-Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1787
Yesterday the Convention limited the Supreme Court to cases in which contending parties bring adversarial arguments based on the Constitution.
A MAJORITY of States voted yesterday to surrender their power over commerce, contracts, and currency in the belief the new national government could better protect life, liberty, and property.
The first power surrendered earlier during the Convention was the right to print paper money or bills of credit. It was proposed yesterday that the ban on the power of the States to print paper money be made absolute, rather than provisional with the consent of Congress. In objecting, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts said, ``An absolute prohibition of paper money would rouse the most desperate opposition from its partizans.''
But invoking the bitter memories of runaway inflation during the last decade, Roger Sherman of Connecticut carried the Convention by stating:
``[I think] this a favorable crisis for crushing paper money. If the consent of the Legislature could authorize emissions of it, the friends of paper money would make every exertion to get into the Legislature in order to license it.''
Only Virginia voted against the absolute ban, with the other States approving that the States may use only gold and silver as tender in payment of debts. The delegates hope that the new Constitution will ban forever paper money, whether issued by the separate States or by the new national government. Many States have enforced the payment of debts in paper money. In an observation prior to the Convention, Gen. George Washington had expressed the view that paper money in Rhode Island had ruined its commerce, oppressed the honest, and ``open[ed] a door to every species of fraud and injustice.'' His views are held by nearly all the delegates to this Convention.
Rufus King of Massachusetts then sought to have the States denied the power to interfere with private contracts. Mr. King pointed out that six weeks ago the Continental Congress in New York had included such a safeguard for contracts when it approved the Ordinance of 1787, which provides for the creation of new States in the frontier Northwest Territory. In the past, State legislatures favored special individuals by enacting laws that altered contracts, set aside court judgments, and allowed payment of debts in tender other than what was called for in contracts.
To put an end to such practices, the Convention agreed by a narrow margin to prohibit the States from passing ex post facto, or retroactive, laws. A similar prohibition against the new national government enacting similar statutes as a means of avoiding contractual and financial obligations was approved by the Convention seven days ago.
The Convention also prohibited the States from taxing or restraining interstate and foreign commerce. In giving up this important power, as well as others, most of the delegates believe they have voted to protect private property rights. This Convention of the separate States was originally called out of the belief that order is necessary in the nation's commerce, currency, and private contracts. A majority of the delegates hold as a fundamental article of political faith that the most important role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.
As Mr. Sherman told the Convention in its early days: ``The two objects of this body are permanency and safety to those who are to be governed.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.