Madison’s Notes: Federal Convention of 1787: Aug. 31

Liberty Letters, 31 August 1787, James Madison

Editor’s Overview: KING moved to add to the end of Article XXI the words “between the said States” so as to confine the operation of the Government to the States ratifying it. Interestingly, only one dissenting vote. Mr. MADISON, however proposed to fill the blank in the article with “any seven or more States entitled to thirty three members at least in the House of Representatives according to the allotment made in the 3rd Section of Article 4. ” This he said would require the concurrence of a majority both of the States and people.

Next, it was debated as to whether the ratification process would be by conventions or as each state decides. Madison was for conventions only, because said he: “The people were in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties were got over. They could alter constitutions as they pleased. It was a principle in the Bills of rights, that first principles might be resorted to.” A troubling fact for those who still to this day give us the lie that the Constitution was simply a compact between the states rather than a mixed republic that was approved and effective upon both the states and the people. This is best demonstrated by the different modes of elections in the two houses. Unfortunately the 17th Amendment altered the mixed character of our republic away from state influence. As to Madison’s position; he won the day (see Article VII of The Constitution).

Morris and Pinkney moved to keep Congress out of the ratification process. Approved 8-3.

The Report of the Grand Committee of eleven made by Mr. SHERMAN was then taken up (see Aug: 28). On the question to agree to the following clause, to be inserted after Section 4, Article VII. “nor shall any regulation of commerce or revenue give preference to the ports of one State over those of another.” Agreed to without dissent.

On question on the clause of the Report “and all duties, imposts and excises, laid by the Legislature shall be uniform throughout the United States.” It was agreed to without dissent.

Steve Farrell

_______________________

Mr. KING moved to add to the end of art: XXI the words “between the said States” so as to confine the operation of the Govt. to the States ratifying it.

On the question

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Md. no. Virga. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.

Mr. MADISON proposed to fill the blank in the article with “any seven or more States entitled to thirty three members at least in the House of Representatives according to the allotment made in the 3 Sect: of art: 4.” This he said would require the concurrence of a majority both of the States and people.

Mr. SHERMAN doubted the propriety of authorizing less than all the States to execute the Constitution, considering the nature of the existing Confederation. Perhaps all the States may concur, and on that supposition it is needless to hold out a breach of faith.

Mr. CLYMER and Mr. CARROL moved to postpone the consideration of Art: XXI in order to take up the Reports of Committees not yet acted on. On this question, the States were equally divided.

N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. divd. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C no. S. C. no. G. ay.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS moved to strike out “Conventions of the” after “ratifications,” leaving the States to pursue their own modes of ratification.

Mr. CARROL mentioned the mode of altering the Constitution of Maryland pointed out therein, and that no other mode could be pursued in that State.

Mr. KING thought that striking out “Conventions” as the requisite mode was equivalent to giving up the business altogether. Conventions alone, which will avoid all the obstacles from the complicated formation of the Legislatures, will succeed, and if not positively required by the plan, its enemies will oppose that mode.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS said he meant to facilitate the adoption of the plan, by leaving the modes approved by the several State Constitutions to be followed.

Mr. MADISON considered it best to require Conventions; among other reasons, for this, that the powers given to the General Government being taken from the State Governments the Legislatures would be more disinclined than conventions composed in part at least of other men; and if disinclined, they could devise modes apparently promoting, but really, thwarting the ratification. The difficulty in Maryland was no greater than in other States, where no mode of change was pointed out by the Constitution, and all officers were under oath to support it. The people were in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties were got over. They could alter constitutions as they pleased. It was a principle in the Bills of rights, that first principles might be resorted to.

Mr. Mc.HENRY said that the officers of Government in Maryland were under oath to support the mode of alteration prescribed by the Constitution.

Mr. GHORUM, urged the expediency of “Conventions” also Mr. PINKNEY, for reasons, formerly urged on a discussion of this question.

Mr. L. MARTIN insisted on a reference to the State Legislatures. He urged the danger of commotions from a resort to the people and to first principles in which the Governments might be on one side and the people on the other. He was apprehensive of no such consequences however in Maryland, whether the Legislature or the people should be appealed to. Both of them would be generally against the Constitution. He repeated also the peculiarity in the Maryland Constitution.

Mr. KING observed that the Constitution of Massachusetts was made unalterable till the year 1790, yet this was no difficulty with him. The State must have contemplated a recurrence to first principles before they sent deputies to this Convention.

Mr. SHERMAN moved to postpone art. XXI 5 & 6 take up art: XXII on which question,

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. P. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. no S. C. no. Geo. no.

On Mr. Govr. Morris’s motion to strike out “Conventions of the,” it was negatived.

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay.

On filling the blank in Art: XXI with “thirteen” moved by Mr. CARROL & L. MARTIN

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no — all no. except Maryland.

Mr. SHERMAN & Mr. DAYTON moved to fill the blank with “ten”

Mr. WILSON supported the motion of Mr. MADISON, requiring a majority both of the people and of States.

Mr. CLYMER was also in favor of it.

Col: MASON was for preserving ideas familiar to the people. Nine States had been required in all great cases under the Confederation and that number was on that account preferable

On the question for “ten”

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay.

On question for “nine”

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay

Art: XXI. as amended was then agreed to by all the States, Maryland excepted, & Mr. Jenifer being, ay.

Art: XXII, taken up, to wit, “This Constitution shall be laid before the United States in Congress assembled for their approbation; and it is the opinion of this Convention that it should be afterwards submitted to a Convention chosen, in each State under the recommendation of its Legislature, in order to receive the ratification of such Convention”

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS & Mr. PINKNEY moved to strike out the words “for their approbation” On this question

N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. no.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS & Mr. PINKNEY then moved to amend the art: so as to read

“This Constitution shall be laid before the U. S. in Congress assembled; and it is the opinion of this Convention that it should afterwards be submitted to a Convention chosen in each State, in order to receive the ratification of such Convention: to which end the several Legislatures ought to provide for the calling Conventions within their respective States as speedily as circumstances will permit.” — Mr. GOVr. MORRIS said his object was to impress in stronger terms the necessity of calling Conventions in order to prevent enemies to the plan, from giving it the go by. When it first appears, with the sanction of this Convention, the people will be favorable to it. By degrees the State officers, and those interested in the State Governments will intrigue and turn the popular current against it.

Mr. L. MARTIN believed Mr. Morris to be right, that after a while the people would be against it, but for a different reason from that alleged. He believed they would not ratify it unless hurried into it by surprise.

Mr. GERRY enlarged on the idea of Mr. L. Martin in which he concurred, represented the system as full of vices, and dwelt on the impropriety of destroying the existing Confederation, without the unanimous consent of the parties to it.

Question on Mr. Govr. Morris’s & Mr. Pinkney’s motion

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no.

Mr. GERRY moved to postpone art: XXII.

Col: MASON 2ded. the motion, declaring that he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands. He wished to see some points not yet decided brought to a decision, before being compelled to give a final opinion on this article. Should these points be improperly settled, his wish would then be to bring the whole subject before another general Convention.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS was ready for a postponement. He had long wished for another Convention, that will have the firmness to provide a vigorous Government, which we are afraid to do.

Mr. RANDOLPH stated his idea to be, in case the final form of the Constitution should not permit him to accede to it, that the State Conventions should be at liberty to propose amendments to be submitted to another General Convention which may reject or incorporate them, as shall be judged proper.

On the question for postponing

N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. no.

On the question on Art: XXII

N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay.

Art: XXIII  being taken up, as far as the words “assigned by Congress” inclusive, was agreed to nem: con: the blank having been first filled with the word “nine” as of course.

On a motion for postponement the residue of the clause, concerning the choice of the President &c.

N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. no.

Mr. GOVr. MORRIS then moved to strike out the words “choose the President of the United States and” — this point, of choosing the President not being yet finally determined, and on this question

N. H. no. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay Del. ay. Md. divd. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. ay.  Geo. ay.

Art: XXIII as amended was then agreed to nem: con:

The Report of the Grand Committee of eleven made by Mr. SHERMAN was then taken up (see Aug: 28).

On the question to agree to the following clause, to be inserted after Sect. 4. art: VII. “nor shall any regulation of commerce or revenue give preference to the ports of one State over those of another.” Agreed to nem: con:

On the clause “or oblige vessels bound to or from any State to enter clear or pay duties in another”

Mr. MADISON thought the restriction would be inconvenient, as in the River Delaware, if a vessel cannot be required to make entry below the jurisdiction of Pennsylvania.

Mr. FITZIMMONS admitted that it might be inconvenient, but thought it would be a greater inconveniency to require vessels bound to Philadelphia to enter below the jurisdiction of the State.

Mr. GORHAM & Mr. LANGDON, contended that the Government would be so fettered by this clause, as to defeat the good purpose of the plan. They mentioned the situation of the trade of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the case of Sandy Hook which is in the State of New Jersey, but where precautions against smuggling into New York, ought to be established by the General Government.

Mr. Mc.HENRY said the clause would not shreen a vessel from being obliged to take an officer on board as a security for due entry &c.

Mr. CARROL was anxious that the clause should be agreed to. He assured the House, that this was a tender point in Maryland.

Mr. JENNIFER urged the necessity of the clause in the same point of view.

On the question for agreeing to it

N. H. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay.

The word “tonnage” was struck out, nem: con: as comprehended in “duties”

On question on the clause of the Report “and all duties, imposts and excises, laid by the Legislature shall be uniform throughout the U. S.” It was agreed to nem: con:

On motion of Mr. SHERMAN it was agreed to refer such parts of the Constitution as have been postponed, and such parts of Reports as have not been acted on, to a Committee of a member from each State; the Committee appointed by ballot, being — Mr. Gilman, Mr. King, Mr. Sherman, Mr. Brearly, Mr. Govr. Morris, Mr. Dickinson, Mr. Carrol, Mr. Madison, Mr. Williamson, Mr. Butler & Mr. Baldwin.

[The House adjourned]

_______________________

This version of Madison’s Notes with Editors Overview, updated spellings, some removal of Madison’s shorthand: Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.

_______________________