-Friday, July 27, 1787
Yesterday the Convention reached a milestone when it voted a recess to allow a drafting committee to begin its work on the Constitution of the United States.
THE Committee of Detail, charged with drafting a new Constitution, held its first session today at the State House here in Philadelphia. Its chairman gave a dramatic indication of the course he intends to chart.
John Rutledge of South Carolina is reported to have opened today's session by pulling from his pocket a copy of a Constitution drawn up in 1520 by five Iroquois Indian nations.
The four other committee members listened in silence as the South Carolinian softly read from the 267-year-old document:
``We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity and order....''
With these words Mr. Rutledge indicated that - while Convention delegates in their debates referred to contemporary Europe and reached back to the ancient empires of Rome and Greece - the committee members must realize they are of this soil and none other as they draft the new document.
South Carolina's Charles Pinckney III, one of the youngest delegates at the Convention, had sounded a similar theme last month when he told the delegates that some had unwisely considered themselves inhabitants of an old country, rather than of a new one. He had gone on to say:
``The people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any State we are acquainted with in the modern world; but I assert that their situation is distinct from either the people of Greece or Rome, or of any State we are acquainted with among the antients [ancients] ... can the military habits & members of Sparta be resembled to our habits & manners?''
Mr. Pinckney had labored for months over his own detailed plan for a new national government and had submitted it at the start of the Convention. Although the delegates chose to ignore his proposal, they did refer it and a plan of New Jersey's William Paterson to the Committee of Detail.
It is reliably reported that Mr. Rutledge is prepared to use as the basis for drafting a constitutional document both the Pinckney and Paterson proposals, as well as the Randolph resolutions debated during the last two months. He is expected to draw also on the existing Articles of Confederation and the Constitutions of the 13 States.
In addition, he will have the assistance of his four committee colleagues: James Wilson of Pennsylvania, a lawyer; Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, a merchant; Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, a judge and experienced legislator; and Edmund Randolph of Virginia, that State's governor.
A clue to John Rutledge's character may be gleaned from the fact that during the War of Independence he headed the government in South Carolina and was affectionately referred to as ``Dictator John.'' However, a few days before he was unanimously elected Chairman of the Committee of Detail, he told his fellow delegates:
``As we are laying the foundation for a great empire we ought to take permanent view of the subject and not look at the present moment only.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.