Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Constitutional Journal

By Jeffrey St. John / September 9, 1987



-Wednesday, Sept. 12, 1787

Skip to next paragraph

Yesterday, for the first time, the delegates convened only to recess, and James Madison of Virginia revealed that the five-man Committee of Style and Arrangement, of which he is a member, had not finished refining the language of the draft Constitution.

THE ordeal of summer statecraft reached a milestone today when the chairman of the five-man Committee of Style and Arrangement laid before the Convention a document of some 4,000 words, which is the nation's new Constitution.

Dr. William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, in presenting the final document to the delegates, also offered a carefully phrased conciliatory letter addressed to the Continental Congress in New York.

The letter, a copy obtained by this correspondent, justifies the Convention's revolutionary action by arguing the ``impropriety of delegating such extensive Trust to one Body of Men. ... Hence ... the Necessity of a different Organization.'' The letter goes on to state that, during the deliberations, the delegates ``kept steadily'' in their view ``the greatest Interest of every true American'' and ``the Consolidation of our Union in which is involved our Prosperity Felicity Safety perhaps our national Existence.''

However, Col. George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts objected that the final Constitution contains no provision for jury trials in civil cases. They also pointed out that there is no provision for a Bill of Rights. Colonel Mason suggested that one could be prepared in a few hours. He had set down his concerns in notes on his copy of the final draft:

``There is no Declaration of Rights, and the laws of the general government being paramount to the laws and constitution[s] of the several States, the Declaration[s] of Rights in the separate States are no security....''

At present, eight of the 13 States have a Bill of Rights in their constitutions. Virginia's Declaration of Rights of 1776 was written by Colonel Mason, and he is credited with influencing Thomas Jefferson's views embodied in the Declaration of Independence.

The proposal for a Bill of Rights suffered a crushing defeat in today's session. Ten States voted no, including Colonel Mason's home State, Virginia. ``The State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution: and being in force are sufficient,'' insisted Roger Sherman of Connecticut.

Debating a Bill of Rights at this late hour might delay delegates eager to take their leave and might also reopen explosive issues already settled. For instance, Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina is reliably reported to believe that a Bill of Rights debate would involve not only rights for whites but for black slaves as well.

One observer points out, however, that today's swift and summary rejection of a Bill of Rights is a hasty decision that Convention leaders may later regret. The issue may prove to be a powerful political weapon in the hands of those opposed to a new Constitution and its ratification.

Today the Convention ordered that the final draft of the Constitution be sent to the Philadelphia printers Dunlap and Claypoole so that by tomorrow the delegates may have copies and begin going over the document line by line for, it may be hoped, the last time.

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