-Monday, Aug. 10, 1787
Last Friday Benjamin Franklin cited Scripture in a successful effort to eliminate the possession of property as a qualification for election to Congress.
THE question of power over the public purse produced a heated Convention debate today, the lengthy session in the hot, humid hall extending beyond 5 o'clock and forcing many ill-humored delegates to miss their normal dinner hour.
Today's stormy session was a reconsideration of a previous Convention action that had denied the national House of Representatives the right to originate all money bills. Some large-State delegates deeply resented the action; for example, Virginia Gov. Edmund Randolph. He demanded today's reconsideration, believing the earlier action was a repudiation by the small States of the Great Compromise between the large and the small States that had saved the Convention from dissolution.
Col. George Mason of Virginia insists that since the House represents the people and the Senate the States, it is improper that the Senate should have power to tax the people. ``The House of Lords does not represent, nor tax the people,'' Colonel Mason argued, because it is not elected by the people of Great Britain. He believes that ``if the Senate can originate, they will in the recess of the Legislative Sessions, hatch their mischievous projects for their own purposes....''
James Wilson of Pennsylvania suggested a compromise. The public purse could have two strings, one in the hands of the House and the other in those of the Senate. ``Both houses must concur in untying, and of what importance could it be which untied first, which last...?'' he asked.
James Madison of Virginia and John Dickinson of Delaware made similar suggestions. Mr. Dickinson pointed out that eight States currently have in their constitutions the exclusive right for the popular branch to originate money bills, while allowing the other branch to amend.
``Experience must be our only guide,'' the Delaware delegate warned. ``Reason may mislead us.''
In no mood for compromise, Governor Randolph said he would press for restoring the exclusive right of the House to originate money bills. He said:
``When the people behold in the Senate, the countenance of an aristocracy; and in the president, the form at least of a little monarch, will not their alarms be sufficiently raised. ... The Senate will be more likely to be corrupt than H. of Reps. and should therefore have less to do with money matters.''
The charge that the Convention might create a monarchy surfaced today in Philadelphia papers. The Pennsylvania Gazette reprinted a circular from Connecticut proposing to send to England for a King. The paper warns the delegates to be on their guard. ``The Federal Convention may save us from this worst of curses,'' the paper wrote.
A majority of Convention delegates took neither the newspapers nor Governor Randolph's concern about a monarchy seriously. By seven States to four, the Convention rejected restoring to the House the power to originate money bills.
The defeat, according to one observer, left Governor Randolph deeply disappointed and humiliated. His only consolation is that the issue remains unresolved, and that General Washington voted with him. The General's gesture may have prevented an angry exit and split of the Virginia delegation.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.
Correction: Yesterday's report should have been dated Monday, Aug. 13, 1787.