The Philadelphia Convention met on May 14, 1787, but did not have a quorum of seven states until May 25. Eventually delegates from twelve of the thirteen states participated in the effort to remedy the defects in the federal constitution. Rhode Island boycotted the convention hoping to prevent changes to the Articles of Confederation. Many of the most radical leaders of the Independence movement of ’75 and ’76 were not present. John Hancock and Samuel Adams of Boston were not chosen as delegates from Massachusetts. John Adams was serving as Minister to Great Britain, although he supported the convention and encouraged delegates by letter. Thomas Jefferson was serving as Minister to France. He referred to the convention delegates as an assembly of “demigods”. Patrick Henry refused to attend saying he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia”.
Politics is politics. The determination to rewrite the Articles of Confederation instead of amending them was determined long before the Convention met in Philadelphia. A conference of seven delegates from Virginia and Maryland was held at Mt Vernon in 1785 to discuss issues of commerce, fishing and navigation on the Potomac and Pocomoke Rivers. The conference was a success and its report known as the Mt Vernon Compact was ratified by the Legislatures of Virginia and Maryland. Pennsylvania and Delaware were invited to join the compact as well. It provided for the sharing of expenses in constructing navigation aids, reciprocal fishing rights and cooperation in defense and cases of piracy.
Its success encouraged James Madison to advocate further discussion of constitutional issues troubling the Confederation. The Annapolis Convention was a follow-up to the Mt Vernon Conference. Unsuccessful in getting Virginia’s delegates in the Continental Congress to seek expanded powers to regulate trade, Madison persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to invite all the states to attend the Convention at Annapolis to discuss commercial issues. Owing to the small turnout at Annapolis, a second Convention was scheduled at Philadelphia.
The Virginia Plan
Many of the more influential delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, including Madison, Washington and Hamilton favored replacing the Confederation with a national government substantially limiting the authority of the state governments. In the interval between May 14 and May 25, when enough delegates would arrive to constitute a quorum, Madison and the Virginia delegates met in caucus and drew up a list of fifteen resolutions going well beyond simply tinkering with the Articles of Confederation. The fifteen resolutions are commonly referred to as the Virginia Plan.
The Convention opened for business on May 25. The first few days were spent in “housekeeping matters”, rules of debate, etc. The Virginia Delegation immediately took the initiative and set the agenda for the Convention by presenting its proposals. Virginia’s Governor, Edmund Randolph presented the Virginia Plan to the delegates on May 29. In his opening remarks, Randolph indicated he thought the federal government should be “paramount to the state constitutions”. He concluded his remarks by conceding the Articles of Confederation had probably been the best they could have gotten at the time, considering “the jealousy of the states with regard to their sovereignty”.
The Virginia Plan called for the rights of suffrage in the National Legislature to be proportioned according to, “the quotas of contribution, or the number of free inhabitants” and to consist of two branches, the lower house being the only one elected by popular vote, with its members subject to recall. The lower house was to elect the upper house from a list of candidates supplied by the various state legislatures. Members of both houses would be limited to one term and be ineligible to hold any other office for a period of time after expiration of their term.
The National Legislature would be given veto power over any Acts by the states considered by the legislature to be contrary to the articles of union.
The National Executive was to be chosen by the Legislature and was to have executive powers equivalent to those vested in the Continental Congress. A council consisting of the Executive and an unspecified number of the National Judiciary would have limited veto power over any Act of the national or state legislatures. A multi-level Judiciary was proposed with a Supreme Court and inferior courts similar to those provided for in the final Constitution.
The Hamilton Plan
Two other plans were presented to the delegates, the Hamilton Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Hamilton Plan was even more destructive of state sovereignty than the Virginia Plan was. It has been called the “British Plan” because it so closely resembled the British system. The plan was not considered by the Convention, but it gives us good insight into Hamilton’s thinking concerning government and is helpful in recognizing the political nature of the Federalist Papers.
In his remarks to the delegates, Hamilton expressed his opposition to both plans, particularly the New Jersey plan, “being fully convinced, that no amendment of the Confederation, leaving the States in possession of their Sovereignty could possibly answer the purpose.” He feared that should any significant powers be left in the hands of the states, they would encroach on the powers of the federal government leaving it powerless.
“Men love power…”, he said, “The States have constantly shown a disposition rather to regain the powers delegated by them than to part with more, or to give effect to what they had parted with. The ambition of their demagogues is known to hate the control of the General Government, …. How then are all these evils to be avoided? only by such a complete sovereignty in the general Government as will turn all the strong principles & passions above mentioned on its side…The general power whatever be its form if it preserves itself, must swallow up the State powers. Otherwise it will be swallowed up by them.”
Hamilton made clear in his remarks that he opposed, on general principle, the suggestion of a “federal” government; believing that only a “national” government could meet the needs of the country. In addition, he expressed doubts that even a republican form of government would be any more effective over so large a country than a democracy would be. “This view of the subject almost led him to despair that a Republican Govt. could be established over so great an extent.” He remarked. (recorded by Madison)
Hamilton was a great admirer of the British system. James Madison, in his notes, made this observation concerning Hamilton’ s remarks.
“He was sensible at the same time that it would be unwise to propose one of any other form. In his private opinion he had no scruple in declaring, supported as he was by the opinions of so many of the wise & good, that the British Govt. was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether any thing short of it would do in America. He hoped Gentlemen of different opinions would bear with him in this, and begged them to recollect the change of opinion on this subject which had taken place and was still going on.”
Under Hamilton’s plan, the lower house would be elected by the people. The Senate and the Chief Executive would be chosen by electors and would serve for life, or during good behavior. The electors would be chosen by the people, with each state being divided into electoral districts for that purpose. The Senate would have the “sole power to declare war”. Last, but not least, the Hamilton plan provided that,
“all laws of the particular States contrary to the Constitution or laws of the United States to be utterly void; and the better to prevent such laws being passed, the Governor or president of each State shall be appointed by the General Government and shall have a negative upon the laws about to be passed in the State of which he is Governor or President.” (emphasis added)
After Hamilton had finished his remarks, the delegates adjourned without discussion, and the Hamilton plan was not brought up again for consideration. Some elements of the Hamilton plan do find their way into the final document, but its real value is in the light it sheds on the Federalist Papers.
The New Jersey Plan
Immediately after Randolph presented the Virginia plan, William Patterson of New Jersey asked for an adjournment so delegates could properly consider it. On June 14 and 15, a caucus of the small states met to draft a response to the Virginia plan. The plan presented by Randolph weighted power heavily in favor of the larger states like Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Small states like New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, etc., would have little say in the running of the government. The New Jersey plan was presented to the Delegates on June 16.
Patterson’s plan was more in keeping with the stated purpose of the Convention. It kept the Continental Congress but expanded its powers to include taxing authority and increased its ability to regulate trade. The plan also called for an Executive branch with its Executives (it allowed for more than one) elected by the national legislature. It mirrored the provision of the Virginia and Hamilton plans, in that, any laws passed by Congress would take precedence over state laws. The “small state” caucus primarily objected to the proposed manner of selecting the members of Congress. Under the Virginia plan membership in both houses would be apportioned among the states according to population or contributions to the national treasury. Under that plan, in order for small states like Rhode Island to have one representative, large states like Virginia would be entitled to fifty or more. The New Jersey plan was rejected by the delegates, with Madison being the chief spokesman for its opponents.
The disparity in influence between the small states and the large states threatened to scuttle the efforts of the Convention unless a solution could be found. On July 23 a compromise was reached, called the “Connecticut compromise”. It had first been offered on June 11 by Roger Sherman and rejected by the delegates. On the 23rd, his proposal was revisited and accepted. Under the compromise, the lower house would still be apportioned according to population, but the states would be represented equally in the upper house by two Senators each, to be appointed by the state legislatures. An additional controversy involving representation developed among the free states and the slave-holding states.
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Philosophy of Evil Socialism in America
"The struggle of History is not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; it is between government and the governed."