The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
SEPr 10. 1787
1 IN CONVENTION
Mr. GERRY moved to reconsider Art XIX.
viz. "On the application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the States in
the Union, for an amendment of this Constitution, the Legislature of the U. S.
shall call a Convention for that purpose." [see Aug.
6.] 2 This Constitution he said is to
be paramount to the State Constitutions. It follows, hence, from this article
that two thirds of the States may obtain a Convention, a majority of which can
bind the Union to innovations that may subvert the State-Constitutions
altogether. He asked whether this was a situation proper to be run into.
Mr. HAMILTON 2ded. the motion, but he
said with a different view from Mr. Gerry. He did not object to the consequence
stated by Mr. Gerry. There was no greater evil in subjecting the people of the
U. S. to the major voice than the people of a particular State. It had been
wished by many and was much to have been desired that an easier mode for
3 introducing amendments had been provided
by the articles of 4 Confederation. It was
equally desireable now that an easy mode should be established for supplying
defects which will probably appear in the New System. The mode proposed was not
adequate. The State Legislatures will not apply for alterations but with a view
to increase their own powers. The National Legislature will be the first to
perceive and will be most sensible to the necessity of amendments, and ought
also to be empowered, whenever two thirds of each branch should concur to call a
Convention. There could be no danger in giving this power, as the people would
finally decide in the case.
Mr. MADISON remarked on the vagueness of
the terms, "call a Convention for the purpose," as sufficient reason
for reconsidering the article. How was a Convention to be formed? by what rule
decide? what the force of its acts?
On the motion of Mr. Gerry to reconsider
N. H. divd. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N.
C. ay. S. C. ay. GEO ay. 5
Mr. SHERMAN moved to add to the article "or
the Legislature may propose amendments to the several States for their
approbation, but no amendments shall be binding until consented to by the
Mr. GERRY 2ded. the motion
Mr. WILSON moved to insert "two
thirds of" before the words "several States" — on which
amendment to the motion of Mr. Sherman
N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 6
Mr. WILSON then moved to insert "three
fourths of" before "the several Sts" which was agreed to nem:
Mr. MADISON moved to postpone the
consideration of the amended proposition in order to take up the following,
"The Legislature of the U. S. whenever two thirds of both Houses shall
deem necessary, or on the application of two thirds of the Legislatures of the
several States, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, which shall be
valid to all intents and purposes as part thereof, when the same shall have been
ratified by three fourths at least of the Legislatures of the several States, or
by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as one or the other mode of
ratification may be proposed by the Legislature of the U S:" *7
Mr. HAMILTON 2ded. the motion.
Mr. RUTLIDGE said he never could agree
to give a power by which the articles relating to slaves might be altered by the
States not interested in that property and prejudiced against it. In order to
obviate this objection, these words were added to the proposition: *7
"provided that no amendments which may be made prior to the year 1808,
shall in any manner affect the 4 & 5 sections of the VII article" —
The postponement being agreed to,
On the question on the proposition of Mr. Madison & Mr. Hamilton as
N. H. divd. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N.
C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo ay. 9
Mr. GERRY moved to reconsider art: XXI
and XXII. from the latter of which "for the approbation of Congs." had
been struck out. He objected to proceeding to change the Government without the
approbation of Congress, as being improper and giving just umbrage to that body.
He repeated his objections also to an annulment of the confederation with so
little scruple or formality.
Mr. HAMILTON concurred with Mr. Gerry as
to the indecorum of not requiring the approbation of Congress. He considered
this as a necessary ingredient in the transaction. He thought it wrong also to
allow nine States as provided by art XXI. to institute a new Government on the
ruins of the existing one. He Wd. propose as a better modification of the two
articles (XXI & XXII) that the plan should be sent to Congress in order that
the same if approved by them, may be communicated to the State Legislatures, to
the end that they may refer it to State Conventions; each Legislature declaring
that if the Convention of the State should think the plan ought to take effect
among nine ratifying States, the same shd. take effect accordingly.
Mr. GORHAM. Some States will say that
nine States shall be sufficient to establish the plan, others will require
unanimity for the purpose. And the different and conditional ratifications will
defeat the plan altogether.
Mr. HAMILTON. No Convention convinced of
the necessity of the plan will refuse to give it effect on the adoption by nine
States. He thought this mode less exceptionable than the one proposed in the
article, and 10 would attain the same
Mr. FITZIMMONS remarked that the words "for
their approbation" had been struck out in order to save Congress from the
necessity of an Act inconsistent with the Articles of Confederation under which
they held their authority.
Mr. RANDOLPH declared, if no change
should be made in the
11 this part of the plan, he should be
obliged to dissent from the whole of it. He had from the beginning he said been
convinced that radical changes in the system of the Union were necessary. Under
this conviction he had brought forward a set of republican propositions as the
basis and outline of a reform. These Republican propositions had however, much
to his regret, been widely, and in his opinion, irreconcileably departed from.
In this state of things it was his idea and he accordingly meant to propose,
that the State Conventions shd. be at liberty to offer amendments to the plan;
and that these should be submitted to a second General Convention, with full
power to settle the Constitution finally. He did not expect to succeed in this
proposition, but the discharge of his duty in making the attempt, would give
quiet to his own mind.
Mr. WILSON was against a reconsideration
for any of the purposes which had been mentioned.
Mr. KING thought it would be more
respectful to Congress to submit the plan generally to them; than in such a form
as expressly and necessarily to require their approbation or disapprobation. The
assent of nine States be considered as sufficient; and that it was more proper
to make this a part of the Constitution itself, than to provide for it by a
supplemental or distinct recommendation.
Mr. GERRY urged the indecency and
pernicious tendency of dissolving in so slight a manner, the solemn obligations
of the articles of confederation. If nine out of thirteen can dissolve the
compact, Six out of nine will be just as able to dissolve the new one hereafter.
Mr. SHERMAN was in favor of Mr. King's
idea of submitting the plan generally to Congress. He thought nine States ought
to be made sufficient: but that it would be best 12
to make it a separate act and in some such form as that intimated by Col:
Hamilton, than to make it a particular article of the Constitution.
On the question for reconsidering the two articles, XXI & XXII —
N. H. divd. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N.
C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 13
Mr. HAMILTON then moved to postpone art
XXI in order to take up the following, containing the ideas he had above
expressed, viz Resolved that the foregoing plan of a Constitution be transmitted
to the U. S. in Congress assembled, in order that if the same shall be agreed to
by them, it may be communicated to the Legislatures of the several States, to
the end that they may provide for its final ratification by referring the same
to the Consideration of a Convention of Deputies in each State to be chosen by
the people thereof, and that it be recommended to the said Legislatures in their
respective acts for organizing such convention to declare, that if the said
Convention shall approve of the said Constitution, such approbation shall be
binding and conclusive upon the State, and further that if the said Convention
should be of opinion that the same upon the assent of any nine States thereto,
ought to take effect between the States so assenting, such opinion shall
thereupon be also binding upon such State, and the said Constitution shall take
effect between the States assenting thereto"
Mr. GERRY 2ded. the motion.
Mr. WILSON. This motion being seconded,
it is necessary now to speak freely. He expressed in strong terms his
disapprobation of the expedient proposed, particularly the suspending the plan
of the Convention on the approbation of Congress. He declared it to be worse
than folly to rely on the concurrence of the Rhode Island members of Congs. in
the plan. Maryland has voted on this floor; for requiring the unanimous assent
of the 13 States to the proposed change in the federal System. N. York has not
been represented for a long time past in the Convention. Many individual
deputies from other States have spoken much against the plan. Under these
circusmtances can it be safe to make the assent of Congress necessary. After
spending four or five months in the laborious & arduous task of forming a
Government for our Country, we are ourselves at the close throwing insuperable
obstacles in the way of its success.
Mr. CLYMER thought that the mode
proposed by Mr. Hamilton would fetter & embarrass Congs. as much as the
original one, since it equally involved a breach of the articles of
Mr. KING concurred with Mr. Clymer. If
Congress can accede to one mode, they can to the other. If the approbation of
Congress be made necessary, and they should not approve, the State Legislatures
will not propose the plan to Conventions; or if the States themselves are to
provide that nine States shall suffice to establish the System, that provision
will be omitted, every thing will go into confusion, and all our labor be lost.
Mr. RUTLIDGE viewed the matter in the
same light with Mr. King. On the question to postpone in order to take up Col:
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 14
A Question being then taken on the article XXI. It was agreed to
Col: HAMILTON withdrew the remainder of the motion
to postpone art XXII, observing that his purpose was defeated by the vote just
Mr. WILLIAMSON & Mr. GERRY moved to re-instate the words "for the approbation
of Congress" in art: XXII which was disagreed to nem: con:
Mr. RANDOLPH took this opportunity to
state his objections to the System. They turned on the Senate's being made the
Court of Impeachment for trying the Executive — on the necessity of 3/4
instead of 2/3 of each house to overrule the negative of the President — on
the smallness of the number of the Representative branch, — on the want of
limitation to a standing army — on the general clause concerning necessary
and proper laws — on the want of some particular restraint on navigation
acts — on the power to lay duties on exports — on the Authority of the
General Legislature to interpose on the application of the Executives of the
States — on the want of a more definite boundary between the General &
State Legislatures — and between the General and State Judiciaries —
on the the unqualified power of the President to pardon treasons — on the
want of some limit to the power of the Legislature in regulating their own
compensations. With these difficulties in his mind, what course he asked was he
to pursue? Was he to promote the establishment of a plan which he verily
believed would end in Tyranny? He was unwilling he said to impede the wishes and
Judgment of the Convention, but he must keep himself free, in case he should be
honored with a seat in the Convention of his State, to act according to the
dictates of his judgment. The only mode in which his embarrassments could be
removed, was that of submitting the plan to Congs. to go from them to the State
Legislatures, and from these to State Conventions having power to adopt reject
or amend; the process to close with another General Convention with full power
to adopt or reject the alterations proposed by the State Conventions, and to
establish finally the Government. He accordingly proposed a Resolution to this
2ded. the motion
Col: MASON urged & obtained that the motion
should lie on the table for a day or two to see what steps might be taken with
regard to the parts of the system objected to by Mr. Randolph.
Mr. PINKNEY moved "that it be an
instruction to the Committee for revising the stile and arrangement of the
articles agreed on, to prepare an Address to the People, to accompany the
present Constitution, and to be laid with the same before the U. States in
*15 The motion itself was referred to
the Committee, nem: con:
*15 Mr. RANDOLPH
moved to refer to the Committee also a motion relating to pardons in cases of
Treason — which was agreed to nem: con:
1. The year "1787" is omitted in
2. In the transcript the date reads: "the
sixth of August."
3. The word "of" is found in the
transcript in place of "for."
4. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
5. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; New Jersey, no — 1; New Hampshire,
6. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 5;
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia,
no — 6."
*7. The Printed Journal makes the
succeeding proviso as to sections 4 & 5. of art: VII 8
moved by Mr. Rutlidge, part of the proposition of Mr. Madison.
8. The words "the fourth and fifth
sections of the seventh article" are substituted in the transcript for "sections
4 & 5. of art: VII."
9. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, aye — 9; Delaware, no — 1; New Hampshire, divided."
10. The words "while it" are
substituted in the transcript for "and."
11. The word "the" is omitted
in the transcript.
12. The word "best" is crossed
out in the transcript and "better" is written above it.
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 7;
Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, no — 3; New Hampshire,
14. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
aye — 1; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 10."
*15. These motions 16
not entered in the printed Journal.
16. The word "are" is here
inserted in the transcript.