Debates in the Federal
Convention of 1787
PREFACE TO DEBATES IN THE CONVENTION 
A Sketch Never Finished nor Applied 
As the weakness and wants of man naturally lead to an association of
individuals, under a common authority whereby each may have the protection of
the whole against danger from without, and enjoy in safety within, the
advantages of social intercourse, and an exchange of the necessaries &
comforts of life: in like manner feeble communities, independent of each other,
have resorted to a Union, less intimate, but with common Councils, for the
common safety agst powerful neighbors, and for the preservation of justice and
peace among themselves. Ancient history furnishes examples of these confederal
 associations, tho' with a very imperfect
account, of their structure, and of the attributes and functions of the
presiding Authority. There are examples of modern date also, some of them still
existing, the modifications and transactions of which are sufficiently
It remained for the British Colonies, now United States, of North
America, to add to those examples, one of a more interesting character than any
of them: which led to a system without a 
example ancient or modern, a system founded on popular rights, and so combing,
a federal form with the forms of individual Republics, as may enable each to
supply the defects of the other and obtain the advantages of both.
Whilst the Colonies enjoyed the protection of the parent Country as it
was called, against foreign danger; and were secured by its superintending
controul, against conflicts among themselves, they continued independent of
each other, under a common, tho' limited dependence, on the parental Authority.
When however the growth of the offspring in strength and in wealth, awakened
the jealousy and tempted the avidity of the parent, into schemes of usurpation
& exaction, the obligation was felt by the former of uniting their counsels
and efforts to avert the impending calamity.
As early as the year 1754, indications having been given of a design in
the British Government to levy contributions on the Colonies, without their
consent; a meeting of Colonial deputies took place at Albany, which attempted
to introduce a compromising substitute, that might at once satisfy the British
requisitions, and save their own rights from violation. The attempt had no
other effect, than by bringing these rights into a more conspicuous view, to
invigorate the attachment to them, on  one
side; and to nourish the haughty & encroaching spirit on the other.
In 1774. The progress made by G. B. in the open assertion of her
pretensions and in  the apprehended purpose of
otherwise maintaining them than by Legislative enactments and declarations, had
been such that the Colonies did not hesitate to assemble, by their deputies, in
a formal Congress, authorized to oppose to the British innovations whatever
measures might be found best adapted to the occasion; without however losing
sight of an eventual reconciliation.
The dissuasive measures of that Congress, being without effect, another
Congress was held in 1775, whose pacific efforts to bring about a change in the
views of the other party, being equally unavailing, and the commencement of
actual hostilities having at length put an end to all hope of reconciliation;
the Congress finding moreover that the popular voice began to call for an
entire & perpetual dissolution of the political ties which had connected
them with G. B., proceeded on the memorable 4th of July, 1776 to declare the 13
Colonies, Independent States. 
During the discussions of this solemn Act, a Committee consisting of a
member from each colony had been appointed to prepare & digest a form of
Confederation, for the future management of the common interests, which had
hitherto been left to the discretion of Congress, guided by the exigences of
the contest, and by the known intentions or occasional instructions of the
It appears that as early as the 21st of July 1775, A plan entitled
"Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union of the Colonies" had been
sketched by Docr Franklin, the plan being on that day submitted by him to
Congress; and tho' not copied into their Journals remaining on their files in
his handwriting. But notwithstanding the term "perpetual" observed in the
title, the articles provided expressly for the event of a return of the
Colonies to a connection with G. Britain.
This sketch became a basis for the plan reported by the Come on the 12
of July, now also remaining on the files of Congress, in the handwriting of Mr
Dickinson. The plan, tho' dated after the Declaration of Independence, was
probably drawn up before that event; since the name of Colonies, not States is
used throughout the draught. The plan reported, was debated and amended from
time to time, till the 17th of November 1777, when it was agreed to by
Congress, and proposed to the Legislatures of the States, with an explanatory
and recommendatory letter. The ratifications of these by their Delegates in
Congs duly authorized took place at successive dates; but were not compleated
till March 1.  1781, when Maryland who had made
it a prerequisite that the vacant lands acquired from the British Crown should
be a Common fund, yielded to the persuasion that a final & formal
establishment of the federal Union & Govt would make a favorable impression
not only on other foreign Nations, but on G. B. herself.
The great difficulty experienced in so framing the fedl system as to
obtain the unanimity required for its due sanction, may be inferred from the
long interval, and recurring discussions, between the commencement and
completion of the work; from the changes made during its progress; from the
language of Congs when proposing it to the States, wch dwelt on the
impracticability of devising a system acceptable to all of them; from the
reluctant assent given by some; and the various alterations proposed by others;
and by a tardiness in others again which produced a special address to them
from Congs enforcing the duty of sacrificing local considerations and favorite
opinions to to  the public safety, and the
necessary harmony: Nor was the assent of some of the States finally yielded
without strong protests against particular articles, and a reliance on future
amendments removing their objections.
It is to be recollected, no doubt, that these delays might be occasioned
in some degree, by an occupation of the public Councils both general &
local, with the deliberations and measures, essential to a Revolutionary
struggle; But there must have been a balance for these causes, in the obvious
motives to hasten the establishment of a regular and efficient Govt; and in the
tendency of the crisis to repress opinions and pretensions, which might be
inflexible in another state of things.
The principal difficulties which embarrassed the progress, and retarded
the completion of the plan of Confederation, may be traced to 1.  the natural repugnance of the parties to a
relinquishment of power: 2  a natural jealousy
of its abuse in other hands than their own: 3 
the rule of suffrage among parties unequal in size, but equal in sovereignty. 4
the ratio of contributions in money and in troops, among parties,  whose inequality in size did not correspond with
that of their wealth, or of their military or free population. 5  the selection and definition of the powers, at
once necessary to the federal head, and safe to the several members.
To these sources of difficulty, incident to the formation of all such
Confederacies, were added two others one of a temporary, the other of a
permanent nature. The first was the case of the Crown lands, so called because
they had been held by the British Crown, and being ungranted to individuals
when its authority ceased, were considered by the States within whose charters
or asserted limits they lay, as devolving on them; whilst it was contended by
the others, that being wrested from the dethroned authority, by the equal
exertion of all, they resulted of right and in equity to the benefit of all.
The lands being of vast extent and of growing value, were the occasion of much
discussion & heart-burning; & proved the most obstinate of the
impediments to an earlier consummation of the plan of federal Govt. The State
of Maryland the last that acceded to it held out as already noticed, till March
1,  1781, and then yielded only to the hope
that by giving a stable & authoritative character to the Confederation, a
successful termination of the Contest might be accelerated. The dispute was
happily compromised by successive surrenders of portions of the territory by
the States having exclusive claims to it, and acceptances of them by
The other source of dissatisfaction was the peculiar situation of some
of the States, which having no convenient ports for foreign commerce, were
subject to be taxed by their neighbors, thro whose ports, their commerce was
carryed on. New Jersey, placed between Phila & N. York, was likened to a
cask tapped at both ends; and N. Carolina, between Virga & S. Carolina to a
patient bleeding at both arms. The Articles Of Confederation provided no remedy
for the complaint: which produced a strong protest on the part of N. Jersey:
and never ceased to be a source of dissatisfaction & discord until the new
Constitution, superseded the old.
But the radical infirmity of the "arts Of Confederation" was the
dependence of Congs on the voluntary and simultaneous compliance with its
Requisitions, by so many independant Communities, each consulting more or less
its particular interests & convenience and distrusting the compliance of
the others. Whilst the paper emissions of Congs continued to circulate they
were employed as a sinew of war, like gold & silver. When that ceased to be
the case, the fatal defect of the political System was felt in its alarming
force. The war was merely kept alive and brought to a successful conclusion by
such foreign aids and temporary expedients as could be applied; a hope
prevailing with many, and a wish with all, that a state of peace, and the
sources of prosperity opened by it, would give to the Confederacy in practice,
the efficiency which had been inferred from its theory.
The close of the war however brought no cure for the public
embarrassments. The States relieved from the pressure of foreign danger, and
flushed with the enjoyment of independent and sovereign power; [instead of a
diminished disposition to part with it,] persevered in omissions and in
measures incompatible with thier relations to the Federal Govt and with those
Having served as a member of Cons through the period between Mar. 1780
& the arrival of peace in 1783, I had become intimately acquainted with the
public distresses and the causes of them. I had observed the successful
opposition to every attempt to procure a remedy by new grants of power to
Congs. I had found moreover that despair of success hung over the compromising
provision  of April 1783 for the public
necessities which had been so elaborately planned, and so impressively
recommended to the States.[*] Sympathizing, under
this aspect of affairs, in the alarm of the friends of free Govt, at the
threatened danger of an abortive result to the great & perhaps last
experiment in its favour, I could not be insensible to the obligation to
co-operate  as far as I could in averting the
calamity. With this view I acceded to the desire of my fellow Citizens of the
County that I should be one of its representatives in the Legislature, hoping
that I might there best contribute to inculcate the critical posture to which
the Revolutionary cause was reduced, and the merit of a leading agency of the
State in bringing about a rescue of the Union and the blessings of liberty a
 staked on it, from an impending
It required but little time after taking my seat in the House of
Delegates in May 1784 to discover that, however favorable the general
disposition of the State might be towards the Confederacy the Legislature
retained the aversion of its predecessors to transfers of power from the State
to the Govt of the Union; notwithstanding the urgent demands of the Federal
Treasury; the glaring inadequacy of the authorized mode of supplying it, the
rapid growth of anarchy in the Fedl System, and the animosity kindled among the
States by their conflicting regulations.
The temper of the Legislature & the wayward course of its
proceedings may be gathered from the Journals of its Sessions in the years 1784
The failure however of the varied propositions in the Legislature for
enlarging the powers of Congress, the continued failure of the efforts of Cons
to obtain from them the means of providing for the debts of the Revolution; and
of countervailing the commercial laws of G.B., a source of much irritation
& agst which the separate efforts of the States were found worse than
abortive; these Considerations with the lights thrown on the whole subject, by
the free & full discussion it had undergone led to an  general acquiescence in the Resoln passed, on
the 21. of Jany 1786, which proposed & invited a meeting of Deputies from
all the States to "insert the Resol (See Journal.) I 
The resolution had been brought forward some weeks before on the failure
of a proposed grant of power to Congress to collect a revenue from commerce,
which had been abandoned by its friends in consequence of material alterations
made in the grant by a Committee of the whole. The Resolution tho introduced by
Mr Tyler an influencial member, who having never served in Congress, had more
the ear of the House than those whose services there exposed them to an
imputable bias, was so little acceptable that it was not then persisted in.
Being now revived by him, on the last day of the Session, and being the
alternative of adjourning without any effort for the crisis in the affairs of
the Union, it obtained a general vote; less however with some of its friends
from a confidence in the success of the experiment than from a hope that it
might prove a step to a more comprehensive & adequate provision for the
wants of the Confederacy.
It happened also that Commissioners who had been  appointed by Virga & Maryd to settle the
jurisdiction on waters dividing the two States had, apart from their official
reports recommended a uniformity in the regulations of the 2 States on several
subjects & particularly on those having relation to foreign trade. It
apeared at the same time that Maryd had deemed a concurrence of her neighbors
Pena & Delaware indispensable in such a case, who for like reasons would
require that of their neighbors. So apt and forceable an illustration of the
necessity of a uniformity throughout all the States could not but favour the
passage of a Resolution which proposed a Convention having that for its
The commissioners appointed by the Legisl: & who attended the
Convention were E. Randolph the Attorney of the State, St. Geo: Tucker & J.
M.  The designation of the time & place
for its meeting to be proposed and communicated to the States having been left
to the Comrs they named for the time early 
September and for the place the City of Annapolis avoiding the residence of
Congs and large Commercial Cities as liable to suspicions of an extraneous
Altho the invited Meeting appeared to be generally favored, five States
only assembled; some failing to make appointments, and some of the individuals
appointed not hastening their attendance, the result in both cases being
ascribed mainly, to a belief that the time had not arrived for such a political
reform, as might be expected from a further experience of its necessity.
But in the interval between the proposal of the Convention and the time
of its meeting, such had been the advance of public opinion in the desired
direction, stimulated as it had been by the effect of the contemplated object,
of the meeting, in turning the genal attention to the Critical State of things,
and in calling forth the sentiments and exertions of the most enlightened &
influencial patriots, that the Convention thin as it was did not scruple to
decline the limited task assigned to it and to recommend to the States a
Convention with powers adequate to the occasion. Nor was it  unnoticed that the commission of the N. Jersey
Deputation, had extended its object to a general provision for the exigencies
of the Union. A recommendation for this enlarged purpose was accordingly
reported by a Come to whom the subject had been referred. It was drafted by Col
H.  and finally agreed to unanimously
 in the following form. Insert it.
The recommendation was well recd by the Legislature of Virga which
happened to be the first that acted on it, and the example of her compliance
was made as conciliatory and impressive as possible. The Legislature were
unanimous or very nearly so on the occasion and  as a proof of the magnitude & solemnity
attached to it, they placed Genl W. at the head of the Deputation from the
State; and as a proof of the deep interest he felt in the case he overstepped
the obstacles to his acceptance of the appointment.
The law complying with the recommendation from Annapolis was in the
terms following: 
A resort to a General Convention to remodel the Confederacy, was not a
new idea. It had entered at an early date into the conversations and
speculations of the most reflecting & foreseeing observers of the
inadequacy of the powers allowed to Congress. In a pamphlet published in May 81
at the seat of Congs Pelatiah Webster an able tho' not conspicuous Citizen,
after discussing the fiscal system of the U. States, and suggesting among other
remedial provisions  including a national Bank
remarks that "the Authority of Congs at present is very inadequate to the
performance of their duties; and this indicates the necessity of their calling
a Continental Convention for the express purpose of ascertaining, defining,
enlarging, and limiting, the duties & powers of their Constitution,"
On the 1. day of Apl 1783, Col. Hamilton, in a debate in Congs observed
He alluded probably to [see Life of Schuyler in Longacre. 
It does not appear however that his expectation had been fulfilled.]
In a letter to J. M. from R. H. Lee then President of Congs dated Novr
26, 1784 He says 
The answer of J. M. remarks 
 In 1785, Noah Webster whose pol. &
other valuable writings had made him known to the public, in one of his
publications of American policy brought into view the same resort for supplying
the defects of the Fedl System [see his life in Longacre].
The proposed & expected Convention at Annapolis the first of a
general character that appears to have been realized, & the state of the
public mind awakened by it had attracted the particular attention of Congs and
favored the idea there of a Convention with fuller powers for amending the
It does not appear that in any of these cases, the reformed system was
to be otherwise sanctioned than by the Legislative authy of the States; nor
whether or how far, a change was to be made in the structure of the Depository
of Federal powers.
The act of Virga providing for the Convention at Philada, was succeeded
by appointments from  other States as their
Legislatures were assembled, the appointments being selections from the most
experienced & highest standing Citizens. Rh. I. was the only exception to a
compliance with the recommendation from Annapolis, well known to have been
swayed by an obdurate adherence to an advantage which her position gave her of
taxing her neighbors thro' their consumption of imported supplies, an advantage
which it was foreseen would be taken from her by a revisal of the "Articles of
As the pub. mind had been ripened for a salutary Reform of the pol.
System, in the interval between the proposal & the meeting, of Comrs at
Annapolis, the interval between the last event, and the meeting of Deps at
Phila had continued to develop more & more the necessity & the extent
of a Systematic provision for the preservation and Govt of the Union; among the
ripening incidents was the Insurrection of Shays,  in Massts against her Govt; which was with
difficulty suppressed, notwithstanding the influence on the insurgents of an
apprehended interposition of the Fedl troops.
At the date of the Convention, the aspect & retrospect of the pol:
condition of the U.S. could not but fill the pub. mind with a gloom which was
relieved only by a hope that so select a Body would devise an adequate remedy
for the existing and prospective evils so impressively demanding it.
It was seen that the public debt rendered so sacred by the cause in
which it had been incurred remained without any provision for its payment. The
reiterated and elaborate efforts of Con. to procure from the States a more
adequate power to raise the means of payment had failed. The effect of the
ordinary requisitions of Congress had only displayed the inefficiency
 of the authy making them: none of the States
having duly complied with them, some having failed altogether or nearly so; and
 in one instance, that of N. Jersey
 a compliance was expressly  refused; nor was more yielded to the
expostulations of members of Congs deputed to her Legislature, than a mere
repeal of the law, without a compliance. [see letter of Grayson to J. M.
The want of authy in Congs to regulate Commerce had produced in Foreign
nations particularly G. B. a monopolizing policy injurious to the trade of the
U. S. and destructive to their navigation; the imbecilicity and anticipated
dissolution of the Confederacy extinguishg all apprehensions of a
Countervailing policy on the part of the U. States.
The same want of a general power over Commerce, led to an exercise of
the power separately, by the States, wch not only proved abortive, but
engendered rival, conflicting and angry regulations. Besides the vain attempts
to supply their respective treasuries by imposts, which turned their commerce
into the neighbouring ports, and to coerce a relaxation of the British monopoly
of the W. Inds navigation, which was attempted by Virga [see the Journal of ]
 the States having ports for foreign commerce,
taxed & irritated the adjoining States, trading thro' them, as N. Y. Pena
Virga & S. Carolina. Some of the States, as Connecticut, taxed imports
 as from Massts higher than imports even from
G. B. of wch Massts complained to Virga and doubtless to other States. [See
letter of J. M.  In sundry instances as of N.
Y. N. J. Pa & Maryd [see ]  the navigation
laws treated the Citizens  other States as
In certain cases the authy of the Confederacy was disregarded, as in
violations not only of the Treaty of peace; but of Treaties with France &
Holland, which were complained of to Congs.
In other cases the Fedl Authy was violated by Treaties & wars with
Indians, as by Geo: by troops raised & kept up witht the consent of Congs
as by Massts by compacts witht the consent of Congs as between Pena and N.
Jersey, and between Virga & Maryd. From the Legisl: Journals of Virga it
appears, that a vote refusing to apply for a sanction of Congs was followed by
a vote agst the communication of the Compact to Congs.
In the internal administration of the States a violation of Contracts
had become familiar in the form of depreciated paper made a legal tender, of
property substituted for money, of Instalment laws, and of the occlusions of
the Courts of Justice; although evident that all such interferences affected
the rights of other States, relatively creditor,  as well as Citizens Creditors within the
Among the defects which had been severely felt was that of a uniformity
in cases requiring it, as laws of naturalization,  bankruptcy, a Coercive authority operating on
individuals and a guaranty of the internal tranquillity of the States.
As natural consequences  of this
distracted and disheartening condition of the union, the Fedl Authy had ceased
to be respected abroad, and dispositions 
shown there, particularly in G. B., to take advantage of its imbecility, and to
speculate on its approaching downfall; at home it had lost all confidence &
credit; the unstable and unjust career of the States had also forfeited the
respect & confidence essential to order and good Govt, involving the
general decay and confidence & credit between man & man. It was found
moreover, that those least partial to popular Govt, or most distrustful of its
efficacy were yielding to anticipations, that from an increase of the confusion
a Govt might result more congenial with their taste or their opinions; whilst
those most devoted to the principles and forms of Republics, were alarmed for
the cause of liberty itself, at stake in the American Experiment, and anxious
for a system that wd avoid the inefficacy of a mere confederacy without passing
into the opposite extreme of a consolidated govt it was known that there were
individuals who had betrayed a bias toward Monarchy [see Knox to G W & him
to Jay] (Marshall's life  ) and there had
always been some not unfavorable to a partition of the Union into several
Confederacies; either from a better chance of figuring on a Sectional Theatre,
or that the Sections would require stronger Govts, or by their hostile
conflicts lead to a monarchical consolidation. The idea of a  dismemberment had recently made its appearance
in the Newspapers.
Such were the defects, the deformities, the diseases and the ominous
prospects, for which the Convention were to provide a remedy, and which ought
never to be overlooked in expounding & appreciating the Constitutional
Charter the remedy that was provided.
As a sketch on paper, the earliest perhaps of a Constitutional Govt for
the Union [organized into the regular Departments with physical means operating
on individuals] to be sanctioned by the people of the States, acting in their
original & sovereign character, was contained in  a letter of Apl. 8. 1787 from J. M. to Govr
Randolph, a copy of the letter is here inserted.
The feature in the letter  which vested
in the general Authy. a negative on the laws of the States, was suggested by
the negative in the head of the British Empire, which prevented collisions
between the parts & the whole, and between the parts themselves. It was
supposed that the substitution, of an elective and responsible authority for an
hereditary and irresponsible one, would avoid the appearance even of a
departure from the principle of 
Republicanism. But altho' the subject was so viewed in the Convention, and the
votes on it were more than once equally divided, it was finally & justly
abandoned see note for ___ for this erasure substitute the amendt marked * for
this page  [as, apart from other objections,
it was not practicable among so many states, increasing in number, and
enacting, each of them, so many laws instead of the proposed negative, the
objects of it were left as finally provided for in the Constitution.]
On the arrival of the Virginia Deputies at Phila it occurred to them
that from the early and prominent part taken by that State in bringing about
the Convention some initiative step might be expected from them. The
Resolutions introduced by Governor Randolph were the result of a Consultation
on the subject; with an understanding that they left all the Deputies entirely
open to the lights of discussion, and free to concur in any alterations or
modifications which their reflections and judgments might approve. The
Resolutions as the Journals shew became the basis on which the proceedings of
the Convention commenced, and to the developments, variations and modifications
of which the plan of Govt proposed by the Convention may be traced.
The curiosity I had felt during my researches into the History of the
most distinguished Confederacies, particularly those of antiquity, and the
deficiency I found in the means of satisfying it more especially in what
related to the process, the principles, the reasons, & the anticipations,
which prevailed in the formation of them, determined me to preserve as far as I
could an exact account of what might pass in the Convention whilst executing
its trust, with the magnitude of which I was duly impressed, as I was with
 the gratification promised to future
curiosity by an authentic exhibition of the objects, the opinions & the
reasonings from which the new System of Govt was to receive its peculiar
structure & organization. Nor was I unaware of the value of such a
contribution to the fund of of materials for the History of a Constitution on
which would be staked the happiness of a people great even in its infancy, and
possibly the cause of Liberty throught the world.
In pursuance of the task I had assumed I chose a seat in front of the
presiding member, with the other members on my right & left hands. In this
favorable position for hearing all that passed, I noted in terms legible &
in abbreviations & marks intelligible to myself what was read from the
Chair or spoken by the members; and losing not a moment unnecessarily between
the adjournment & reassembling of the Convention I was enabled to write out
my daily notes [see page 18 -  during the
session or within a few finishing days after its close - see pa. 18
 in the extent and form preserved in my own
hand on my files.
In the labour & correctness of doing  this, I was not a little aided by practice &
by a familiarity with the style and the train of observation & reasoning
which characterized the principal speakers. It happened, also that I was not
absent a single day, nor more than a cassual fraction of an hour in any day, so
that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one. Insert the
Remark on the _____ slip of paper marked A. 
[It may be proper to remark, that, with a very few exceptions, the
speeches were neither furnished, nor revised, nor sanctioned, by the speakers,
but written out from my notes, aided by the freshness of my recollections. A
further remark may be proper, that views of the subject might occasionally be
presented in the speeches and proceedings, with a latent reference to a
compromise on some middle ground, by mutual concessions. The exceptions alluded
to were, -- first, the sketch furnished by Mr. Randolph of his speech on the
introduction of his propositions, on the twenty-ninth day of May; secondly, the
speech of Mr. Hamilton, who happened to call on me when putting the last hand
to it, and who acknowledged its fidelity, without suggesting more than a very
few verbal alterations which were made; thirdly, the speech of Gouverneur
Morris on the second day of May, which was communicated to him on a like
occasion, and who acquiesced in it without even a verbal change. The
correctness of his language and the distinctness of his enunciation were
particularly favorable to a reporter. The speeches of Doctor Franklin,
excepting a few brief ones, were copied from the written ones read to the
Convention by his colleague, Mr. Wilson, it being inconvenient to the Doctor to
remain long on his feet.] 
Of the ability & intelligence of those who composed the Convention,
the debates & proceedings may be a test; as the character of the work which
was the offspring of their deliberations must be tested by the experience of
the future, added to that of the nearly half century which has passed.
But whatever may be the judgment pronounced on the competency of the
architects of the Constitution, or whatever may be the destiny, of the edifice
prepared by them, I feel it a duty to express my profound & solemn
conviction, derived from my intimate opportunity of observing &
appreciating the views of the Convention, collectively & individually, that
there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great & arduous trust,
who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously [devoted
to the object committed to them, than were the members of the Federal
Convention of 1787, to the object of devising and proposing a constitutional
system which would best supply the defects of that which it was to replace, and
best secure the permanent liberty and happiness of their country.]
1. This Preface has been printed from Madison's
original manuscript in the Department of State. There is a transcript of the
Preface in an unknown hand in the Library of Congress which was sent to the
printer and from which Henry D. Gilpin printed The Papers of James Madison, 3
volumes (1840). The text of the Preface as here printed has been read with the
printer's copy thereof and important differences noted.
In the Preface, Madison referred in passing to documents which he
evidently intended to embody in a finished draft which, unfortunately, he never
completed. The matter referred to has been placed in footnotes or reference has
been made to other pages of the present document.
Footnotes bearing an asterisk before the numbers instead of just
numbers, to indicate their order, are Madison's own notes. The editor's notes
and indications of differences between the Madison manuscript and the
transcript of the Preface are not preceded by an asterisk.
2. These are the words which Madison wrote at the head
of this document after he had scratched out the phrase "Preface to Debates in
the Convention of 1787." It is a very rough and uneven draft, full of
insertions and deletions. The last few pages are in Mrs. Madison's hand, having
been written from her husband's dictation when his hands were crippled with
rheumatism. A few words in the draft were written by John C. Payne (Mrs.
Madison's brother) at Madison's direction. The date of the draft was between
1830 and 1836.
3. The word "confederate" is substituted in the
transcript for "confederal".
4. The word "an" is substituted in the transcript for
5. In place of "the advantages of both" the transcript
reads "that advantage of both".
6. The word "the" is here inserted in the
7. The word "in" is omitted in the transcript.
8. The words "Independent States" are italicized in the
9. The phrase "the first of March" is substituted in
the transcript for "March 1".
10. The figures 1, 2, and 3 are changed to "first,"
"secondly" and "thirdly" in the transcript.
11. The phrase "unequal in size, but equal in
sovereignty. 4 the ratio of contributions in money and in troops, among
parties" is erroneously omitted in the transcript.
12. The figure 5 is changed to "fourthly" in the
13. In the transcript the date reads "the first of
14. The word "principle" is substituted for "provision"
in the transcript.
*. See address of Congress. 
15. This footnote is omitted in the transcript.
16. The word "aid" is substituted in the transcript for
17. The word "a" is omitted in the transcript.
18. The word "a" is substituted in the transcript for
19. The phrase "to 'insert the Resol. (See Journal.) 1"
is omitted in the transcript which substitutes the words "as follows:" and
inserts the resolution which is printed in the Notes of June 1, 1787.
20. The phrase "who had been" is omitted in the
21. James Madison.
22. In place of the word "early" the transcript reads
"the first Monday in."
23. The words "had it been" are substituted in the
transcript for the words "was it."
24. Alexander Hamilton.
25. The word "unanimously" is omitted in the
26. Madison's direction "Insert it" is omitted in the
transcript, and there is inserted the text of the proceedings and
recommendation of the Annapolis Convention. The transcript text begins with the
words "To the Honorable", and concludes with the paragraph beginning "Through
your Commissioners", etc.
27. The word "and" is omitted in the transcript.
28. The text of this law of October 16, 1786 (printed
ante pages 68-69) is inserted in the transcript beginning with the words
"Whereas, the Commissioners", etc. and ending with the words " ... States in
29. The word "one" is here inserted in the
30. Madison was in error. The pamphlet was written by
William Barton. See Gaillard Hunt, "Pelatiah Webster and the Constitution", in
The Nation, December 28, 1911.
31. The following is supplied in the transcript: "he
wished instead of them [partial Conventions] to see a general Convention take
place; and that he should soon, in pursuance of instructions, from his
constituents, propose to Congress a plan for that purpose, the object [of
which] would be to strengthen the Federal Constitution." -- See The Writings of
James Madison, Hunt, Editor, Vol. I (1900), pp. 438, 439.
32. The phrase "[See Life of Schuyler in Longacre" is
omitted in the transcript and the following quoted matter is substituted: "the
resolutions introduced by General Schuyler in the Senate, and passed
unanimously by the Legislature of New York in the summer of 1782, declaring,
that the Confederation was defective, in not giving Congress power to provide a
revenue for itself, or in not investing them with funds from established and
productive sources; and that it would be advisable for Congress to recommend to
the States to call a general Convention to revise and amend the
The sketch is of Hamilton, not Schuyler, for which see The National
Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans, conducted by Longacre and Herring,
Vol. II (1835), p. 7.
33. The following sentence is supplied in the
transcript: "It is by many here suggested as very necessary step for Congress
to take, the calling on the States to form a Convention for the sole purpose of
revising the Confederation, so far as to enable Congress to execute with more
energy, effect and vigor the powers assigned to it, than it appears by
experience that they can do under the present state of things." The letter
referred to is among the Madison papers in the Manuscript Division of the
Library of Congress.
34. The transcript here inserts the following: "I hold
it for a maxim, that the Union of the States is essential to their safety
against foreign danger and internal contention and that the perpetuity and
efficacy of the present system cannot be confided in. The question, therefore,
is, in what mode, and at what moment, the experiment for supplying the defects
ought to be made." -- See, also, The Writings of James Madison, Hunt, Editor,
Vol II (1901), pp 99, 100.
35. The paragraph beginning "In 1785" reads as follows
in the transcript: "In the winter of 1784-5, Noah Webster, whose political and
other valuable writings had made him known to the public, proposed, in one of
his publications, 'a new system of government which should act, not on the
States, but directly on individuals, and vest in Congress full power to carry
its laws into effect.'"
See, also, The National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans,
conducted by Longacre and Herring, Vol II (1835), p 4.
36. In the transcript after the word "Confederacy" the
following footnote is inserted: "The letters of Wm. Grayson, March 22nd, 1786,
and of James Monroe, of April 28th, 1786, both then members, to Mr. Madison,
state that a proposition for such a Convention has been made."
37. The word "the" is inserted in the transcript after
38. The final "s" is crossed off the word "Shays" in
39. The transcript substitutes the word "inefficacy"
for the word "inefficiency" but the Gilpin edition prints the word as in the
40. In the transcript the word "and" is crossed out and
the word "which" written above it.
41. After the word "Jersey," reference is made in the
transcript to the following footnote: "A letter of Mr Grayson to Mr Madison of
March 22d, 1786, relating the conduct of New Jersey states this fact.
43. The phrase "[see letter of Grayson to J. M." is
omitted in the transcript. An extract from the letter referred to reads as
follows: "The Antients were surely men of more candor than we are; they
contended openly for an abolition of debts in so many words, while we strive as
hard for the same thing under the decent & specious pretense of a
circulating medium.... There has been some serious thoughts in the minds of
some of the members of Congress to recommend to the States the meeting of a
general Convention, to consider, of an alteration of the Confederation, &
there is a motion to this effect now under consideration it is contended that
the present Confederation is utterly inefficient, and that if it remains much
longer in it's present state of imbecility we shall be one of the most
contemptible nations on the face of the earth," -- Letter from William Grayson
to James Madison, March 22, 1786. The Madison Papers (manuscript), Library of
44. In the transcript the footnote "See the Journal of
her Legislature" is substituted for the phrase in brackets. The allusion is to
the act of the Virginia Assembly passed January 21, 1786, imposing a tonnage
tax of 5s. on vessels of foreigners.
45. After the word "imports" down to the sentence
beginning, "In sundry instances," the transcript reads "from others, as from
Mass., which complained in a letter to the Executive of Virginia, and doubtless
to those of other States.
46. The facts are given in Madison's letter to
Jefferson, January 22, 1786. The Writings of James Madison, Hunt, Editor, Vol.
II (1901), p. 218.
47. Madison's direction "[see ]" is omitted in the
48. The word "of" is inserted in the transcript after
49. The word "creditor" is plural in the
50. The word "and" is inserted in the transcript after
51. The words "a natural consequence" are substituted
in the transcript for "natural consequences".
52. The word "were" is inserted in the transcript after
53. The direction in Madison's notes is omitted in the
transcript. His reference was to The Life of George Washington, by John
Marshall, Vol. V (1807), pp. 91 et seq. For the text of the correspondence in
question, see Appendix to Debates, I, Nos. 1, 2, and 3, pp. 585-588.
54. The word "a" is omitted in the transcript.
55. The phrase beginning with the words "a letter" down
to the end of the paragraph is changed in the transcript to read as follows:
"the letters of James Madison to Thomas Jefferson of the nineteenth of March;
to Governor Randolph of the eighth of April; and to General Washington of the
sixteenth of April, 1787, for which see these respective dates."
For the material portions of these letters see Appendix to Debates, II,
Nos. 1, 2, and 3, pp. 589-595.
56. The words "the letter" have been changed to "these
letters" in the transcript.
57. The words "the principle of" are omitted in the
58. The words "see note for ___ for this erasure
substitute the amendt marked * for this page" are omitted in the
59. The passage enclosed in brackets is copied from the
transcript. The original notes appear to have been lost since Gilpin's
60. The word "by" is substituted in the transcript for
61. Madison's direction "[see page 18-" is omitted in
62. Madison's direction "see pa. 18" is omitted in the
63. The word "doing" is omitted in the transcript.
64. Madison's direction "Insert the Remark", etc. is
omitted in the transcript.
65. The passage enclosed in brackets is copied from the
transcript. The original notes appear to have been lost since Gilpin's
66. The phrase "of the nearly half century" is changed
to "of nearly half a century" in the transcript.
67. The passage enclosed in brackets is copied from the
transcript. The original notes appear to have been lost since Gilpin's
68. The doubled "to" is not an error.