-Wednesday, Aug. 15, 1787
The price of wheat was among the proposed bases of congressional pay that were rejected yesterday in favor of leaving the pay to be ``ascertained by law.''
THE Convention was caught today in a cobweb of conflict spun out by three factions fighting each other to shape a final constitutional document.
James Madison of Virginia for a third time was defeated on his proposal to make all acts passed by Congress subject to joint review by the President and the Supreme Court. Ironically, in opposition, John Francis Mercer of Maryland used Mr. Madison's own argument about the separation of powers, saying that ``the Judiciary ought to be separate from [and independent of] the Legislative.''
Several weeks ago, Mr. Madison had insisted that it was a fundamental principle of free government that the powers of the three branches be ``separately exercised'' and they should also be ``independently exercised.'' His later proposal for joint veto power by the President and the Supreme Court over the acts of Congress appears to be a contradiction.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania renewed his proposal that the President be given absolute veto over congressional acts. Mr. Morris said he had no faith in giving the President a qualified veto, with Congress able to override it with only a two-thirds vote. A larger percentage, a three-fourths vote, Mr. Morris added, would ``prevent the hasty passage of laws.''
James Wilson of Pennsylvania insisted that the threat to liberty was not from a powerful President but from a Congress if unchecked by veto powers of the Executive or the Judiciary. In Great Britain, he insisted, ``a more pure and unmixed tyranny sprang up in the parliament than had been exercised by the monarch.''
As nationalists, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Morris, and Mr. Madison still refuse to surrender their view that the national government should have greater powers than now granted by the draft Constitution. States'-rights delegates such as Mr. Mercer of Maryland believe the draft document has gone too far and argued today for postponement of the presidential veto issue. This visibly irritated delegates who favor the current draft Constitution and are impatient to approve the document.
John Rutledge of South Carolina, in a rare display of public anger, complained at length that the debates had become tedious. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut concurred:
``We grow more & more skeptical as we proceed. If we do not decide soon, we shall be unable to come to any decision.''
Clearly, Mr. Rutledge and Mr. Ellsworth regard both the extreme nationalists and the extreme States'-rights delegates as an obstructing minority impeding the work of the Convention majority. One unconfirmed report alleges that States'-rights delegates from six States have been meeting privately at night after each Convention session to discuss tactics for watering down the draft constitution. Thus delay is their ally.
John Rutledge of South Carolina understands that the longer the nationalists and the States'-rights delegates are allowed to delay final decisions, the less likely will be any decisions favorable to the draft document. This is apparently why he is expected to ask that the Convention lengthen its daily sessions from four to six hours and that no motions for an earlier adjournment be permitted. Mr. Rutledge is living up to his reputation as ``Dictator John.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.