-Monday, July 23, 1787
Last Friday Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania was persuaded to change his views and favor a constitutional provision for impeaching the Chief Executive.
A MAJORITY of States today renounced a role in ratifying any new national constitution, turning the task over to State conventions elected by the people. During the last 11 years a majority of the State legislatures was the sole instrument for ratifying constitutions and in only two States was approval of the people sought.
Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut tried to head off today's precedent-shattering decision by proposing that the question of ratification be referred directly to the States. ``A new [set] of ideas [seems] to have crept in since the articles of Confederation were established,'' Mr. Ellsworth observed. ``Conventions of the people, or with power derived expressly from the people, were not then thought of.''
Col. George Mason of Virginia said the power of the people to ratify a new national constitution was the most important of all the resolutions to come before this Convention. The State legislatures have no power to ratify, only the people have, Colonel Mason insisted. He went on:
``This doctrine should be cherished as the basis of free Government ... in some of the States the Govts. were [not] derived from the clear & undisputed authority of the people. This was the case in Virginia. Some of the best & wisest citizens considered the Constitution as established by an assumed authority. A National Constitution derived from such a source would be exposed to the severest criticisms.''
Virginia's Gov. Edmund Randolph warned delegates that ratification by the State governments will turn the fate of the new constitution over to demagogues who will lose political power in the States under the new national government. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts insisted that the people were incompetent and could not agree on anything. If any changes are to be made in the Articles of Confederation, he added, they require approval of all the States.
James Madison replied that just as it was better to call this Convention rather than look to the old Congress of the Confederation for a new constitution, so it was better to look to State ratifying conventions, not to State legislatures.
When the vote was taken, all the States but Delaware voted for State ratifying conventions. Thus was decided the much debated issue whether this Convention was amending the Articles of Confederation, or acting in a revolutionary way by establishing its authority in the people. It is the people who will accept or reject what has been done by the delegates.
Two days ago the Convention unanimously approved the power of the Executive veto over all laws passed by the national Legislature with the provision it could be overturned by a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Delegates gave unanimous approval today to a proposal to form a Committee of Detail to begin drafting a document. An ominous hush fell over the Convention Hall, however, when South Carolina's Charles Cotesworth Pinckney warned that his State would vote against any final document if no security were provided to the Southern States against the emancipation of their slaves and taxes on State exports.
Every delegate dreads facing these issues, knowing the Convention could be confronted with another crisis of dissolution.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.