-Tuesday, Aug. 7, 1787
Yesterday, in a moment of high drama, a 3,500-word draft of the new Constitution was delivered to the Convention and then read by Secretary William Jackson to a hushed State House.
CONVENTION delegates collectively gritted their teeth today and began to debate item by item, line by line, and word by word the 23 articles and 41 sections of the draft Constitution.
The delegates unanimously approved the preamble and Articles I and II, which name the new government ``The United States of America'' and create the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches.
Sharp disagreement surfaced over the provision proposing that any free person may vote without qualification. At present, no citizen in the 13 States may vote unless he owns property (land) or pays taxes.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania proposed that voting be limited to freeholders (that is, farmers who own property). James Wilson objected, saying those not owning property yet qualified to vote for State legislators would be barred from voting for members of the national Congress. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, who with Mr. Wilson on the Committee of Detail helped draft the provision for voting rights without property ownership, warned the Convention: ``The people will not readily subscribe to the Natl. Constitution, if it should subject them to be disfranchised.''
Mr. Morris brushed aside all arguments and bluntly said he had learned not to be a dupe of the words ``taxation & Representation'':
``Give the votes to people who have no property, and they will sell them to the rich who will be able to buy them. We should not confine our attention to the present moment. The time is not distant when this Country will abound with mechanics & manufacturers who will receive their bread from their employers. ... The ignorants & the dependent can be as little trusted with the public interest.''
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, in a weak voice, offered the strongest reply to Mr. Morris. The 81-year-old philosopher and diplomat said that it was the common people who helped win the American War of Independence. The character of the American common man could be seen, Dr. Franklin said, in the conduct of American seamen when captured by the British and thrown into prison. Most refused to accept bribes and service on British ships-of-the-line in exchange for release from prison, while captured English seamen preferred service on American ships to prison. ``This difference of behavior,'' Dr. Franklin argued, ``arises from the operation of freedom in America....''
When the issue was put to vote, Mr. Morris's proposal was defeated; only Delaware favors limiting voting to freeholders.
General Washington's neutrality as President of the Convention is to be tested for the first time as the Convention proceeds with debating the proposed Constitution. Delegates refused to commit the entire draft of the proposed Constitution to a second committee for review and revision. In the past, major questions were dealt with in this manner, freeing General Washington from becoming directly involved in the debates. Now, as presiding officer, General Washington must rule on endless motions in the debates.
A new heat wave hit Philadelphia today. With the windows of the State House closed, and the rise of the delegates' temperatures during their debate, the atmosphere indoors may exceed the torrid summer weather outdoors.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.