-Wednesday, May 30, 1787
Yesterday Governor Randolph of Virginia warned of the country's ``chief danger'': too much democracy in some State constitutions.
A LONG, stony silence descended over the Convention delegates today when the words ``national'' and ``supreme'' were heard, this correspondent was told. Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph proposed in a resolution to the Convention: ``That a national Government [ought to be established] consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive & Judiciary.''
The silence may have been less out of consent to Mr. Randolph's proposal and more to uncertainty and confusion over its implications. George Wythe of Virginia broke the stillness, saying he presumed ``from the silence of the house'' that it was prepared to pass on the resolution. Pierce Butler of South Carolina said the house was not ready to vote. He asked Governor Randolph to show ``that the existence of the States cannot be preserved by any other mode than a national government.'' Mr. Randolph offered this explanation of his proposal:
``It is only meant to give the national government a power to defend and protect itself. To take therefore from the respective legislatures or States no more soverignty than is competent to this end.''
What has alarmed some delegates is the fear that the proposed national government will devour and destroy the states. Charles Pinckney III of South Carolina directly asked Governor Randolph whether ``he meant to abolish the State Governts. altogether.'' He replied: ``Only so far as the powers intended to be granted to the new government should clash with the states, when the latter was to yield.''
Governor Randolph appears to be proposing what has never before existed: a central national government and sovereign State governments, each with specified powers. Citizens would be expected to obey both national and State laws. Stated another way, a national republican form of government, with 13 smaller republics or States as satellites.
Two delegates, however, questioned whether the Convention had the authority even to consider the proposal for a national government. General Pinckney of South Carolina pointed out that the Convention was called for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, not for creating a new government. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, a Signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, said that if the Convention had the right to approve a national government, it also had the power to ``annihilate'' the existing Confederation of the 13 States.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, who wears a wooden leg and a cynical expression, said that one government was better suited to prevent wars or render them less expensive or bloody than many. ``We had better take a supreme government now, than a despot 20 years hence,'' he added.
Mr. Morris spoke directly to the principal anxieties of many delegates, namely the fear of anarchy on the one hand and of tyranny on the other. It is perhaps the primary reason that a majority today voted for the first time to consider a new national government rather than follow the Convention's original mandate to patch up the old Articles of Confederation.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.