The end of July marked a significant milestone at the Constitutional Convention. Having considered and debated multiple proposals and counter proposals on the structure of a new government, the delegates were ready to compose a written version of the resolutions they had agreed upon. A “Committee of Detail” – composed of John Rutledge of South Carolina, Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania – was charged with compiling the draft.
The Convention adjourned from July 26th to August 6th to allow the Committee to prepare a rough draft of a constitution. When the Convention re-convened, the Committed of Detail presented its report, made up of twenty-three articles, some highly detailed. George Washington and Convention Secretary William Jackson made edits on a single copy of the report from August 6th to September 3rd, officially recording the Convention’s revisions.
August 7th began on an agreeable note as the delegates quickly resolved to accept the preamble and Articles I and II, affirming the new government would be called the Unites States of America and consist of Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches.
Nevertheless, this agreement masked the critical issue that the Convention had debated throughout – was this to be a union of states or of people? The Committee of Detail’s constitution began, “We the people of the States (emphasis added) of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare, and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity.” The Convention would not end with that language in the preamble.
Similar to the Constitution we know, the Committee of Detail report started with the structure and powers of the legislative branch. Some of the key questions included: Who can elect representatives? How many representatives will there be? What will be their qualifications?
Delegates debated whether to allow non-land owners to the right to vote for House members, or reserve the franchise to property owners. Gouverneur Morris wanted to restrict voting to those with property, considering them more educated and better able to choose wise leaders. “The ignorant and dependant,” Morris stated, “can be… little trusted with the public interest.” Colonel Mason countered arguments of this kind, saying all citizens should have equal voting rights and privileges. Doctor Franklin sided with Colonel Mason believing that restricting the right to vote to land owners would cause contention among the people. In the end Morris’ proposal to restrict the franchise to property owners was defeated (7-1-1)
It was agreed that members of the House would represent no more than 40,000 constituents. This would equate to 56 Members of the House, including a member from Delaware, which did not yet have 40,000 residents. Delegates decided that House members must have been citizens for at least 7 years, revised up from 3 years, to insure they possessed adequate local knowledge.
Regarding the Senate, delegates voted that each state would have two Senators and each Senator would have one vote in drafting legislation. Senators would be required to be at least 30 years of age. Senators would be required to be residents for at least 9 years. Though Mr. Pickering proposed a property qualification for Senate eligibility of at least $100,000, delegates rejected this proposal.
Posted in Countdown to the Constitution