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Constitutional Journal

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-Wednesday, Aug. 8, 1787

Yesterday the Convention rejected Gouverneur Morris's proposal that national voting be limited to freeholders (farmers who own property).

THE first skirmish regarding the new Constitution occurred in the Convention today over the volatile issue of computing slaves in the rule of representation, only to have both sides beat a hasty retreat.

The explosive issue suddenly surfaced after delegates had resolved one other thorny issue. The Convention decided to leave voter qualification to the States, because delegates could not devise a uniform rule consistent with varying, conflicting qualification codes in the 13 States.

Rufus King of Massachusetts fired the first verbal broadside at the Committee of Detail's recommendation that a slave be computed as three-fifths of a person when counting population as a basis for deciding the number of representatives in Congress. ``The people of the N[orthern] States could never be reconciled [to it],'' the Massachusetts lawyer thundered. ``No candid man could undertake to justify it to them.'' Mr. King was saying, in effect, that the draft Constitution proposed to sanction the slave trade.

Roger Sherman of Connecticut, in reply, said he regarded the slave trade as a wicked injustice, but the matter had been settled by the Convention ``after much difficulty & deliberation.''

What Mr. Sherman did not say was that he and John Rutledge of South Carolina had privately settled the matter over dinner at the Indian Queen Inn in late June. Mr. Rutledge promised to support Connecticut's Western land claims against Pennsylvania if Mr. Sherman would support South Carolina on the slave trade issue.


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