Constitutional Journal

-Tuesday, June 19, 1787 Yesterday James Wilson of Pennsylvania recalled that 13 States must approve any revision of the Articles of Confederation, and Rhode Island's absence from the Convention leaves only 12.

THE obituary of the Articles of Confederation may have been agreed upon today by a majority of States at this Convention.

Virginia's James Madison, in a long and what one observer maintains was a masterly speech, subjected the New Jersey Plan of the small States to a point-by-point verbal demolition. Using the deaths of the ancient confederacies as his anvil and the perceived failures of the current Articles as his hammer, Mr. Madison pounded away at the New Jersey proposals for reforming the current Confederation of 13 States. The concept of confederacies, Mr. Madison said, ``was the cobweb [which] could entangle the weak'' and could become ``the sport of the strong.'' He then went on to say:

``It is evident, if we do not radically depart from a federal plan [of States], we shall share the fate of ancient and modern confederacies. The amphyctionic [ancient Greek] council, like the American congress, had the power of judging in the last resort in war and peace. ... What was its fate or continuance? Philip of Macedon, with little difficulty, destroyed every appearance of it.''

At the conclusion of Mr. Madison's speech, Rufus King of Massachusetts proposed that the New Jersey Plan be buried and the Virginia Plan for a new national government become the sole concern of the Convention. Seven States agreed, three opposed, with one State (Maryland) divided. The failure of the supporters of the New Jersey Plan to rise in rebuttal to Mr. Madison today was a mute tribute to the effective death blow he delivered to their hopes. In killing the New Jersey Plan, delegates on both sides have also acknowledged that the Articles of Confederation is a dead letter.

The small States, however have indicated that they are far from defeated. A source has told this correspondent that the small States believe that while they do not have the strength to prevail, neither do the large ones have the votes to pass the Virginia Plan as currently constituted. John Lansing of New York, an ardent supporter of the small States, is reported to have said after today's defeat that the strategy now is for the States'-rights group to gain enough strength to deadlock the Convention in order to wrest a compromise from the nationalists.

James Wilson of Pennsylvania went out of his way to assure the delegates that it was not desirable to destroy the State Governments. Mr. Wilson also seems to have suggested a partnership between the States and the proposed national government by his historical references. ``In all extensive empires a subdivision of power is necessary,'' Mr. Wilson said, adding that ``Persia, Turkey, and Rome, under its emperors, are examples in point.''

Mr. Wilson also said, borrowing a sea phrase, that he was ``for taking a new departure, and I wish to consider in what direction we sail, and what may be the end of our voyage.''

Mr. Wilson may have been expressing out loud what many delegates have been thinking. This Convention has been in session for almost four weeks, and some delegates are beginning to wonder whether they are aboard a ship that has charted a course in circles.

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

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