Constitutional Journal

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-Thursday, Sept. 13, 1787

Yesterday's summary rejection of a Bill of Rights was, according to one observer, a hasty decision that may serve the foes of a new Constitution.

WITH quills in hand and printed copies of the Committee of Style report before them, impatient delegates began today a line-by-line comparison of the document with previous decisions of the full Convention.

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A majority of delegates were reported pleased with most of the stylistic changes by the five-member Committee. One observer describes their work as an adroit and tasteful rendering of the will of the delegates. No objection was raised, for example, to the deletion of ``his Excellency'' as a title for the Executive. He will be known simply as the President of the United States.

A change of punctuation in a clause, however, caught the eagle eye of Roger Sherman of Connecticut. A semicolon had been inserted in place of the original comma in the enumeration of congressional powers: ``To lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises; to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States.''

Mr. Sherman objected to the semicolon, insisting the change implied an independent power of Congress not granted by the Convention. It is alleged that Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, the principal penman of the Committee, made the change to suggest a further taxing power of Congress, in line with his own ideas. A reliable source says the change was a ``trick'' so as to create a distinct power. But after Mr. Sherman discovered the change, the comma was reinstated.

Also today, Committee of Style Chairman William Samuel Johnson reported to the Convention a resolution detailing the necessary six steps to give legal force to the Constitution.

First, the document, as a matter of strategy, will be laid before the Continental Congress in New York. The resolution does not call for Congress to approve or disapprove.

Second, the Constitution is to be sent to State ratifying conventions with assent required by nine States.

Third, in the resolution's words: ``Resolved ... the United States in Congress assembled should fix a day, on which Electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same: and a day on which the Electors should assemble to vote for the President: and the Time and Place for commencing proceedings under this Constitution....''

The fourth step is for the election of members of the House of Representatives and Senate.

The fifth is for members of both houses to assemble and count and certify the Electoral College ballots for election of the first President.

The sixth and final step would be this: ``The Congress together with the President should without delay proceed to execute this Constitution.''

Three delegates have indicated a growing discontent with the Constitution. The most respected and prominent is Col. George Mason of Virginia. Convention leaders are reported concerned that, if Colonel Mason refuses to sign the document, this refusal could prove damaging to the cause of ratification. In the few remaining days of this Convention an effort will be made to court Colonel Mason and the two other dissenters, who are Gov. Edmund Randolph, also of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.

Delegates, however, are in a hurry to return home, and what the dissenters want as concessions the Convention may lack the patience to consider.

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

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