-Thursday, Aug. 23, 1787
Yesterday, after Col. George Mason of Virginia attacked the ``infernal traffic'' of slavery, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut noted that he does not own slaves (as, every delegate knows, Colonel Mason does).
A MAJORITY of the States today reluctantly gave up absolute authority over their militia and agreed to supremacy of the new national government. The surrender on the issue of State militia control, however, was not without bitter debate.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts complained, for instance, that national control of organizing, arming, and disciplining State militia amounted to ``making the States drill-sergeants.'' James Madison and Edmund Randolph, both from Virginia, countered that the militia was a national concern and required national control. ``The Militia were every where neglected by the State Legislatures, the members of which courted popularity too much to enforce a proper discipline'' Mr. Randolph added.
During the War of Independence, Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress had no end of grave difficulties dealing with the State militia. According to one observer, a majority of delegates have nothing but contempt for the militia, and no one more silently contemptuous than Convention President Washington. Despite this, Mr. Gerry warned, the Convention was pushing the power of the national government too far:
``Some people will support a plan of vigorous Government at every risk. Others of a more democratic cast will oppose it with equal determination. And a Civil war may be produced by the conflict.''
James Madison of Virginia, in rebuttal to Mr. Gerry, insisted that the most likely source and danger of disunion and civil war comes from the States. It is, therefore, necessary that the national government be granted sufficient power to deal with such a danger. ``The greatest danger to liberty,'' Mr. Madison added, ``is from large standing armies, it is best to prevent them by an effectual provision for a good militia.'' The Virginian was partially successful with his incisive argument.
A Convention majority decided to reserve to the States the appointment of militia officers and authority to train the State militia, according to discipline prescribed by the national government. After this compromise, it was unanimously agreed that the proposed Constitution, and the treaties and acts of Congress, be made the supreme law of the States and of their citizens and inhabitants.''
Gen. George Washington is reported pleased and relieved at this surrender of the States to the supremacy of the proposed national government. During the War of Independence he had vainly pleaded with the States for such power.
The States'-rights delegates were visibly angered, however, when it was proposed the new government be given the power to veto all State laws. James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who has persisted with this proposal, said it was the ``key-stone'' to the government the Convention was constructing. The proposal was defeated by a one-vote margin when John Rutledge of South Carolina warned nothing would damn the new Constitution to defeat more than national veto power over all State laws. ``Will any State ever agree to be bound hand & foot in this manner?'' he asked.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.