Subtitle: The Second American Revolution.
Recall Alexander Hamilton’s speech from yesterday, June 18th, in which he attempted to meld the English parliamentary system with republicanism.
June 19. In contrast, in perhaps his best speech of the summer, James Madison carefully shredded the New Jersey Plan. The confederate form could never do across an extensive country.
So, with the Hamilton sketch and the New Jersey Plan before them, delegates confronted two unacceptable alternatives. It startled them into recognizing they must either shift positions toward a compromise in which each would win, and each lose something, or they would all lose and win nothing.
In response, the Committee took up the Virginia Plan and voted to continue with it by a vote of 7-3-1. The no votes were NY, NJ, DE, with MD divided. Without a shot fired in anger, the nationalist delegates, including George Washington, pulled off the second American Revolution. They cast off a governing form inadequate to securing the American Revolution in the hope of crafting one that did.1
The congress of the modified Virginia Plan featured three-year terms for representatives, and seven for senators, with proportional representation in both houses.
Jun 20. Delegates met in convention for the first time since May 29th. George Washington took the president’s chair. Having previously met in the committee-of-the-whole, the delegates now met in a different body, in convention, and could reconsider every resolution previously recommended by the committee.
It is a wonder that the three dissenting states remained. In the month to come, the value of the secrecy rule was ever more apparent, when delegates finally solved THE question, how to satisfy the equality of state suffrage demands of the small states. Without the secrecy rule, compromise wasn’t likely. If newspapers had daily access to the debates, few large state delegates would have risked charges of selling out their home state by acceding to equal representation among the states in the senate.
As the convention worked its way through each resolution, George Mason (VA), who would later insist on amendments that evolved into the familiar Article V, remarked on the practical inability to amend the Articles of Confederation. From experience, one state (Rhode Island) could and did stymie necessary reforms. What could the nation expect when additional states joined the Union? Answer: an unalterable governing document that guaranteed civil war.2
I wish Article V opponents would consider the similar situation our nation confronts today. Like the Articles of Confederation, our governing institutions no longer serve their intended purposes. Congress is incapable of even considering our dire situation. The unintended consequence of preventing an Article V Convention of the States is to allow unacceptable societal pressures to build without hope of peaceful relief. If history is our guide, expect instead, an explosive release. We may then get the radical new governing form Article V opponents fear, one designed not in the peaceful setting of an Article V COS, but one extorted by chance and force.
June 25th was a long day at the convention, in which delegates considered the Fourth Resolution:
Left unanswered was THE QUESTION: “How many senators from each state?”
Charles Pinckney (SC), a relatively unknown and forgotten delegate in modern times, gave a masterful speech that recognized the uniqueness of the American tradition, yet also connected our customs to the British system as well as the republics of antiquity.
Pinckney stressed the importance of the Fourth Resolution; its outcome will determine the course of our country. While he appreciated the brilliant British constitution, it would not do here. Neither a House of Lords nor a monarchy, no matter how limited, could be grafted onto the United States. More political history followed.
Americans were remarkably equal at that time in wealth and certainly political rights.3 Hereditary authority in government never took root in America. Virginia came closest to a feudal/aristocratic system with its very few towns and many large plantations. Pinckney predicted an eventual, natural aristocratic class, but it was a long way off.
He said our people had nothing in common with the manners, situation, habits, etc. of Greece, Rome, Solon, Sparta, Patrician & Plebeian, Helvetic or Belgic peoples, or the Germanic Empire. We were a new people for a new country. We had all the materials at-hand to ensure the civil and religious liberties of the people. Let’s use them. Government must be suited to the people. The professional, commercial, and landed distinctions in America have but one interest – the best government for the people. Is it a British-style system? No.
Commons, Peers and Royalty in Britain are distinct orders; they can only represent their own interests. It would be impossible for one to serve another. It was an accidental system that worked well. It was, however, based on raw political power. Pinckney wrote there is but one order in the US, a Commons. The conditions that created the English system cannot create Lords and Royalty here. In words that ring true today:
The present condition of America, said Pinckney, was not the fault of the people but of their system of government.
It cannot unite interests and it lacks energy. The answer is to add and distribute powers among men for limited times, and reserve elections by the people. Mr. Pinckney was confident the convention would devise such a plan. To do so, the general government must reserve local powers to the states, for it will rely upon the states from time to time for the execution of its powers. He recalled the Albany Convention of 1754, in which it was proposed to do away with colonial governments and throw the entire mass of people under one government under the Crown of Great Britain. Bad idea.
The first crack in the large-state bloc opposition to state parity in the senate appeared when Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts admitted the small states had a point in their insistence of equal representation. George Mason (VA) joined him. Madison, who wished to pass proportional senate representation, motioned to consider Resolution #8 before more states went wobbly. The Eighth Resolution read, “Resolved that the right of suffrage in the 2nd. branch of the National Legislature ought to be according to the rule established for the first (proportional by population).
Hugh Williamson (NC) and Pierce Butler (SC) were also reluctant to vote on the 4th Resolution before settling the 8th. Madison seconded their motions, but lost on a 7-4 vote. Instead, the convention took up the 4th Resolution and affirmed the state legislature’s power to appoint men over thirty years of age to the senate for seven-year terms.
In fits and starts, our Framers somehow managed to retain decorum as they chiseled away at the problem of inadequate government.
General Reference: Madison, J. (1966). Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. Chicago: Ohio University Press.
1. Unger, H. G. (2007). America’s Second Revolution – How George Washington Defeated Patrick Henry and Saved the Nation. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Page 62.
2. Consider, “is the American Constitution of 2017 amendable?” See ‘Sovereignty on the Move’ section of Article V Opponents and the Question of Sovereignty Part V and Article V to Avoid a General Convention.
3. Punch Progressives in the face with this fact.