Constitutional Journal

-Thursday, July 5, 1787

Yesterday Philadelphia celebrated the Fourth of July, unaware of the discord within the secret Constitutional Convention meetings.

GRIM images of the gallows, the sword, and a civil war hung over today's Convention session as one set of delegates called for compromise while another set scorned the word as a surrender to injustice.

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts submitted to the full Convention the proposed compromise hammered out by the Grand Committee of Eleven States over the July Fourth holiday recess. The compromise contains three elements: There would be one representative for every 40,000 inhabitants in the proposed House of Representatives; this lower chamber would have the power to originate money bills without alteration by the proposed Senate; and in the Senate each State would have an equal vote.

``If we do not come to some agreement among ourselves some foreign sword will probably do the work for us,'' Mr. Gerry warned as he argued for compromise.

James Madison of Virginia and James Wilson of Pennsylvania made no attempt to conceal their scorn for the proposed compromise. Sourly, Mr. Madison suggested that the power to originate money bills was no concession at all.

If seven States in the upper house favored a money bill, he pointed out, they could get members from the same States in the lower house to originate it. He added: ``It [is] vain to purchase concord in this Convention on terms which would perpetuate discord among [our] Constituents.''

Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, with verbal rapier strokes, cut away at the proposed compromise. The country must be united by persuasion, or the sword will do it, the wealthy delegate with a wooden leg said, while remaining seated. If the States had equal votes in the Senate, he predicted, the horrors of civil war would be followed by the ``Gallows & Halter'' and finish what the sword had started. How far foreign powers would take part in the horrors that he foresaw, he could not say.

But, he grimly went on, of one thing he was certain: State attachments and loyalty were poison for the country. ``We cannot annihilate; but we may perhaps take out the teeth of the serpents,'' he said of the States.

William Paterson of New Jersey complained that images of the sword and the gallows were the product of Mr. Morris's calculation rather than his conviction. The diminutive judge from New Jersey also complained that Mr. Madison and Mr. Morris were abusing the small States.

Col. George Mason of Virginia sought to purge today's bitter debate with sweet reason:

``There must be some accommodation ... or we shall make little further progress in the work. ... I will bury my bones in this city rather than expose my country to the consequences of a dissolution of the convention without anything being done.''

Gen. George Washington may have been moved by Colonel Mason's words of warning. An observer has informed this correspondent that, despite Mr. Madison's bitter opposition to the clause concerning money bills, the General is prepared to support it. If this proves to be true, General Washington may turn out to be a silent force that saves this Convention from itself.

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

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Constitutional Journal
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today