Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 7 >> Connective Tissue to Cooke >> Constitution_P1


government, convention, union, confederation, vote, difficult and congress

Page: 1 2

CONSTITUTION, Framing of the. When the resistance to British rule in America began, independence was not its aim, and pro visional governments only were established in the several colonies, temporarily to take the place of the English colonial governments, which had been suppressed. The several colo nies jointly instituted the Continental Congress for the purpose of prosecuting the war. This Congress in June 1776 appointed a committee to frame an instrument of government. This was entitled the 'Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union' (see ' CONFEDERATION, AR limn or). It was not until 1 March 1781 that all of the States had finally signed it. Its de fects were so numerous and serious that for a time it looked as if the Onion would go to pieces. Several amendments were proposed and failed of adoption, chiefly because the approvd of all States was necessary for an amendment.

By 1786 everything pointed to a speedy dis solution of the Union as it existed under the Articles of Confederation, when aid came from an unexpected quarter • and quite by accident. This was the Annapolis Convention (q.v.), called to settle commercial disputes between Virginia and Maryland. The friends of efficient government dominated the convention; it had no authority but to regulate trade, but reported that nothing could be done under such a gov ernment, and recommended calling a fresh convention to amend it —the changes of course to be consented to by all the States. Congress issued the call for 14 May at Philadelphia; but a quorum (seven States, a majority) was not secured until the 25th. George Washington was appointed president; by 2 June four more States had come in, and on 23 July the New Hamp shire delegation arrived. All were thus finally represented but Rhode Island, which was un alterably opposed to the scheme, and was the last to ratify the Constitution.

Three prime obstacles lay in the path of the convention: the small States' fear of the large, the one-crop States' fear of the national taxing power (and general tenacity of hold on the port dues by those which had ports) and the slave-trading States' determination not to have the business summarily stopped. The first, if not compromised, would have prevented any union at all, as the three °large States,)) Massa, chusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia York then counting as a "small State*— were scattered through the line; commercial interests quite possibly might have created three con federacies, the New England, Middle and Southern; the slavery question would have created two, from New York to Delaware and from Maryland south. The first was assuaged

by equal representation in the Senate; the second by the prohibition of taxing exports, with some other safeguards; the third by per mitting the slave-trade for 20 years. These were three primary concessions which secured the votes of enough States to overlook the irregularity of the convention's title to create a new government, and join the Union under it; and without them there would have been no Union then, and most probably none now.

The first was by far the most difficult of all. The second and third could be and were cured by one or two single provisions, not difficult to draft nor very difficult to agree on; the first involved the very basic structure of the government, and cost a long struggle, great ingenuity and much dottbt about ratification. The situation was this: The convention as sumed as a basis of debate that the 11 States represented the following populations: Vir ginia, 420,000 (including three-fifths of the slaves, as with all the five Southern States) ; Massachusetts, 360,000; Pennsylvania, 360,000; New York, 238,000; Maryland, 218,000; Con necticut, 202,000; North Carolina, 200,000; South Carolina, 150,000; New Jersey, 138,000; Georgia, 90,000; Delaware, 37,000. New Hamp shire with 102,000 came late, and Rhode Island with 58,000 held aloof altogether. The three largest States were regularly reinforced by the three southernmost, who were next to or mixed with huge and powerful Indian confederacies against which they would like to turn the entire national force, and therefore favored 'a strong government; this gave a pretty constant large State vote of six for a "national* system, where the weight should be in proportion to size, and a small State vote of five for a federative one, like the Confederation, where each State had one vote. This further involved that the latter should be a one-chamber system, since two houses each representing sovereign States equally would be an absurd duplication. These two irreconcilable propositions were embodied in what were called the and the "jersey)) plans.

Page: 1 2