-Friday, June 29, 1787
Yesterday the debate turned so stormy that Benjamin Franklin proposed - in vain - that each future session be opened with prayers.
A DARK cloud of despair settled over the Convention today as, one by one, delegates took the floor and openly expressed their fears of what the Convention's failure might mean for the future of the country. Yesterday Dr. Benjamin Franklin's rejected proposal for prayers tempered the heat of the delegates but did little to move them out of the torrid desert of their debate.
Dr. William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut opened today's session by counseling compromise. Once again he proposed on behalf of his State that the House of Representatives in the national government be elected by the people and the Senate by the States. A general government cannot be formed ``on any other ground,'' the respected 60-year-old Connecticut lawyer said, obviously weary with the endless, bitter debate. He added that ``a state exists as a political society ... and the interests of the states must be armed with some power of self-defence.''
James Madison's reply was like a pistol shot. The States are not sovereign, he insisted, and should be placed under control of the general government at least as much as they were during the rule of Great Britain. The States must renounce the ``unjust'' principle of equality of voting, Mr. Madison went on, or run the risk of adopting the political evils that had followed in the Old World. ``If the States have equal influence and votes in the Senate, we are in the utmost Danger,'' the normally soft-spoken Virginia scholar warned.
Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York insisted that the Convention deadlock was not over the principle of State liberties but over political power. He joined Mr. Madison in warning against the dangers of domestic dissolution, adding that only foreign nations could benefit from any future alliance with breakaway States. He then went on to further warn:
``Unless your government is respectable, foreigners will invade your rights; ... even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government. I confess our present situation is critical. We have just finished a war which has established our independency, and loaded us with a heavy debt.''
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts insisted that the current Confederation is dissolving and the fate of the Union will be decided by the Convention. ``Instead of coming here like a band of brothers ... we seem to have brought with us the spirit of political negotiators,'' the sparrow-size Mr. Gerry observed in a rebuke to both sides.
When today's debate was done, a Convention majority turned down State equality of voting in the national Legislature as demanded by the small States. Thus, two weeks of often bitter debate had not changed a single vote, as the large States rejected compromise. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut told the weary delegates still hoped for a solution, for ``if no compromise should take place, our meeting would not only be in vain but worse than in vain.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.