of each plan, which he considered as involving principles directly in contrast. That of Mr. PATTERSON, says he, sustains the sovereignty of the respective States, that of Mr. RANDOLPH destroys it. The latter requires a negative on all the laws of the particular States, the former only certain general power for the general good. The plan of Mr. RANDOLPH in short absorbs all power, except what may be exercised in the little local matters of the States which are not objects worthy of the supreme cognizance. He grounded his preference of Mr. PATTERSON’S plan, chiefly, on two objections to that of Mr. RANDOLPH, — first, want of power in the Convention to discuss and propose it; secondly, the improbability of its being adopted.
1. He was decidedly of opinion that the power of the Convention was restrained to amendments of a Federal nature, and having for their basis the Confederacy in being. The acts of Congress, the tenor of the acts of the States, the commissions produced by the several Deputations, all proved this. And this limitation of the power to an amendment of the Confederacy marked the opinion of the States, that it was unnecessary and improper to go farther. He was sure that this was the case with his State. New York would never have concurred in sending Deputies to the Convention, if she had supposed the deliberations were to turn on a consolidation of the States, and a National Government.
2. Was it probable that the States would adopt and ratify a scheme which they had never authorized us to propose, and which so far exceeded what they regarded as sufficient? We see by their several acts, particularly in relation to the plan of revenue proposed by Congress in 1783, not authorized by the Articles of Confederation, what were the ideas they then entertained. Can so great a change be supposed to have already taken place? To rely on any change which is hereafter to take place in the sentiments of the people, would be trusting to too great an uncertainty. We know only what their present sentiments are. And it is in vain to propose what will not accord with these. The States will never feel a sufficient confidence in a General Government, to give it a negative on their laws. The scheme is itself totally novel. There is no parallel to it to be found. The authority of Congress is familiar to the people, and an augmentation of the powers of Congress will be readily approved by them.

Lansing worried that the Randolph plan delegates were going beyond their mandate and that the people in the states would never accept a strong national government. The perception of what citizens would accept must be considered a powerful influence on the principles of the Constitution.
PA’s James Wilson countered that the will of the people isn’t easily known.

With regard to the sentiments of the people, he conceived it difficult to know precisely what they are. Those of the particular circle in which one moved were commonly mistaken for the general voice. He could not persuade himself that the State Governments and sovereignties were so much the idols of the people, nor a National Governernment so obnoxious to them, as some supposed. Why should a National Government be unpopular? Has it less dignity? Will each citizen enjoy under it less liberty or protection? Will a citizen of Delaware be degraded by becoming a citizen of the United States? Where do the people look at present for relief from the evils of which they complain? Is it from an internal reform of their governments? No, sir. It is from the national councils that relief is expected. For these reasons, he did not fear that the people would not follow us into a National Government; and it will be a further recommendation of Mr. RANDOLPH’S plan, that it is to be submitted to them, and not to the Legislatures, for ratification.

Wilson continued, later referring again to the illustration of Britain.

But it is a lesson we ought not to disregard, that the smallest bodies in Great Britain are notoriously the most corrupt. Every other source of influence must also be stronger in small than in large bodies of men. When Lord Chesterfield had told us that one of the Dutch provinces had been seduced into the views of France, he need not have added, that it was not Holland, but one of the smallest of them. There are facts among ourselves which are known to all. Passing over others, we will only remark that the Impost, so anxiously wished for by the public, was defeated not by any of the larger States in the Union.

Wilson concludes his remarks with a negative model of the executive branch from Greece and Rome:

On another great point, the contrast was equally favorable to the plan reported by the Committee of the Whole. It vested the Executive powers in a single magistrate. The plan of New Jersey, vested them in a plurality. In order to control the Legislative authority, you must divide it. In order to control the Executive you must unite it. One man will be more responsible than three. Three will contend among themselves, till one becomes the master of his colleagues. In the triumvirates of Rome, first, Cæsar, then Augustus, are witnesses of this truth. The kings of Sparta, and the Consuls of Rome, prove also the factious consequences of dividing the Executive magistracy. Having already taken up so much time, he would not, he said, proceed to any of the other points. Those on which he had dwelt are sufficient of themselves; and on the decision of them the fate of the others will depend.

The session adjourned without a vote on either plan.

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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 Constitution Convention – The New Jersey Plan Raises Anxiety

June 15, 1787

Summary

New Jersey delegate William Patterson submitted another plan of government.

Influences on the Constitution

Debate was postponed until the next session:

Mr. PATTERSON laid before the Convention the plan which he said several of the Deputations wished to be substituted in place of that proposed by Mr. RANDOLPH. After some little discussion of the most proper mode of giving it a fair deliberation, it was agreed, that it should be referred to a Committee of the Whole; and that, in order to place the two plans in due comparison, the other should be recommitted. At the earnest request of Mr. LANSING and some other gentleman, it was also agreed that the Convention should not go into Committee of the Whole on the subject till to-morrow; by which delay the friends of the plan proposed by Mr. PATTERSON would be better prepared to explain and support it, and all would have an opportunity of taking copies.1

The plan was laid out in Madison’s notes. Madison’s commentary probably best sums up the offer of a new plan.

This plan had been concerted among the Deputations, or members thereof, from Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and perhaps Mr. Martin, from Maryland, who made with them a common cause, though on different principles. Connecticut and New York were against a departure from the principle of the Confederation, wishing rather to add a few new powers to Congress than to substitute a National Government. The States of New Jersey and Delaware were opposed to a National Government, because its patrons considered a proportional representation of the States as the basis of it. The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a National Government, from these different motives, began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the Convention. Mr. Dickinson said to Mr. Madison, “You see the consequence of pushing things too far. Some of the members from the small States wish for two branches in the General Legislature, and are friends to a good National Government; but we would sooner submit to foreign power, than submit to be deprived, in both branches of the legislature, of an equality of suffrage, and thereby be thrown under the domination of the larger States.”

Delegates from the smaller states were quite worried that they would be dominated by the larger states. This nervousness led them to champion the Confederation of states over a strong national government. However, the dispute between the states led to worries that the convention might end without an agreement. From Madison’s note:

The eagerness displayed by the members opposed to a National Government, from these different motives, began now to produce serious anxiety for the result of the Convention.
 

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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 – Vote on Virginia Plan Delayed to Consider New Jersey Plan

June 14, 1787
There is only one entry in Madison’s journal for today:

Mr. PATTERSON observed to the Convention, that it was the wish of several Deputations, particularly that of New Jersey, that further time might be allowed them to contemplate the plan reported from the Committee of the Whole, and to digest one purely federal, and contradistinguished from the reported plan. He said, they hoped to have such an one ready by to-morrow to be laid before the Convention: and the Convention adjourned that leisure might be given for the purpose.

The plot thickened from here.
 

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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 – Time to Vote on the Virginia Plan

June 13, 1787

Summary

After some debate on the Judiciary and Senate, the delegates agreed to vote on the Virginia plan the next day. As we will see, any hopes for a quick plan were dashed the next day.

Influences

Again, Britain and the experience of the states formed the influences on decisions made in this session.

Mr. BUTLER saw no reason for such a discrimination. We were always following the British Constitution, when the reason of it did not apply. There was no analogy between the House of Lords and the body proposed to be established. If the Senate should be degraded by any such discriminations, the best men would be apt to decline serving in it, in favor of the other branch. And it will lead the latter into the practice of tacking other clauses to money bills.

Mr. MADISON observed, that the commentators on the British Constitution had not yet agreed on the reason of the restriction on the House of Lords, in money bills. Certain it was, there could be no similar reason in the case before us. The Senate would be the representatives of the people, as well as the first branch. If they should have any dangerous influence over it, they would easily prevail on some member of the latter to originate the bill they wished to be passed. As the Senate would be generally a more capable set of men, it would be wrong to disable them from any preparation of the business, especially of that which was most important, and, in our republics, worse prepared than any other. The gentleman, in pursuance of his principle, ought to carry the restraint to the amendment, as well as the originating of money bills; since an addition of a given sum would be equivalent to a distinct proposition of it.

Mr. SHERMAN. As both branches must concur, there can be no danger, whichever way the Senate may be formed. We establish two branches in order to get more wisdom, which is particularly needed in the finance business. The Senate bear their share of the taxes, and are also the representatives of the people. ‘What a man does by another, he does by himself,’ is a maxim. In Connecticut both branches can originate, in all cases, and it has been found safe and convenient. Whatever might have been the reason of the rule as to the House of Lords, it is clear that no good arises from it now even there.

General PINCKNEY. This distinction prevails in South Carolina, and has been a source of pernicious disputes between the two branches. The Constitution is now evaded by informal schedules of amendments, handed from the Senate to the other House.

About three weeks had passed and no prayers were offered, nor did the delegates debate biblical principles.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Will the Senate Keep the House in Line?

June 12, 1787
Summary: The delegates discussed various aspects of the legislature and judiciary. They decided to refer the Constitution to the people of the states for ratification. The terms of what became the House of Representatives was set at 3 years with “liberal compensation” supplied to the members. On this day, the term of a Senator was set at seven years with a required age of 30.

Influences

Naturally, the delegates looked to Britain for models of the legislature. Virginia’s William Pierce said in opposition to a seven year term for Senators:

Mr. PIERCE proposed three years. Seven years would raise an alarm. Great mischiefs have arisen in England from their Septennial Act, which was reprobated by most of their patriotic statesmen.

Mr. Randolph argued in response that the democratically elected body needed a stable influence and used Maryland as a negative example.

Mr. RANDOLPH was for the term of seven years. The democratic licentiousness of the State Legislatures proved the necessity of a firm Senate. The object of this second branch is, to control the democratic branch of the National Legislature. If it be not a firm body, the other branch, being more numerous, and coming immediately from the people, will overwhelm it. The Senate of Maryland, constituted on like principles, had been scarcely able to stem the popular torrent. No mischief can be apprehended, as the concurrence of the other branch, and in some measure of the Executive, will in all cases be necessary. A firmness and independence may be the more necessary, also, in this branch, as it ought to guard the Constitution against encroachments of the Executive, who will be apt to form combinations with the demagogues of the popular branch.

Madison followed in the debate by agreeing that the Maryland Senate had not caused problems by longer terms.
Another day in Convention and another day without appeals to religion or the Bible.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention – The Three-Fifths Clause

Journal Federal Cons LogoJune 11, 1787
Summary: Today, the delegates voted on the 3/5 clause. They passed it with minimal discussion but revisited it on July 12 when discussion of taxation took place.
Again Britain was a model for Roger Sherman from CT.

Mr. SHERMAN proposed, that the proportion of suffrage in the first branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch, or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more. He said, as the States would remain possessed of certain individual rights, each State ought to be able to protect itself; otherwise, a few large States will rule the rest. The House of Lords in England, he observed, had certain particular rights under the Constitution, and hence they have an equal vote with the House of Commons, that they may be able to defend their rights.

Franklin also illustrated his thoughts with the example of Britain:

I recollect that, in the beginning of this century, when the union was proposed of the two kingdoms, England and Scotland, the Scotch patriots were full of fears, that unless they had an equal number of representatives in Parliament, they should be ruined by the superiority of the English. They finally agreed, however, that the different proportions of importance in the union of the two nations should be attended to, whereby they were to have only forty members in the House of Commons, and only sixteen in the House of Lords. A very great inferiority of numbers! And yet to this day I do not recollect that any thing has been done in the Parliament of Great Britain to the prejudice of Scotland; and whoever looks over the lists of public officers, civil and military, of that nation, will find, I believe, that the North Britons enjoy at least their full proportion of emolument.

Franklin later returned to this model:

“This mode is not new. It was formerly practised with success by the British government with respect to Ireland and the Colonies. We sometimes gave even more than they expected, or thought just to accept; and in the last war carried on while we were united, they gave us back in five years a million sterling. We should probably have continued such voluntary contributions, whenever the occasions appeared to require them for the common good of the Empire. It was not till they chose to force us, and to deprive us of the merit and pleasure of voluntary contributions, that we refused and resisted. These contributions, however, were to be disposed of at the pleasure of a government in which we had no representative. I am, therefore, persuaded, that they will not be refused to one in which the representation shall be equal.

The 3/5ths clause was then considered with very little commentary:

It was then moved by Mr. RUTLEDGE, seconded by Mr. BUTLER, to add to the words, “equitable ratio of representation,” at the end of the motion just agreed to, the words “according to the quotas of contribution.” On motion of Mr. WILSON, seconded by Mr. PINCKNEY, this was postponed; in order to add, after the words, “equitable ratio of representation,” the words following: “in proportion to 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, in each State” — this being the rule in the act of Congress, agreed to by eleven States, for apportioning quotas of revenue on the States, and requiring a census only every five, seven, or ten years.

Mr. GERRY thought property not the rule of representation. Why, then, should the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle and horses of the North?

On the question, — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New Jersey, Delaware, no — 2.

 

The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Should Governors Elect the President?

photo-1467912407355-245f30185020_optMay 9, 1787
Summary: On this day in the Constitutional Convention, Elbridge Gerry from MA proposed to require the chief executive be elected by the state governors (state executives). This proposal failed.
The remainder of the time was spent debating how to fairly represent the small states in a national legislature. Primarily, the basis for opinion was each delegates sense of fairness and what the people of the states would accept. As in past sessions, the delegates did not appeal to religion, or Exodus to help them decide how best to represent the people. They grappled with a fair way to represent the large and small states.

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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 – States Laws Can't Be Negated by the National Legislature

Journal Federal Cons LogoJune 8, 1787
Summary: The delegates decided that all state laws were not subject to veto by the National Legislature.
In the debate over the Constitution, a major need was to balance state and national power and authority. Some delegates leaned toward making states weak in comparison to the federal government and others wanted a weaker federal authority. Rather than a self-conscious application of biblical principles as David Barton and other Christian nationalist propose, the Convention hashed over numerous contradicting ideas and philosophies of government on the way to a compromise.
Charles Pinckney moved to subordinate state laws to federal law.

Mr. PINCKNEY moved, “that the National Legislature should have authority to negative all laws which they should judge to be improper.” He urged that such a universality of the power was indispensably necessary to render it effectual; that the States must be kept in due subordination to the nation; that if the States were left to act of themselves in any case, it would be impossible to defend the national prerogatives, however extensive they might be, on paper; that the acts of Congress had been defeated by this means; nor had foreign treaties escaped repeated violations: that this universal negative was in fact the corner-stone of an efficient national Government; that under the British Government the negative of the Crown had been found beneficial, and the States are more one nation now, than the colonies were then.

While Britain has at times come up as a negative example, Pinckney here invoked the British Crown as a positive model. Madison seconded the motion and appealed to current experience with state governments as reason for this proposal. On this day, the delegates negated the proposal to negate.

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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 – Should the Senate Resemble the House of Lords or Roman Tribunals?

June 7, 1787
Summary: The delegates focused on how to elect the Senate today. Eventually, they decided that state legislatures should do it.
As has been the pattern thus far, delegates relied on Britain and the ancient republics as inspiration.

Mr. DICKINSON had two reasons for his motion — first, because the sense of the States would be better collected through their Governments, than immediately from the people at large; secondly, because he wished the Senate to consist of the most distinguished characters, distinguished for their rank in life and their weight of property, and bearing as strong a likeness to the British House of Lords as possible; and he thought such characters more likely to be selected by the State Legislatures, than in any other mode. The greatness of the number was no objection with him. He hoped there would be eighty, and twice eighty of them. If their number should be small, the popular branch could not be balanced by them. The Legislature of a numerous people ought to be a numerous body.

Dickinson wanted the Senate to resemble the British House of Lords. Madison was informed by the example of Rome.

Mr. MADISON. If the motion (of Mr. DICKINSON) should be agreed to, we must either depart from the doctrine of proportional representation, or admit into the Senate a very large number of members. The first is inadmissible, being evidently unjust. The second is inexpedient. The use of the Senate is to consist in its proceeding with more coolness, with more system, and with more wisdom, than the popular branch. Enlarge their number, and you communicate to them the vices which they are meant to correct. He differed from Mr. DICKINSON, who thought that the additional number would give additional weight to the body. On the contrary, it appeared to him that their weight would be in an inverse ratio to their numbers. The example of the Roman tribunes was applicable. They lost their influence and power, in proportion as their number was augmented. The reason seemed to be obvious: they were appointed to take care of the popular interests and pretensions at Rome; because the people by reason of their numbers could not act in concert, and were liable to fall into factions among themselves, and to become a prey to their aristocratic adversaries. The more the representatives of the people, therefore, were multiplied, the more they partook of the infirmities of their constituents, the more liable they became to be divided among themselves, either from their own indiscretions or the artifices of the opposite faction, and of course the less capable of fulfilling their trust. When the weight of a set of men depends merely on their personal characters, the greater the number, the greater the weight. When it depends on the degree of political authority lodged in them, the smaller the number, the greater the weight. These considerations might perhaps be combined in the intended Senate; but the latter was the material one.

Dickinson also compared the proposed system to the solar system.\

He compared the proposed national system to the solar system, in which the States were the planets, and ought to be left to move freely in their proper orbits.

Delegate Wilson used the British government as a negative example.

Mr. WILSON. The subject, it must be owned, is surrounded with doubts and difficulties. But we must surmount them. The British Government cannot be our model. We have no materials for a similar one. Our manners, our laws, the abolition of entails and of primogeniture, the whole genius of the people, are opposed to it. He did not see the danger of the States being devoured by the National Government. On the contrary, he wished to keep them from devouring the National Government. He was not, however, for extinguishing these planets, as was supposed by Mr. DICKINSON; neither did he, on the other hand, believe that they would warm or enlighten the sun. Within their proper orbits they must still be suffered to act, for subordinate purposes, for which their existence is made essential by the great extent of our country. He could not comprehend in what manner the landed interest would be rendered less predominant in the Senate by an election through the medium of the Legislatures, than by the people themselves. If the Legislatures, as was now complained, sacrificed the commercial to the landed interest, what reason was there to expect such a choice from them as would defeat their own views? He was for an election by the people, in large districts, which would be most likely to obtain men of intelligence and uprightness; subdividing the districts only for the accommodation of voters.

A trend is apparent. The framers did not begin or end with prayer, they did not debate the theological or biblical basis for any of their decisions. Thus far, most examples, both positive and negative, have been from Britain, the states, and Rome/Greece.

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 – Let the People Vote!

June 6, 1787
Today the delegates decided against having state legislatures elect the first federal legislative house. Some delegates distrusted the people to directly elect their federal representatives, preferring instead to have the people elect members of state legislatures who in turn would elect federal legislators. After debate, the delegates decided to allow people to vote on what became the House of Representatives.
James Madison gave a speech which I first reported on June 4. Since other delegates included the speech in their June 4 notes, many historians believe the speech came on that day.
In this debate, the delegates continued to refer to England and the states for guidance. For instance, Elbridge Gerry said:

In England the people will probably lose their liberty from the smallness of the proportion having a right of suffrage. Our danger arises from the opposite extreme. Hence in Massachusetts the worst men get into the Legislature. Several members of that body had lately been convicted of infamous crimes.

Gerry did not favor a direct vote to the federal legislature.
John Dickinson of Delaware said:

In the formation of the Senate, we ought to carry it through such a refining process as will assimilate it, as nearly as may be, to the House of Lords in England. He repeated his warm eulogiums on the British Constitution.

On the matter of the relationship between the first magistrate and the judiciary, Madison said:

The maxim on which the objection was founded, required a separation of the Executive, as well as the Judiciary, from the Legislature and from each other. There would, in truth, however, be no improper mixture of these distinct powers in the present case. In England, whence the maxim itself had been drawn, the Executive had an absolute negative on the laws; and the supreme tribunal of justice (the House of Lords), formed one of the other branches of the Legislature. In short, whether the object of the revisionary power was to restrain the Legislature from encroaching on the other co-ordinate departments, or on the rights of the people at large; or from passing laws unwise in their principle or incorrect in their form; the utility of annexing the wisdom and weight of the Judiciary to the Executive seemed incontestable.

Thus far, the Bible’s influence has been nil.