The Debates in the
Federal Convention of 1787
SEPR 15TH 1787 1 IN CONVENTION
Mr. CARROL reminded the House that no
address to the people had yet been prepared. He considered it of great
importance that such an one should accompany the Constitution. The people had
been accustomed to such on great occasions, and would expect it on this. He
moved that a Committee be appointed for the special purpose of preparing an
Mr. RUTLEDGE objected on account of the
delay it would produce and the impropriety of addressing the people before it
was known whether Congress would approve and support the plan. Congress, if an
address be thought proper can prepare as good a one. The members of the
Convention can also explain the reasons of what has been done to their
Mr. SHERMAN concurred in the opinion
that an address was both unnecessary and improper.
On the motion of Mr. Carrol
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
*2 abst. S. C. *2
no. Geo. no
Mr. LANGDON. Some gentlemen have been
very uneasy that no increase of the number of Representatives has been admitted.
It has in particular been thought that one more ought to be allowed to N.
Carolina. He was of opinion that an additional one was due both to that State &
to Rho: Island, & moved to reconsider for that purpose.
Mr. SHERMAN. When the Committee of
eleven reported the apportionment — five Representatives were thought the
proper share of N. Carolina. Subsequent information however seemed to entitle
that State to another.
On the motion to reconsider
N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. no. Pen. divd. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. ay. N.
C. ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 4
Mr. LANGDON moved to add 1 member to
each of the Representations of N. Carolina & Rho: Island.
Mr. KING was agst. any change whatever
as opening the door for delays. There had been no official proof that the
numbers of N. C. are greater than before estimated, and he never could sign the
Constitution if Rho: Island is so be allowed two members that is, one fourth of
the number allowed to Massts, which will be known to be unjust.
Mr. PINKNEY urged the propriety of
increasing the number of Reps. allotted to N. Carolina.
Mr. BEDFORD contended for an increase in
favor of Rho: Island, and of Delaware also
On the question for allowing two Reps. to Rho: Island, it passed in the
N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N. C.
ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 5
On the question for allowing six to N. Carolina, it passed in the negative.
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
ay. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 6
Art 1. Sect. 10. (paragraph 2). "No State shall, without the consent of
Congress lay imposts or duties on imports or exports; nor with such consent, but
to the use of the Treasury of the U. States."
In consequence of the proviso moved by Col: Mason: and agreed to on the 13
7 Sepr., this part of the section was laid
aside in favor of the following substitute viz. "No State shall, without
the consent of Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except
what may be absolutely necessary for executing its Inspection laws; and the nett
produce of all duties and imposts, laid by any State on imports or exports,
shall be for the use of the Treasury of the U. S; and all such laws shall be
subject to the revision and controul of the Congress"
On a motion to strike out the last part "and all such laws shall be
subject to the revision and controul of the Congress" it passed in the
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. divd. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N.
C. ay. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 8
The substitute was then agreed to: Virga. alone being in the negative.
The remainder of the paragraph being under consideration — viz — "nor
keep troops nor ships of war in time of peace, nor enter into any agreement or
compact with another State, nor with any foreign power. Nor engage in any war,
unless it shall be actually invaded by enemies, or the danger of invasion be so
imminent as not to admit of delay, until Congress can be consulted"
Mr. Mc.HENRY & Mr.
CARROL moved that "no State shall be restrained
from laying duties of tonnage for the purpose of clearing harbours and erecting
Col. MASON in support of this explained and urged
the situation of the Chesapeak which peculiarly required expences of this sort.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS.
The States are not restrained from laying tonnage as the Constitution now
Stands. The exception proposed will imply the contrary, and will put the States
in a worse condition than the gentleman [Col Mason] wishes.
Mr. MADISON. Whether the States are now
restrained from laying tonnage duties depends on the extent of the power "to
regulate commerce." These terms are vague, but seem to exclude this power
of the States. They may certainly be restrained by Treaty. He observed that
there were other objects for tonnage Duties as the support of Seamen &c. He
was more & more convinced that the regulation of Commerce was in its nature
indivisible and ought to be wholly under one authority.
Mr. SHERMAN. The power of the U. States
to regulate trade being supreme can controul interferences of the State
regulations when 9 such interferences
happen; so that there is no danger to be apprehended from a concurrent
Mr. LANGDON insisted that the regulation
of tonnage was an essential part of the regulation of trade, and that the States
ought to have nothing to do with it. On motion "that no State shall lay any
duty on tonnage without the Consent of Congress"
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. divd. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. ay. Va. no. N.
C. no. S. C. ay. Geo. no. 10
The remainder of the paragraph was then remoulded and passed as follows viz —
"No State shall without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage,
keep troops or ships of war in time of peace, enter into any agreement or
compact with another State, or with a foreign power, or engage in war, unless
actually invaded, or in such imminent danger as will not admit of delay."
11 Art II. sect. 1. (paragraph 6) "or
the period for chusing another president arrive" was changed into "or
a President shall be elected" conformably to a vote of the _____ day of
Mr. RUTLIDGE and DOCr.
FRANKLIN moved to annex to the end of paragraph 7. Sect.
1. art II — "and he [the President] shall not receive, within that
period, any other emolument from the U. S. or any of them," on which
N. H. ay. Mas. ay. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
no. S. C. ay. Geo. ay. 12
Art: II. Sect. 2. "he shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons
for offences against the U. S. &c"
Mr. RANDOLPH moved to "except cases
of treason." The prerogative of pardon in these cases was too great a
trust. The President may himself be guilty. The Traytors may be his own
Col: MASON supported the motion.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
had rather there should be no pardon for treason, than let the power devolve on
Mr. WILSON. Pardon is necessary for
cases of treason, and is best placed in the hands of the Executive. If he be
himself a party to the guilt he can be impeached and prosecuted.
Mr. KING thought it would be
inconsistent with the Constitutional separation of the Executive &
Legislative powers to let the prerogative be exercised by the latter. A
Legislative body is utterly unfit for the purpose. They are governed too much by
the passions of the moment. In Massachussets, one assembly would have hung all
the insurgents in that State: the next was equally disposed to pardon them all.
He suggested the expedient of requiring the concurrence of the Senate in Acts of
Mr. MADISON admitted the force of
objections to the Legislature, but the pardon of treasons was so peculiarly
improper for the President that he should acquiesce in the transfer of it to the
former, rather than leave it altogether in the hands of the latter. He would
prefer to either an association of the Senate as a Council of advice, with the
Mr. RANDOLPH could not admit the Senate
into a share of the Power. the great danger to liberty lay in a combination
between the President & that body.
Col: MASON. The Senate has already too much power.
There can be no danger of too much lenity in legislative pardons, as the Senate
must con concur, & the President moreover can require 2/3 of both Houses.
On the motion of Mr. Randolph.
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. divd. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. ay. N.
C. no. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 13
Art II. Sect. 2. (paragraph 2) To the end of this, Mr. GOVERNr. MORRIS moved to
annex "but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior
officers as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of law, or
in the heads of Departments."
Mr. SHERMAN 2ded. the motion.
Mr. MADISON. It does not go far enough
if it be necessary at all. Superior officers below Heads of Departments ought in
some cases to have the appointment of the lesser offices.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
There is no necessity. Blank commissions can be sent —
On the motion
N. H. ay. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. ay. Del. no. Md. divd. Va. no. N.
C. ay. S C no. Geo. no. 14
The motion being lost by the 15 equal
division of votes, It was urged that it be put a second time, some such
provision being too necessary to be omitted, and on a second question it was
agreed to nem. con.
Art II. Sect. 1. The words, "and not per capita" — were
struck out as superfluous — and the words "by the Representatives"
also — as improper, the choice of a 16
President being in another mode as well as eventually by the House of Reps.
Art. II. Sect. 2. After 17 "officers
of the U. S. whose appointments are not otherwise provided for." were added
the words "and which shall be established by law."
Art III. Sect. 2. parag: 3. Mr. PINKNEY &
Mr. GERRY moved to annex to the end, "And
a trial by jury shall be preserved as usual in civil cases."
Mr. GORHAM. The constitution of Juries
is different in different States and the trial itself is usual in different
cases in different States.
Mr. KING urged the same objections
Genl. PINKNEY also. He thought such a
clause in the Constitution would be pregnant with embarrassments. The motion was
disagreed to nem: con:
Art. IV. Sect 2. parag: 3. the term "legally" was struck out, and
18 "under the laws thereof"
inserted after the word "State," in compliance with the wish of some
who thought the term legal 19 equivocal,
and favoring the idea that slavery was legal in a moral view.
Art. IV. Sect 3. "New States may be admitted by the Congress into this
Union: but no new State shall be formed or erected within the jurisdiction of
any other State; nor any State be formed by the junction of two or more States,
or parts of States, without the consent of the Legislatures of the States
concerned as well as of the Congs"
Mr. GERRY moved to insert after "or
parts of States" the words "or a State and part of a State" which
was disagreed to by a large majority; it appearing to be supposed that the case
was comprehended in the words of the clause as reported by the Committee.
Art. IV. Sect. 4. After the word "Executive" were inserted the
words "when the Legislature can not be convened."
Art. V. "The Congress, 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 the one or the other mode of
ratification may be proposed by the Congress: Provided that no amendment which
may be made prior to the year 1808 shall in any manner affect the 1 & 4
clauses in the 9. section of article 1"
Mr. SHERMAN expressed his fears that
three fourths of the States might be brought to do things fatal to particular
States, as abolishing them altogether or depriving them of their equality in the
Senate. He thought it reasonable that the proviso in favor of the States
importing slaves should be extended so as to provide that no State should be
affected in its internal police, or deprived of its equality in the Senate.
Col: MASON thought the plan of amending the
Constitution exceptionable & dangerous. As the proposing of amendments is in
both the modes to depend, in the first immediately, in the second, ultimately,
on Congress, no amendments of the proper kind would ever be obtained by the
people, if the Government should become oppressive, as he verily believed would
be the case.
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
& Mr. GERRY moved to amend the article
so as to require a Convention on application of 2/3 of the Sts.
Mr. MADISON did not see why Congress
would not be as much bound to propose amendments applied for by two thirds of
the States as to call a call a Convention on the like application. He saw no
objection however against providing for a Convention for the purpose of
amendments, except only that difficulties might arise as to the form, the quorum
&c. which in Constitutional regulations ought to be as much as possible
The motion of Mr. GOVr. MORRIS & Mr. GERRY was
agreed to nem: con: [see the first part of the article as finally past]
Mr. SHERMAN moved to strike out of art.
V. after "legislatures" the words "of three fourths" and so
after the word "Conventions" leaving future Conventions to act in this
matter, like the present Conventions
21 according to circumstances.
On this motion
N. H. divd. Mas. ay. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. no. Va. no. N.
C. no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 22
Mr. GERRY moved to strike out the words "or
by Conventions in three fourths thereof"
On this 23 motion
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. 24
Mr. SHERMAN moved according to his idea
above expressed to annex to the end of the article a further proviso "that
no State shall without its consent be affected in its internal police, or
deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate."
Mr. MADISON. Begin with these special
provisos, and every State will insist on them, for their boundaries, exports &c.
On the motion of Mr. Sherman
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del. ay. Md. no. Va. no. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 25
Mr. SHERMAN then moved to strike out art
Mr. BREARLEY 2ded. the motion, on which
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. ay. N. J. ay. Pa. no. Del divd. Md. no. Va. no. N. C.
no. S. C. no. Geo. no. 26
Mr. GOVr. MORRIS
moved to annex a further proviso — "that no State, without its consent
shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate"
This motion being dictated by the circulating murmurs of the small States
was agreed to without debate, no one opposing it, or on the question, saying no.
Col: MASON expressing his discontent at the power
given to Congress by a bare majority to pass navigation acts, which he said
would not only enhance the freight, a consequence he did not so much regard —
but would enable a few rich merchants in Philada N. York & Boston, to
monopolize the Staples of the Southern States & reduce their value perhaps
50 Per Ct. — moved a further proviso "that no law in 27
nature of a navigation act be passed before the year 1808, without the consent
of 2/3 of each branch of the Legislature"
On this 28 motion
N. H. no. Mas. no. Ct. no. N. J. no. Pa. no. Del. no. Md. ay. Va. ay. N. C.
abst. S. C. no. Geo. ay. 29
Mr. RANDOLPH animadverting on the
indefinite and dangerous power given by the Constitution to Congress, expressing
the pain he felt at differing from the body of the Convention, on the close of
the great & awful subject of their labours, and anxiously wishing for some
accomodating expedient which would relieve him from his embarrassments, made a
motion importing "that amendments to the plan might be offered by the State
Conventions, which should be submitted to and finally decided on by another
general Convention" Should this proposition be disregarded, it would he
said be impossible for him to put his name to the instrument. Whether he should
oppose it afterwards he would not then decide but he would not deprive himself
of the freedom to do so in his own State, if that course should be prescribed by
his final judgment.
Col: MASON 2ded. & followed Mr. Randolph in
animadversions on the dangerous power and structure of the Government,
concluding that it would end either in monarchy, or a tyrannical aristocracy;
which, he was in doubt, but one or other, he was sure. This Constitution had
been formed without the knowledge or idea of the people. A second Convention
will know more of the sense of the people, and be able to provide a system more
consonant to it. It was improper to say to the people, take this or nothing. As
the Constitution now stands, he could neither give it his support or
30 vote in Virginia; and he could not
sign here what he could not support there. With the expedient of another
Convention as proposed, he could sign.
Mr. PINKNEY. These declarations from
members so respectable at the close of this important scene, give a peculiar
solemnity to the present moment. He descanted on the consequences of calling
forth the deliberations & amendments of the different States on the subject
of Government at large. Nothing but confusion & contrariety could
31 spring from the experiment. The States
will never agree in their plans, and the Deputies to a second Convention coming
together under the discordant impressions of their Constituents, will never
agree. Conventions are serious things, and ought not to be repeated. He was not
without objections as well as others to the plan. He objected to the
contemptible weakness & dependence of the Executive. He objected to the
power of a majority only of Congs. over Commerce. But apprehending the danger of
a general confusion, and an ultimate decision by the sword, he should give the
plan his support.
Mr. GERRY, stated the objections which
determined him to withhold his name from the Constitution. 1. the duration and
reeligibility of the Senate. 2. the power of the House of Representatives to
conceal their journals. 3. the power of Congress over the places of election. 4
the unlimited power of Congress over their own compensation. 5. 32
Massachusetts has not a due share of Representatives allotted to her. 6.
32 3/5 of the Blacks are to be
represented as if they were freemen. 7. 32
Under the power over commerce, monopolies may be established. 8. The vice
president being made head of the Senate. He could however he said get over all
these, if the rights of the Citizens were not rendered insecure 1.
33 by the general power of the
Legislature to make what laws they may please to call necessary and proper. 2.
34 raise armies and money without limit.
3. 35 to establish a tribunal without
juries, which will be a Star-chamber as to Civil cases. Under such a view of the
Constitution, the best that could be done he conceived was to provide for a
second general Convention.
On the question on the proposition of Mr. Randolph. All the States answered —
On the question to agree to the Constitution, as amended. All the States ay.
The Constitution was then ordered to be engrossed.
And the House adjourned.
1. The year "1787" is omitted in
*2. In the printed Journal N. Carolina —
no & S.Carol: omitted.
3. In the transcript the vote reads: "Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, aye — 4; New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, South Carolina, 2
Georgia, no — 6; North Carolina, 2
4. In the transcript the vote reads: New
Hampshire, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South
Carolina, Georgia, aye — 8; Massachusetts, New Jersey, no — 2;
5. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5;
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina,
no — 6."
6. In the transcript the vote reads: "Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, aye — 5; New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, no — 6."
7. The word "of" is here
inserted in transcript.
8. In the transcript the vote reads: "Virginia,
North Carolina, Georgia, aye — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, no — 7;
9. In Madison's notes the word "when"
is written above "which." The transcript uses "when."
10. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, South Carolina, aye —
6; Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, no — 4; Connecticut,
11. In the transcript this paragraph
reads as follows: "article 2, sect. I, (the sixth paragraph) the words 'or
the period for choosing another President arrive,' were changed into, 'or a
President shall be elected,' conformably to a vote of the seventh of September."
12. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina,
Georgia, aye — 7; Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Carolina, no — 4."
13. In the transcript the vote reads: "Virginia,
Georgia, aye — 2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, no — 8; Connecticut,
14. In the transcript the vote reads: "New
Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, aye — 5;
Massachusetts, Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 5;
15. The word "an" is
substituted in the transcript for "the."
16. The word "a" is omitted in
17. The expression "the words"
is here inserted in the transcript.
18. The expression "the words"
is here inserted in the transcript.
19. The transcript italicizes the word "legal."
20. Mardison's direction is omitted in
21. The transcript uses the word "Conventions"
in the singular.
22. In the transcript the vote reads: "Massachusette,
Connecticut, New Jersey, aye — 3; Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 7; New Hampshire,
23. The word "which" is
substituted in the transcript for "this."
24. 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."
25. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, Delaware, aye — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 8."
26. In the transcript the vote reads: "Connecticut,
New Jersey, aye — 2; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland,
Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, no — 8; Delaware,
27. The word "the" is here
inserted in the transcript.
28. The word "which" is
substituted in the transcript for "this."
29. In the transcript the vote reads: "Maryland,
Virginia, Georgia, aye — 3; New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, South Carolina, no — 7; North Carolina,
30. The word "or" is changed in
the transcript to "nor."
31. The word "will is substituted in
the transcript for "could."
32. The word "that" is here
inserted in the transcript.
33. The figure "1" is changed
in the transcript to "first."
34. The figure "2" is changed
in the transcript to "secondly, to."
35. The figure "3" is changed
in the transcript to "thirdly."