Constitutional Journal

-Wednesday, July 11, 1787

Yesterday New York's delegation left for home, leaving only 10 States represented at a still bitterly stalemated Convention.

CONFLICT at this Convention shifted from large States versus small States to a sectional clash between the North and South, leaving today's session in a shambles over the decision as to what part black slaves should play in representation.

Delegates began by considering Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph's proposal for a periodic census as a method to determine representation based on population and wealth. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina proposed that any census be based on all free white inhabitants and three-fifths ``of those of other descriptions.''

South Carolina's delegates immediately demanded that blacks be counted ``equally with the whites'' - the word ``slave'' a taboo term among some delegates.

``The people of Pena. [Pennsylvania] would revolt at the idea of being put on a footing with slaves,'' Gouverneur Morris indignantly replied.

Besides, he added, a census would give power to new Western States to ruin interests of the Atlantic States. The best course was to fix no rule but leave the issue to the people's representatives - namely, Congress.

James Madison of Virginia is reported to believe that Mr. Morris's motive for omitting slaves from the proposed census and leaving to Congress the power to deal with the West is a political ploy to protect the commercial interests of the seaboard States. Mr. Madison said that he was a little surprised to hear Mr. Morris express such confidence in Congress, particularly since he had spoken in the past of the ``political depravity of men'' in power.

Mr. Madison then went on to criticize Mr. Morris:

``But his reasoning [is] not only inconsistent with his former reasoning, but with itself. At the same time that he recommended this implicit confidence to the Southern States in the Northern Majority, he was still more zealous in exhorting all to a jealousy of a Western majority. To reconcile the gentln. [gentleman] with himelf it must be imagined that he determine[s] the human character by the points of the compass.''

A census every 15 years was tentatively approved. However, to the proposal that slaves be counted as three-fifths of a white free inhabitant, James Wilson of Pennsylvania objected. If slaves are property, he asked, why should not other property become part of the computation? Gouverneur Morris said he was reduced to the dilemma of doing injustice to the Southern States or to human nature. He chose to do injustice to the South. He went on to predict that the Southern States would never confederate without their slaves. Mr. Morris may have put his finger on a political reality, despite his strong opposition to slavery.

This reality may have been at work today after the Convention voted 6-4 to reject counting slaves as a fraction of whites.

Without debate or explanation, the Convention voted unanimously to reject the entire compromise proposal debated over the last week. The delegates, as a result, now find themselves having not advanced a single step.

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