-Monday, June 18, 1787
On Friday William Paterson of New Jersey offered a nine-point proposal to counter the Virginia Plan for strong national government.
VERBAL thunderbolts electrified the Convention last Saturday when the debate between the small and the large States was directly and dramatically joined over the New Jersey and the Virginia Plans.
William Paterson of New Jersey made two essential points to the delegates. First, the New Jersey Plan ``sustains the sovereignty of the respective States,'' while the Virginia Plan destroys it. Second, his proposal reforms the Articles of Confederation in accord with the original mandate given the Convention delegates and favored by the people.
``If the confederacy [is] radically wrong, let us return to our States, and obtain larger powers, not assume them of ourselves,'' Mr. Paterson said of those delegates who have proposed going beyond reform of the Articles to creating a new national government.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania rose to his feet in rebuttal, subjecting both plans to a point-by-point comparison. As to the assertion that the Convention lacks the power to do anything but reform the Articles, the owlish Pennsylvanian said the delegates are authorized ``to conclude nothing'' but are ``at liberty to propose anything.'' Mr. Wilson also aimed a verbal arrow at the Achilles' heel of the New Jersey Plan, pointing out that it cannot be approved unless Rhode Island, absent from the start of this Convention, gives its assent. (The Articles of Confederation require that any changes be approved by all 13 States.)
Mr. Wilson then went on to make this point:
``The people expect relief from their present embarrassed situation and look up for it to this national convention; and it follows that they expect a national government, and therefore the plan for Virginia has preference to the others....''
John Lansing of New York, a 33-year-old lawyer and experienced State legislator, argued that great changes can only be introduced gradually. Otherwise, Mr. Lansing said, the people will become confused and uncertain with the Virginia Plan, which is not only ``novel'' but without parallel. ``The States will never sacrifice their essential rights to a national government,'' he grimly warned.
Virginia's Gov. Edmund Randolph had his own dark warnings to offer. If the New Jersey Plan were adopted, he said, it would repeat ``the imbecility of the existing confederacy'' when the States encroached on the national Congress and left the country exposed to foreign intrigue. The Virginia Governor added that France remains unpaid for its support, as do American officers and soldiers who fought for independence. This debt is a matter of gratitude and honor, and the bravery of the American troops is degraded by the weakness of the government, he suggested. ``When the salvation of the Republic [is] at stake, it would be treason to our trust, not to propose what we found necessary,'' Governor Randolph said, his words rolling over the Convention like thunder.
At today's session Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York, in a four-hour speech, put forth an 11-point proposal so radical it commanded neither a second nor referral to a committee for study. Dr. William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut may have summarized Colonel Hamilton's impact: ``He has been praised by every body, he has been supported by none.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.