Skip to comments.Journal of the Federal Convention May 25th, 1787
Posted on 05/25/2011 2:41:13 AM PDT by Jacquerie
As one would expect at the worlds premier conservative forum, Freepers regularly refer to our Constitution and original intent of our Framers. While the Constitution ultimately means what it says as defined by the 18th century definitions of its words, there is much to learn from the Convention. From the various ideas rejected and accepted, prejudices and political give and take, it is possible to definitively shoot down some modern Leftist constructs that endanger our republic. Judges claim certain clauses have no discernable meaning outside of what they make up and blithely declare them to mean. Even among conservatives one will often read, The Framers meant so and so when it just isnt true. My intent is to help arm the Freeper community with incontrovertible ammo with which to educate the ignorant and confront the Left.
In the body of the posts I will present Madisons Journal entries. Following will be my notes of the proceedings in which I attempt (not always successfully) to reduce the Framers words into my own. What I get wrong, I trust fellow readers will correct. My personal comments after today will appear in parentheses as well as other historic notes.
I think it was Michelangelo who said to the effect that his sculptures always resided inside the blocks of marble he worked. His job was to release them from confinement. In a similar way I believe the Constitution of 1787 existed within the American psyche. The experience of over one hundred and fifty years of (mostly) self government served as the raw material from which our Constitution emerged. More than fifty patriotic sculptors took four months to reveal that which was inside the American soul.
IMHO, that which existed in us in 1787, still lives in Americans today.
James Madison kept notes in a shorthand of his own creation. No professional court recorder was hired for the Convention. He laboriously translated his shorthand into finished entries each night. Some notable passages herein were prepared speeches given to Mr. Madison afterwards, which is why some comments appear more polished than others.
Journal of the Federal Convention
May 14 & May 25, 1787
[FN1]Monday May 14th 1787 was the day fixed for the meeting of the deputies in Convention for revising the federal system of Government. On that day a small number only had assembled. Seven States were not convened till,
Friday 25 of May, when the following members [FN2] appeared to wit: see Note A. [FN3] viz, [FN3] From Massachusetts Rufus King. N. York Robert Yates, [FN4] Alexr. Hamilton. N. Jersey, David Brearly, William Churchill Houston, [FN4] William Patterson. Pennsylvania, Robert Morris, Thomas Fitzsimmons, James Wilson, [FN4] Govurneur Morris. Delaware, George Read, Richard Basset, [FN4] Jacob Broome. Virginia, George Washington, Edmund Randolph [VA], John Blair, James Madison [VA], George Mason, George Wythe, [FN4] James Mc.Clurg. N. Carolina, Alexander Martin, William Richardson Davie, Richard Dobbs Spaight, [FN4] Hugh Williamson. S. Carolina, John Rutlidge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, [FN4] Pierce Butler. Georgia, William Few.
Mr. ROBERT MORRIS informed the members assembled that by the instruction & in behalf, of the deputation of Pena. he proposed George Washington Esqr. late Commander in chief for president of the Convention. [FN5] Mr. JNo. RUTLIDGE seconded the motion; expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous, and observing that the presence of Genl. Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might otherwise be proper. General WASHINGTON was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the Chair by Mr. R. Morris and Mr. Rutlidge; from which in a very emphatic manner he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion. [FN6][The nomination came with particular grace from Penna. as Docr. Franklin alone could have been thought of as a competitor. The Docr. was himself to have made the nomination of General Washington, but the state of the weather and of his health confined him to his house.]
Mr. WILSON moved that a Secretary be appointed, and nominated Mr. Temple Franklin.
Col HAMILTON nominated Major Jackson.
On the ballot Majr. Jackson had 5 votes & Mr. Franklin 2 votes. On reading the credentials of the deputies it was noticed that those from Delaware were prohibited from changing the article in the Confederation establishing an equality of votes among the States.
The appointment of a Committee, consisting of Messrs. Wythe, Hamilton & C. Pinckney, on the motion of Mr. C. PINCKNEY, [FN7] to prepare standing rules & orders was the only remaining step taken on this day.
FN1 Text and footnotes reprinted from The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, edited by Gailard Hunt and James Brown Scott (Wash., 1920). The text of the present edition of Madison's Debates has been read against the manuscript of the transcript in the Library of Congress, and every difference between Madison's original manuscript and the transcript has been noted except typographical differences, such as capitalization, spelling (including abbreviation of words and figures), punctuation and paragraphing. The word "Debates" is used as a heading in the transcript.
FN2 Madison is not uniform in the spelling of proper names, but the correct form in each instance is to be found in the credentials of the delegates.
FN3 The words "to wit: see Note A. viz," are omitted in the transcript.
FN4 The word "and" is here inserted in the transcript.
FN5 The paragraph in brackets beginning with the words "The nomination" and ending with the word "house" is printed as a footnote in the transcript with reference mark after the word "Convention."
FN6 See footnote.
FN7 The phrase "on the motion of Mr. C. Pinckney, consisting," etc.
By May 14th, only delegates from VA and PA were present.
When George Mason completed the VA delegation on the 17th, they went to work on a plan to present to the Convention. It incorporated much of Madisons ideas, but the product was the work of the delegation. It would become the Virginia/Randolph Plan which would emerge in recognizable form four months later as our Constitution.
In a strange quirk of good fortune, had enough delegates arrived on time, the 14th, the VA delegation would not have had a plan to present. The Convention would likely have approached piecemeal corrections to the Articles of Confederation which had already been considered and rejected in the years prior. By offering something concrete at the opening, the VA delegation seized the high ground and commanded the direction of debate.
A quorum was had on the 25th. Check out the names. About thirty had served in Congress; several signed the Declaration of Independence; twenty served in the revolutionary army. Thomas Jefferson called the list of delegates, an assembly of demi-gods.
Robert Morris (PA), with whom General Washington would stay during the Convention, motioned to elect General Washington Executive of the Convention. It carried without opposition.
James Wilson (PA) motioned to appoint Mr. Temple Franklin as Secretary.
Alexander Hamilton (NY) nominated Major Jackson. Major Jackson carried by a 5-2 vote. Nobody could know if Temple Franklin would have done a better job than Major Jackson, but I doubt he could have done worse. Major Jackson did little more than record votes.
The credentials of DE delegates prohibited them from changing the equality of state suffrage in the Articles of Confederation. This decision by the legislature of the smallest state, of maybe 50,000 inhabitants would nearly wreck the convention. It would also end up largely responsible for securing rights in a vast republic
A committee was formed to recommend rules for the Convention.
The last thing Geo. Washington wished after leading the Continental Army to victory six years earlier, was to spend a summer in Philadelphia. His lands had suffered during the war, and were only beginning to reclaim their previous productivity. There was another reason to avoid Philadelphia, the Society of the Cincinnati, of which he was Executive, would meet at the same time as the Convention. Our national self confidence was so sickly, there were fears of the Cincinnati as possibly a nascent Cromwellian military government.
The awful condition of the little republics under the Articles of Confederation in general, and his beloved Virginia in particular convinced him of the dire necessity to convene the states.
Do not discount the need once again for George Washington to step up and serve his country. Without his publicized attendance, I doubt that only three states would blow off some or all participation at the Convention. RI never showed up. NH waited until mid July, and NY delegates left early to return home to muster opponents.
Good idea. One can never know too much US history. Unfortunately, what today’s “historians” put out is propagandist drivel.....sort of like today’s “journalists”.
Thanks for the ping!
Thanks for your work!
Oh, to have heard the tavern gossip at that time!
Tune in this Saturday, May 28th. The Convention will get to work.
Thanks for the ping!
Thanks very much for this ping/post, your work and posts on the (BIG EDUCATION) monumental threads of Billthedrill and Publius on “The Debate Over the Constitution”.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.