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The consideration of the Virginia plan went rapidly forward in the early days of the convention. The discussions were in the committee of the whole house, and there was so much agreement that there seemed good reason for hope that within a short time, all the essential features of the new Constitution could be decided on. The convention was in the hands of the large-state men, and opposition to their general plans was not as yet crystallized. For the time being the critical proposition, the suggestion of proportional representation, was postponed. 

Without discussion, it was resolved that each branch of the legislature should have the right to originate laws and that all powers belonging to the Congress of the Confederation should be transferred to the new government. The proposal to give the central authority legislative power in "cases to which the separate states are incompetent" met with some objection, for the fear naturally arose that the states would be robbed of their essential powers. Madison and Randolph declared their preference for definite and enumerated powers, but for the time being the resolution in the general form was adopted. Without opposition, it was resolved to bestow on the national legislature the right to negative all laws contravening in its opinion the Articles of Union or any treaties subsisting under the authority of the Union. The adoption of such a resolution (May 31), before the convention had been at work a week, shows the settled purposes of the men controlling its deliberations, their determination to remedy the chief fault of the Confederation, and also the advantage they had in the early days over the localists, who were as yet without organization.

There also arose even before June 1 the critical proposition to grant the national legislature the right "to call forth the force of the Union against any member . . . failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof." Madison, the real author of the Virginia plan, which was meeting such favor, was eager for effective government but he doubted the practicability, justice, and efficacy of force, "when applied to people collectively and not individually." "The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war, than an infliction of punishment." He hoped that a better system could be found, and on his motion, the resolution was for a time put by. Plainly the delegates had not yet quite freed themselves from the old notion of the Confederation; they did not yet see the significance of their task or just where the Virginia plan was leading them. Some saw that government must act on men, but even the full force of this was not yet clear.

So rapidly did the work of the convention go forward that by June 5 a large portion of the Virginia plan had been adopted in committee. True, as we have seen, some of the really critical questions were postponed and many of the resolutions as adopted were very general in terms; nevertheless, the main features of the new order were coming into sight — a government with executive, legislative, and judicial branches, possessed of wide general authority. There was, obviously, a determination on the part of the leaders to frame a system that would not be burdened by the failings of the distracted Confederation. The states must be preserved, but they must not be allowed to disregard their obligations. It was evident, too, that the nationalists were not to be easily discouraged. When the resolution recommending conventions for the adoption of the Constitution was tinder discussion, Wilson spoke in plain terms; he hoped that a disposition on the part of a plurality of states to organize "anew on better principles" would not be allowed "to be defeated by the inconsiderate or selfish opposition of a few States." This remark was intended as a warning to New Jersey and Delaware, who were apparently giving signs of uneasiness and disaffection. It is an evidence that the leaders of the convention feared the obstinate objection to some essential portion of their plan.

On June 6 arose again the question of choosing the members of the first branch of the legislature, and in the ensuing discussion, certain fundamental ideas were brought forward. Once more distrust of democracy disclosed itself. Charles Pinckney wished an election by state legislatures since the people were unfit for the work. "In Massachusetts," said Gerry, "the worst men get into the Legislature. Several members of that Body had lately been convicted of infamous crimes." Wilson, on the other hand, contended that the government ought to possess not only the force but the mind or sense of the people at large; the opposition to be expected to the new system would not come from the citizens of the states but from their governments, "The State officers were to be the losers of power." Mason too believed, as before, in popular election. "Under the existing Confederacy," he said, "Congress represent the States and not the people of the States: their acts operate on the States, not on the individuals. The case will be changed in the new plan of Government. The people will be represented; they ought therefore to choose the Representatives." Dickinson thought it essential that one branch of the legislature should be drawn immediately from the people and the other chosen by the state legislatures. After due discussion, the convention refused to alter its decision in favor of popular election for the first branch.

The next day (June 7) it was resolved that the second branch should be chosen, as Mr. Dickinson wished, by the state legislatures. In the course of the discussion, serious questions came to the surface, for some of the large-state men saw that an election by state legislatures meant either a surrender of proportional representation or a very large and cumbersome second branch, inasmuch as each state would need to have at least one member. They had hoped for some method of election disregarding state boundaries. Notwithstanding the efforts of Madison and Wilson, the resolution received the unanimous vote of the states.

Before June 1, as we have seen, a resolution had been adopted providing that the national legislature should have the right to veto all state laws contravening the treaties or the Articles of Union. Pinckney was dissatisfied with this; it did not go far enough for him, and he advocated granting authority to veto all laws that should be judged improper. The proposition was seriously debated, and was favored by Madison, who "could not but regard an indefinite power to negative legislative acts of the States as absolutely necessary to a perfect System." Evidently, the leaders did not yet see fairly and without obscurity the principles of the system they must work out. They had not yet followed to its end the logic of their own propositions. They did not see how difficult, not to say impossible, it would be to make the negative an effective means of union and order. To give the national legislature such a power to veto laws contravening the Constitution was to lay the foundation for bitter antagonism and probable strife; for such a method of correction implied friction between governments and continual ~ affronts to state pride. But to carry out Pinckney's plan and to give the right to veto all laws deemed improper, whether contravening the Constitution or not, was not only to bestow on the central legislature dangerous authority, but to establish a relation resting not so much on the law as on judgment, desire, and caprice. Those who were anxious to solve the great problem of the time and to discover suitable restraint for the states were as yet too much influenced by their remembrance of the British colonial administration. They did not yet see face-to-face the legal system that they were to work out in their debates, a system based partly on colonial institutions and partly on principles of English law which were to be applied to wide purposes of imperial organization for the first time in the New World.

We may for the time being delay a consideration of how they solved the question. Clearly, a free and unrestrained negative on all state laws would not do. Pinckney's motion was rejected. The convention, however, held to the idea of giving Congress the power to negative unconstitutional state laws. Whether Congress was to have the right to coerce a state was as yet undecided. We must remember that these two propositions — a veto and coercion — were at first the favorite solutions for the most difficult part of the problem of imperial organization.

Two weeks had passed without serious difficulty, but on June 9 the resolution referring to proportional representation came up again. Here was the danger point: the small-state men were gathering strength and getting ready for action. Evidently, they would not surrender the equal representation of the states without a battle, and perhaps no argument could make them yield. To yield meant to give up, so it seemed to them, not only the sovereignty but the dignity and safety of their states. The convention was soon sharply divided. The delegates from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia wished representation in proportion to their importance, partly because they desired for their respective states greater political influence, partly because they feared, however slight the reason, that the small states would vote away their money. But it is plain, too, that the leaders of this party were in reality a national party, ready and anxious to discard the principle and underlying notion of the Confederation. They were desirous of establishing a national government, and yet to retain the states as useful parts of the new system. As the days went by, under the guidance of Madison, Wilson, and King they saw fully all that was involved, the foundation of a real government with powers of legislation and execution.

The small-state men, representing Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, were controlled by various motives. Some were determined to maintain the principle of the Confederation, to preserve a union of states possessed of equal political rights, to continue the existence of the so-called sovereignty of the individual members. They wished rather to patch up the old than to create a new system. And yet even these men were willing to grant additional authority to Congress, and even to bestow the right to coerce a delinquent state, for all men of sense had learned that mere promises were futile. Others, although not averse to a national government, were fearful, with the old-time fear, that the larger states would devour the small. In part, their contention was not for principle but for power.

However mixed their motives, they were in earnest. Martin was prepared to weary the convention with long harangues. Paterson of New Jersey, the impetuous Bedford of Delaware, Lansing, and Yates of New York, were unyielding. They were, moreover, helped by Dickinson, Sherman, and Ellsworth, no one of whom was narrowminded or deeply prejudiced against a national government, but all of whom were determined not to surrender to the large states the power in the new system in proportion to their population or wealth. Even through the obscurity of the dry abstracts of the speeches, as we read them in Madison's notes, we can get some glimpse of the excitement, the bitter intensity of the next six weeks of debate; for the question at issue was vital, the real life of the nation was at stake, and men spoke with vehement earnestness.

As soon as the question was fairly before the convention, Paterson attacked proportional representation. He alluded to the hint thrown out by Wilson that the large states might form a union of their own if the others refused to concur, and reminded the convention that the small states could not be compelled to accept disagreeable conditions. "New Jersey," he declared, "will never confederate on the plan before the Committee. She would be swallowed up. He had rather submit to a monarch, to a despot, than to such a fate. He would not only oppose the plan here but on his return home do everything in his power to defeat it there. ... A confederacy," he said, "supposes sovereignty in the members composing it and sovereignty supposes equality." Wilson answered him boldly. He was not afraid of the defection of the small states. "Are not the Citizens of Pennsylvania equal to those of New Jersey?" he asked. "Does it require one hundred and fifty of the former to balance fifty of the latter? ... If the small States will not confederate on this plan, Pennsylvania and he presumed some other States, would not confederate on any other. We have been told that each State being sovereign, all are equal. So each man is naturally a sovereign over himself, and all men are therefore naturally equal. Can he retain this equality when he becomes a member of the Civil Government? He can not. As little can a Sovereign State when it becomes a member of a federal government. If New Jersey will not part with her sovereignty it is vain to talk of Government."

The small-state men were at first no match for their opponents. Apparently, they were not yet organized or prepared to play their strongest card, which was nothing more and nothing less than to present, as alternatives, either a defeat of proportional representation or disruption of the convention. On June 11, therefore, the convention being not yet three weeks old, the motion was carried in favor of "equitable" rather than equal representation. For proportional representation in the first branch, the vote stood at seven to three. Connecticut voted with the large-state party, and the vote of Maryland was divided. For proportional representation in the second branch, the vote was only six to five, because on this point the small-state men were in accord. Dickinson and Sherman had already advocated equal representation in the second branch, and the latter now declared that on that one point, the small states would never yield. It remained to be seen whether, in spite of such opposition, the large-state men could retain their advantage. On their side was strength of argument and national patriotism; on the other, persistence, local pride, and the threat to break up the convention.

If one could judge from the records of the convention alone, he would be obliged to think that up to the middle of June the national party was convinced of its complete victory; it had certainly carried through its program with remarkable success. The committee of the whole reported (June 13) that it had gone through the propositions proposed by Randolph and was prepared to submit its results. Practically the whole of the Virginia plan had been adopted; all its radical features had been preserved, except the provision for the coercion of states, concerning which there was disagreement even among the large-state leaders. Nineteen resolutions had been accepted, providing for a national government based on the people of the United States. It is probable, however, that Madison, Wilson, and their followers were not so confident of ultimate victory as the records on the secretary's books might seem to warrant; a determined spirit of opposition had disclosed itself in debate, and we can well imagine how sharply the party differences must have shown themselves in the arguments that were going on with decorum and secrecy at the inns and coffee-houses of placid old Philadelphia. As a matter of fact, the great battle of the convention was hardly as yet begun.

When the committee of the whole had completed its work on the Randolph resolutions, Paterson asked for further time for considering it, and for the preparation of a plan "purely federal" in its principles — in other words, a plan retaining the treaty features of the old Confederation, not proposing the establishment of a really national government. The next day he laid before the convention the New Jersey plan, the work, in fact, of the small-state party, whose eagerness and obstinacy "began now," as Madison tells us, "to produce serious anxiety for the result of the Convention." "You see," confided Dickinson to Madison, "the consequence of pushing things too far. Some of the members from the small States wish for two branches in the General Legislature and are friends to a good National Government, but we would sooner submit to a foreign power than submit to be deprived of an equality of suffrage in both branches of the legislature, and thereby be thrown under the domination of the large States." It was like Dickinson to be afraid to push things too far, but there is no doubt that the danger was serious.

The New Jersey plan proposed a revision and improvement of the Confederation. To Congress was to be given the right to levy duties on imports and to regulate trade, to make requisitions on the states for funds, and in case of non-payment "to direct the collection." The scheme provided for a plural executive, and for a judiciary in addition to the old Congress, for the admission of new states, for uniform naturalization, and for the extradition of criminals fleeing from one state to another. All this looked much like a mere amendment of the Articles, and that was doubtless what was intended; but it should be noticed that even the framers of the small-state plan were well aware that amendments and alterations which left Congress dependent on the capricious acquiescence of promising states would be of little avail, and that they consequently made provision not only for directing the collection of taxes, but for compelling obedience to the laws and treaties of the United States: "If any State or any body of men in any State shall oppose or prevent the carrying into execution such acts or treaties, the federal Executive shall be authorized to call forth the power of the Confederated States, or so much thereof as may be necessary to enforce and compel an Obedience to such Acts, or an observance of such Treaties."

These were cogent phrases. Would their adoption have transformed the old Articles from a "rope of sand" into bands of steel? Probably not; the device of coercion was clumsy at the best, and was put forth by men who, anxiously clinging to the notion of state sovereignty, or, at least, to the equality of the states, still saw clearly that force was a necessity. Possibly, one may argue theoretically their adoption would really have transmuted the old Confederation into something stronger, something more like a state than a bundle of states; but in fact the provision for coercion of states was logically more consistent with the establishment of a confederation than of a government. Such arguments, however, go for little except to show how even those most solicitous for the states recognized the need of force; and we may be sure that if the new Constitution did not, when finished, provide for coercion of states, such an omission was not due to the notion that state pledges and local good - humor could be relied on, but because a more effective and sagacious plan was the outcome of the debates.

One other provision of the small-state plan challenges our attention, for it was an early phrasing of a momentous idea, the full drift of which probably no one in the convention yet fully comprehended. All acts of Congress that were made in pursuance of its powers, and all treaties made and ratified under the authority of the United States, were declared to "be the supreme law of the respective States so far forth as those Acts or Treaties shall relate to the said States or their Citizens"; and the courts of the several states were to be bound by such acts and treaties in their decisions, "anything in the respective laws of the Individual States to the Contrary notwithstanding." It does not appear that Paterson or any of the others was aware that in one essential particular, they had discovered the most valuable single principle that had yet been presented, but we shall see that as the days went by this proposition of the small states was not forgotten.

The discussion of the Paterson plan began with great earnestness. The plan of Mr. Paterson, said Lansing, of New York, "sustains the sovereignty of the respective States, that of Mr. Randolph destroys it"; one plan he declared was federal, the other national. Paterson made the leading speech in favor of his propositions, contending that the powers of the convention were limited to a revision of the old Articles, that "an equal Sovereignty" was the basis of a confederation, and if the idea of state sovereignty was to be given up, the only logical plan was "that of throwing the States into Hotchpot." He here discussed the idea of erasing state boundaries, a scheme which he and his colleague, Brearley, seem actually to have had in serious contemplation. Evidently, he could see no middle ground between state sovereignty and the total extinction of the states. Happily, wiser counsels prevailed even among the most enthusiastic nationalists. Wilson answered Paterson in an able speech. He did not fear the antagonism of the people. "He could not persuade himself that the State Governments and Sovereignties were so much the idols of the people, nor a National Government so obnoxious to them, as some supposed. Why should a National Government be unpopular? Has it less dignity? will each Citizen enjoy under it less liberty or protection? Will a Citizen of Deleware be degraded by becoming a Citizen of the United States? Where do the people look at present for relief from the evils of which they complain? Is it from an internal reform of their Governments? no, Sir. It is from the National Councils that relief is expected."

The difficulty was well summed up by Charles C. Pinckney, who doubtless saw that it was not so much theoretical state sovereignty that influenced most of the small-state men as a modicum of state pride mixed with a good alloy of old-time jealousy and a nameless dread of some unknown evil. "The whole comes to this," said Pinckney. "Give New Jersey an equal vote, and she will dismiss her scruples, and concur in the National system."

Randolph, never in his life appearing to better advantage, now spoke with rare wisdom and precision (June 17). He spurned the notion that the convention was to be mildly obedient to letters of instruction. He "was not scrupulous on the point of power. When the Salvation of the Republic was at stake, it would be treason to our trust, not to propose what we found necessary. . . . The true question is whether we shall adhere to the federal plan, or introduce the national plan. The insufficiency of the former has been fully displayed by the trial already made. There are but two modes, by which the end of a General Government can be attained: the first is by coercion as proposed by Mr. Paterson's plan; the second, by real legislation as proposed by the other plan." He declared that coercion was "impracticable, expensive, cruel to individuals" "We must resort therefore to a National Legislation over individuals, for which Congress are unfit." "A National Government alone, properly constituted," he asserted, "will answer the purpose"; and he begged his hearers to remember that the present was the last moment for establishing one. "After this select experiment, the people will yield to despair."

Up to that time Hamilton had been silent, though it was not his practice to spare words or be chary of opinions. Probably he was embarrassed by the fact that he was outvoted by his colleagues from New York. Perhaps he was for the time pessimistic and curious rather than deeply impressed. But he now broke the silence and with a long speech presented in outline his notion of government, of which little need be said. His propositions were extreme, for he freely declared "that the British Government was the best in the world: and that he doubted much whether anything short of it would do in America." If popular governments, however, modified, Hamilton had little faith; they were "but pork still, with a little change of the sauce." The House of Lords he declared was "a most noble institution," forming a "permanent barrier against every pernicious innovation," such a barrier as no mere elective senate could ever be. The New Jersey plan was utterly untenable, but he saw great difficulty in establishing a good national government on the Virginia plan.

According to his own ideas, the national legislature should have the authority to pass all laws whatsoever, subject to a veto in the hands of the executive. Members of the Senate and the executive were to be elected by electors and to hold office during good behavior. The supreme judicial authority was to be vested in judges holding office during good behavior. Laws of the states contrary to the Constitution of the United States were to be utterly void; and, to prevent the passage of such laws, state governors, appointed by the general government, were to have the right to veto all laws about to be passed in their respective states. From our present point of view, we see that these propositions had few merits and that Hamilton either failed to grasp the idea or was out of sympathy with the cardinal thought of the new Constitution, which, under the influence of Randolph, Wilson, Madison, and King, was gradually unfolding. Toward the close of the convention, Hamilton gave to Madison a paper that he said described the plan he should have liked to see adopted.

Hamilton's general scheme was not seriously considered, but the debate continued on Paterson's plan. Madison fairly riddled it with objections which showed its failure to meet the exigencies of the moment; and it was at length determined, by a vote of seven to three, to adhere to Randolph's plan as preferable to Paterson's. Maryland's vote was divided. Connecticut voted with the majority. The delegates from that state were still desirous of protecting its interests by some method of equal representation but nevertheless were unwilling to put up with the makeshift proposition. Thus far (June 19) the national party was clearly in the lead, and there was no longer much danger that their whole plan would be overthrown, but there was a danger that the convention would be broken up or the plan spoiled by vicious alterations.