Constitutional Journal

-Tuesday, July 17, 1787

Yesterday William Paterson of New Jersey stunned the Convention by trying, though failing, to have its secrecy rule rescinded.

AFTER weeks of bitter debate, deadlock, and danger of dissolution, today's Convention delegates demonstrated a movement toward a consensus on the formation of a new national government.

A majority voted to give the proposed new Congress sweeping powers to legislate in cases affecting the general welfare and in those in which the States are separately incompetent.

``This is a formidable idea,'' said Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph, with obvious alarm over the sweeping nature of the proposal. ``It involves the power of violating all the laws and constitutions of the States.''

It is significant that the small States voted for this sweeping grant of power. Until now the small States had opposed the proposed new national government as contained in the Virginia Plan. Having secured yesterday an equality of voting in the Senate, the small States joined hands today with their former opponents to grant the new Congress powers to permit it to function as a national political force.

Before today's formal Convention session, the large States held a crisis caucus in a vain effort to agree on some common policy after yesterday's defeat at the hands of the small States.

``The time was wasted in vague conversation..., without any specific proposition or agreement,'' James Madison of Virginia bitterly reported later.

Mr. Madison suffered another defeat today when the Convention by a wide margin refused to endorse his proposal that the national government have the power to veto all State laws. He made his case with these words:

``The necessity of a general Govt. proceeds from the propensity of the States to pursue their particular interests in opposition to the general interest. This propensity will continue to disturb the system, unless effectually controuled....''

While rejecting Mr. Madison's arguments, the Convention unanimously agreed that all laws and treaties passed and ratified by the national Legislature ``shall be the supreme law of the respective States.''

One observer points out that this proposal by Luther Martin of Maryland was a consolation prize to Mr. Madison and a means to soothe his wounded pride.

In today's session, delegates also turned their attention to the national Executive of the new government, voting that it be single rather than plural, as some delegates have previously demanded. It is expected that in the days ahead the question of the powers and term of the national Executive will be debated extensively.

Today's session clearly illustrates two things.

First, a profound change has taken place, with delegates moving toward conciliation and consensus on the form and powers of the proposed national government.

Second, the form of new government that seems to be emerging is neither national nor federal, but a compound of both. Until now such a power-sharing arrangement between the States and a national government was believed politically impossible.

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

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