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Constitutional Journal

By Jeffrey St. John / July 3, 1987



-Friday, July 6, 1787

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Yesterday Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania predicted that civil war and worse would follow if States had equal votes in the Senate.

THE large States today unleashed a divide-and-conquer offensive against the compromise plan favored by the small States. But the large States were frustrated by the political fox of this Convention: Dr. Benjamin Franklin.

Dr. Franklin, a master at political maneuvering, issued a warning when James Madison of Virginia and James Wilson of Pennsylvania sought to take up separately the second and third proposals of his compromise plan; namely, the right of the lower house to originate money bills and one vote for each State in the upper house. These proposals, Dr. Franklin said, must be taken together and not separately.

Frustrated that their divide-and-conquer strategy had been exposed, large State delegates took aim at the power of the lower house to originate money bills. The small States argued that this was a concession to the large States.

Mr. Wilson bitterly assailed the proposal, insisting it was no concession at all by the small States. ``It would be found to be a trifle light as air,'' the Pennsylvania Scotsman added - his burr magnifying his tone of contempt. Gouverneur Morris growled that the exclusive power to originate money bills in the lower house would deprive the country of the services of the upper house. He then went on:

``It will be a dangerous source of disputes between the two Houses. ... Suppose an enemy at the door, and money instantly & absolutely necessary for repelling him, may not the popular branch avail itself of this duress, to extort concessions from the Senate destructive of the Constitution itself....''

Refusing to be frightened by such rhetoric, five States against three, with three divided, voted to retain the money bill section as part of the compromise report. Exclusive power over money bills in the lower house defeats the plan of the nationalists for the Senate to act as a brake on the lower branch of the Legislature.

Today's defeat illustrates that the tide has turned against the nationalists, who now find themselves swimming against it. Today's vote also appears to indicate that the currents for compromise at this Convention are growing stronger with each session.

Perhaps a stronger tide against the nationalists is tradition. At least seven of the 13 State governments give their lower houses the exclusive power to originate money bills as a means of keeping close watch on how the people's money is spent by their representatives.

Dr. Franklin used that argument today when he said: ``It [is] always of importance that the people should know who [has] disposed of their money, & how it [has] been disposed of, [this is best attained] if money affairs [are] confined to the immediate representatives of the people.''

Col. George Mason of Virginia spoke today for the moderates in the large States, if not for the whole Convention, when he urged that ``some points must be yielded for the sake of accommodation.'' His remarks were clearly aimed at Mr. Wilson and Mr. Morris of Pennsylvania and Mr. Madison of Virginia. In the early stages of the Convention, these three nationalists led the drive for accommodation. Now they are its major foes.

These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.