-Friday, Aug.17, 1787
Yesterday the Convention, without dissent, gave Congress the power to levy taxes and to regulate interstate and foreign commerce.
TURNING its back on the traditions of Europe, the Convention today granted Congress the exclusive power to declare war.
This action constitutes an innovation in government: In all other countries, the power to make or declare war is vested in the executive or crowned head of state. In Great Britain, the King is commander in chief of the armed forces, with exclusive power to raise and regulate fleets, armies, and militia. In times of peace, however, standing armies in Great Britain are prohibited by law. Parliament, through its power of the purse, can dissolve armies by refusing to appropriate money for their support.
In today's session, Charles Pinckney III of South Carolina insisted that the Senate should have exclusive power to make or declare war. The House of Representatives would have too many members, he added, while the Senate would be ``more acquainted with foreign affairs, and most capable of proper resolutions.'' Maj. Pierce Butler of South Carolina proposed vesting war power in the President. ``[He] will have all the requisite qualities, and will not make war but when the Nation will support it,'' the former British military officer added.
James Madison of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts proposed a significant single-word change that was adopted by the Convention. Rather than the power to ``make'' war, the Congress would have the power to ``declare'' war, leaving the President ``the power to repel sudden attacks.''
The Convention was split right down the center, however, when it was asked to approve the power of the new national government to subdue armed rebellions in any State at the request of that State's legislature. Luther Martin of Maryland insisted the power was unwarranted and dangerous. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania argued that the new national government should have means to enforce obedience in all cases. He went on:
``We are acting a very strange part. We first form a strong man to protect us, and at the same time we wish to tie his hands behind him. The legislature may surely be trusted with such a power to preserve the public tranquility.''
Mr. Gerry of Massachusetts expressed the belief that much more blood would have been spilled in his State during the recent rebellion by debt-ridden farmers had the general government intervened with armed force. ``The States will be the best Judges in such cases,'' he added.
A four-to-four tie vote, with two States absent, led the Convention to drop entirely the power to subdue rebellion in the separate States. Nevertheless, the delegates are expected to return to the issue later.
Tomorrow the Convention is expected to appoint a Committee of Eleven for consideration of the explosive issue of national control of the State militia. The Convention is also expected tomorrow to agree to place in the hands of the new national government the military sword. Majority approval is expected for the congressional power to raise and support armies. But the Convention may borrow from the British Parliament its use of the power of the purse to check that sword by limiting military appropriations to two-year periods.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.