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Constitutional Journal

By Jeffrey St. John / September 10, 1987



- Friday, Sept. 14, 1787

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Yesterday the eagle eye of Roger Sherman of Connecticut caught a semicolon replacing the original comma in a list of congressional powers, and some suspected a trick to add to those powers.

WORN down by weeks of work, delegates were short on words and long on votes today in an anxious drive to finish framing the new Constitution and head for home.

The only substantial change the Convention adopted today concerned the method of appointment of the national Treasurer. Earlier the Convention had voted Congress the power to elect by joint ballot a chief financial officer of the new national government. Today, John Rutledge of South Carolina proposed that the power of appointment be taken away from Congress and be given to the President.

Nathaniel Gorham and Rufus King, both of Massachusetts, objected, insisting the people were accustomed to appointment of Treasurers by State legislatures. ``The innovation will multiply objections to the System,'' they added. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania argued that presidential appointment of the Treasurer meant that ``he will be more narrowly watched, and more readily impeached.'' Perhaps the most persuasive argument against appointment by the joint Congress came from Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina:

``The Treasurer is appointed by joint ballot in South Carolina. The consequence is that bad appointments are made, and the Legislature will not listen to the faults of their own officer.''

In no mood to debate the issue further, a majority voted to make the Treasurer an officer appointed by the President, with approval of the Senate. An effort was also made to require the national Treasurer to publish the Treasury's income and expenses on an annual basis. This, however, was turned down as impracticable, and the Convention settled for requiring publication ``from time to time.''

In making the Treasurer a presidential appointee, the Convention voted for a unified Executive policy in administering the new government. Congress will appropriate public funds, while the President and his Treasurer will administer their disbursement.

Power of the purse and power of the sword are two issues that have troubled delegates like Col. George Mason of Virginia. Today he and Gov. Edmund Randolph, also of Virginia, proposed that a prohibition against standing armies in time of peace be included in the Constitution.

James Madison of Virginia supported the motion, observing that ``armies in time of peace are allowed on all hands to be an evil....'' Mr. Madison must have realized the motion would be voted down, as it was - nine States to two. It is believed that Virginia voted for the proposal to appease Colonel Mason and Governor Randolph. Both have given indications that, unless certain changes are made in the proposed Constitution, they may withhold their signatures. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts is threatening to do the same.

Thus, in rejecting any effort to accommodate the Convention dissenters, a majority of delegates may unwittingly provide ammunition to those who are waiting to ambush the new Constitution when it is submitted to the States for ratification.

This correspondent has learned that tomorrow General Washington will ask for a roll call of the States to agree to the Constitution as amended, and that exhausted majorities in the State delegations are expected to give a unanimous ``aye.''

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