Constitutional Journal

-Thursday, May 31, 1787 Yesterday a majority voted to consider setting up a new national government instead of merely revising the Articles of Confederation.

THE Convention today, with no debate, tentatively approved the creation of a national Legislature to consist of two branches. Only Pennsylvania dissented, a source at the Convention informed this correspondent. Dr. Benjamin Franklin has long favored a single legislative branch, which is why only Pennsylvania voted against the creation of a lower and an upper house.

The ease with which the measure passed can be explained by the fact that 11 State governments currently maintain house and senate chambers. Only Pennsylvania and Georgia have a single house. The current Continental Congress, created by the Articles of Confederation, has also operated as a single legislative body.

Sharp disagreement developed, however, when the Convention took up the resolution calling for election of the first, or lower, house by the people. Roger Sherman of Connecticut was the first on his feet to object, proposing election to the lower house by the State legislatures.

``The people should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled,'' the former shoemaker from Connecticut said.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts agreed, saying experience in his own State has shown that politicians have misled the people. ``The evils we experience flow from an excess of democracy,'' the New England merchant said. At the root of the evil, he added, was the dangerous belief in the ``levelling spirit'' of equality.

Virginia's George Mason rose in rebuttal, saying that the Convention should ``attend to the rights of every class of the people.'' James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who appears owlish and scholarly behind thick spectacles, said:

``No government could long subsist without the confidence of the people. In a republican Government this confidence was peculiarly essential. ... [it is] wrong to increase the weight of the State Legislatures by making them the electors of the national Legislature.''

Six States agreed, and election by the people was tentatively approved. So was a proposal giving power to the national Legislature to pass laws in all cases when the States are thought to be incompetent. Congressional veto power over all State laws was also passed without debate or dissent. The lack of debate and dissent on both questions stems from delegates' experience with the Continental Congress, which lacks the power to enforce laws.

If today's session reveals one thing, it is the unanimous agreement among a majority of the delegates that the failures of the Articles of Confederation must not be repeated. Under the Articles, the individual States have encroached upon the powers of the central government, rendering it weak and ineffective. Today's action, giving sweeping powers to a new national government, now raises the question of whether the States will agree to the radical proposals of the Virginia Plan.

As South Carolina's Pierce Butler complained today, the delegates were ``running into an extreme in taking away the powers of the States.''

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

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