-Monday, Aug. 6, 1787
Last Friday Thomas Jefferson, the American Minister to France, proposed that the draft Constitution deal with the chaotic commercial relations of the 13 States.
IN a moment of high drama, a majority of delegates watched with anticipation today as John Rutledge of South Carolina, chairman of the Committee of Detail, approached the table of Convention Secretary William Jackson and delivered a draft of the new Constitution.
The hall of the State House was hushed as the 3,500-word document was slowly and clearly read aloud by Secretary Jackson, his voice echoing off the hall's high ceiling. The preamble to the proposed Constitution begins with these words:
``We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia do ordain, declare, and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity.''
The preamble may have startled some delegates into the realization that the people and not the States are to be the architects of the new government. However, the wording is almost the exact language used in the preamble of Massachusetts' first constitution.
Whether by accident or design the Committee of Detail, by borrowing so much from the States, has disarmed critics of the new national government who claim it will destroy the States. Borrowing so heavily from past political experience also allows the proposed government to appear less revolutionary and conveys a sense of continuity.
Article I of the document, borrowed from the Articles of Confederation, apparently achieves the sense of continuity by declaring the style of the ``Government shall be, `The United States of America.'''
The name appears intended to express the concept of unity within the diversity of the 13 States.
Besides declaring the new government shall consist of supreme Legislative, Executive, and Judicial powers, the draft Constitution contains prohibitions on the powers of the States. The States are prohibited, for instance, from making treaties with foreign nations, from coining money, from emitting bills of credit or making anything but gold and silver in payment of debts, and from imposing taxes on foreign imports. While the Articles of Confederation limit the power of the States, the proposed national government radically reduces the power of the States even further.
At the same time, the draft document ensures that the Southern slave-holding States, such as South Carolina, will be protected. Buried in the section dealing with the powers of the Legislature, the document specifically prohibits the national Congress from imposing taxes on or interfering with transportation in the slave trade. The clause is clearly a response to the threat of South Carolina on July 23 that, if it did not have protection for its slaves, it would not agree to the plan for a new national government. It is this issue, along with the regulation of commerce, that is likely to produce heated Convention conflict.
Apparently the sweeping nature of the draft Constitution moved some delegates to suggest a two-day recess to provide time to study the document. The move was voted down and the Convention will meet tomorrow morning to begin what promises to be the major ordeal of constructing a government.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.