Constitutional Convention: Day by Day Occurrences
May 29, 1787After these few short days of the convention here in Philadelphia, Irealized that it would be important to keep personal records of thisconvention to assist in future discussion. This will also help me withremembering details of the events.
Today the “Virginia Plan” was presented by that state’s delegates.
They proposed a series of many resolutions that seemed well thought out tome. The plan was written by James Madison but was given to us by EdmundRandolph who was a very effective speaker and clear orator.
I enjoyed listening to the resolutions and the fresh new ideas I heardin the Virginia Plan. First, the Virginia Plan recommended a bicamerallegislature with representation to be determined by the size of thepopulation in each area. The lower body of this legislature would beelected by voters while the upper house would be elected by the members ofthe lower house.
Every night the delegates go down to the taverns at Head House Squareand discuss what they have heard. I will debate with them the notionswhich we have been privy to. One of my personal goals of this conventionis to talk freely with Ben Franklin about his ideas about government. Mr.
Franklin has traveled widely and has seen many nations. He is old and wiseand I want to talk to him before he passes away. Right now he is at theage of 81, I think.
May 31Recently the convention has become vexatious. The summers in thistowne are very humid. We are forced to keep the window open everywhere.
Flies are about at all times and it is hard to concentrate. Also, some ofthe discussions at this convention are sluggish and tiresome.
One good thing about the weather is that it has given me time toreflect on the Virginia Plan proposed a few day ago.
The one point I disagree with regarding the Virginia Plan is that itgives more power to all the states with higher population, thus giving thesmaller states no voice.
June 3It is a shame that Tom Jefferson, Mr. Madison’s Virginia neighbor, isnot here. He feels that we are trampling upon the poor farmers. It’sreported that he feels there should be a new government set up every fewyears because any existing government becomes tyrannical. We must takeinto regard people who feel this way. I hope we can prove Mr. Jeffersonwrong by showing that a stronger, consistent government can protect all itscitizens.
June 4Today I stayed home sick. I was well leeched and now feel muchimproved.
June 6I realized today that I should have begun this diary with the pointson the convention that we have all unanimously agreed upon, before itbegan.
First, we agreed that these meetings should be closed to the public sothat there could be frank debate and discussion about government, people,and problems. The next thing agreed was that each state could have onevote on topics, making all states equal. Finally we all agreed that nosubject could be closed permanently, even if it had been previously votedon. These points have been ALL very helpful in making things run smoothly.
June 8Today I took a walk down along the Delaware River with New York’sAlexander Hamilton. Despite my personal feelings that Mr. Hamilton is aautocrat who cares little about most people, I found him enjoyable to talkto. Mr Hamilton has written much about the need for a federal government.
When I asked him about this, he commented that “Unless we place countryunder the foundation of the law, we cannot survive.”June 11Today several of the delegates and I, including James Madison, went tovisit John Bartram out in the countryside surrounding Philadelphia. Hishouse was large and his gardens beautiful. Dr. Bartram has researchedvegetation and knows much about what to grow and when. His approach isscientific and he has found many new types of plants. I admire hisachievements.
June 15Eighteen days after the Virginia Plan was proposed, the firstalternative plan came up. The very scholarly William Patterson introducedtoday the “New Jersey Plan”. This plan proposed some interesting ideas ofhow the government should be run. It suggests a single house of congresswhich would appoint the executive branch and the courts. In this congress,each state would get one vote (not very different from what we have at thisconvention). Also in this congress, they planned to add two new powers:taxation and the regulation of commerce (something I feel is veryimportant). Finally this plan named the power of the national governmentas the greatest law of the land, as it could override anything from thestate government.
I am going to have to try harder to actually have my long awaitedconversation with Mr. Franklin. It seems every time I approach him, he isbusy. Tonight I’m going to sleep early. We have a long discussion of theNew Jersey plan tomorrow.
June 19After four days of discussing the New Jersey plan, we have finallyrejected both the New Jersey plan and the Virginia plan. We have discoveredthat one problem we had until today was that we had never formally voted todiscard the Articles of Confederation. Finally, today, we have set theArticles aside and now we can right past wrongs. The inability to regulatetrade and commerce between the states, maintain order and levy taxes of theConfederation made its government ineffectual.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut says he has a solution. He is going topropose it on the twenty-fifth. Perhaps this will be the perfect plan.
June 22I decided today to talk to Roger Sherman over lunch and try to gathera piece of information on the plan that will come tomorrow. The roastchicken lunch was excellent! Unfortunately, all I learned from myconversation is that his plan will incorporate the best ideas from both theVirginia and the New Jersey plan.
June 25Today Mr. Sherman gave his presentation which took me by totalsurprise! It was incredible organized and greatly accepted. Mr. Shermanopened saying he listened quietly to all the proceeding and came up with aplan that will agree with everyone, because it has the best points of eachside.
He proposed having the bicameral legislature of the Virginia Plan, butnow there would be one house from each plan! The Virginia Plan suggested apopulation based house, which Mr. Serman calls the House ofRepresentatives. He also thought we should have another house where eachstate has one vote, the “Senate”. After some talk we agreed the senateshould instead have two members for each state instead of one.
June 26Today, more elements came out of Rodger Sherman’s plan of”compromise”, which Mr. James Madison (who is in great favor of this plan)has coined the phrase “The Great Compromise”.
Mr. Sherman now suggests if we have any law going into effect as abill, it should pass through both houses of Congress before it can beapproved by a president. I think this is a excellent way to give equalpower to both houses! More details will come out over the next week or so.
I will give a summary of those ideas then.
July 6This past week and a half have been incredibly productive! We havefinished many important details and have a few problems left. The firstpoint agreed on was the base of powers would be the national government,and it would give reserved powers to the state (similar to the power ideaof the New Jersey plan).
Next thing we did (which I felt we should have done earlier), wasclarify and have a definite government set. We decided to have the threebranches of government of legislative (two houses), the judicial (a Supremecourt going absolutely by the constitution), and, finally, the executive.
We next agreed that when voting for the President and theVice-President, the votes should be counted under an electoral college.
The electoral college would be based on the number of people in congressrepresenting each state.
The final thing we did was we found problems with how the slavepopulation should be counted or if slavery should be abolished. We willbegin work on this tomorrow. With all this new sudden progress, I regretnot having more time around this beautiful, big city.
July 11These days are going by much quicker compared to when we first arrivedhere. The weather has improved, not much, but it is notably cooler.
In our discussions of slavery, some of us (including myself), broughtinto question abolishing slavery altogether. Unfortunately, Georgia andSouth Carolina brought up the fact that if we abolished slavery, it wouldnever be accepted by many states, and we would defeat the purpose ofholding this convention at all, which is bringing these states togetherunder a government. I know that what these delegates say is true, eventhough I wish it were not that way! We then agreed to count slaves as partof the population but as three-fifths of it.
July 16Today we finally agreed on all our discussion points and will begindebating, discussing, and writing this document until Septemberseventeenth, when it will be read out and those who wish to, will sign it.
After all these days since I first got here in Philadelphia, I finallygot to have lunch with Mr. Franklin. It was truly a great experiencetalking to a man that had accomplished so much. I asked him what he thoughtof the constitutional work that had been done thus far. He told me he didnot agree with everything in the document, but he knew it was necessary andthus supported it. We then talked about the city, I learned it was plannedto continually expand much larger. In our conversation I mentioned thegreat art work of the sun on the horizon behind Mr. Washington’s seat. Hetold me he had not noticed it and would look.
When we met back in the convention later, we discussed for about anhour many finalizing topics. When Mr. Washington said “If there are nofinal questions… this meeting will be adjourned.” “I have one…” calledout Mr. Franklin “On the picture of the sun behind you, is that sun risingor is it setting ?”. We all knew that Mr. Franklin was being symbolic andreally asking if this was the beginning or the end of a country. Mr.
Washington grinned. “It is rising…” He replied. This concludes therecords of my trip to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1787.