-Thursday, Aug. 9, 1787
Yesterday both sides retreated instead of prolonging confrontation on the question of how to calculate the votes of slaves for national representation of the States.
THE fear of national Representatives and Senators being turned into tools of foreign powers led the Convention today into a spirited debate on the number of years a foreign-born person must reside in the country before being eligible for election to Congress.
The issue surfaced in yesterday's session, when Col. George Mason of Virginia suggested that seven years' residency be required before a foreign-born could serve in Congress. If the term were less, Colonel Mason warned, a rich foreign nation like Great Britain might ``send over her tools who might bribe their way into the Legislature for insidious purposes.'' The Convention agreed to seven years yesterday.
Then today Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania insisted on a 14-year residency requirement.
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina also proposed a term longer than seven years, a 10-year residency for Senators, because they would be involved in treatymaking and foreign affairs. After all, the South Carolinian remarked, ancient Athens ``made it death for any stranger to intrude his voice into their legislative proceedings.''
James Madison of Virginia objected to a long term, saying it would taint the proposed Constitution as ill-liberal. He went on:
``It will discourage the most desirable class of people from emigrating to the U.S. Should the proposed Constitution have the intended effect of giving stability & reputation to our Govts. great numbers of respectable Europeans: men who love liberty and wish to partake its blessings, will be ready to transfer their fortunes hither.''
Maj. Pierce Butler of South Carolina, born in Ireland and a former officer in the British army, said he was for a long residency requirement. Major Butler added that the British were strict on the subject of the foreign-born serving in their government. Foreign habits, opinions, and attachments, he went on, made a foreign-born ``an improper agent in public affairs.'' James Wilson of Pennsylvania, born in Scotland, disagreed. With his pronounced bur growing thicker with his emotions, he related how his foreign birth made him the object of ``degrading discrimination'' in the legal profession.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania said the question was not one of feelings but of reason. ``We should not be polite at the expense of prudence,'' he said. ``The men who can shake off their attachments to their own Country can never love any other.''
Dr. Benjamin Franklin, the most experienced of the delegates in foreign affairs, reminded the delegates that the country has many friends in Europe, many who fought in the recent War of Independence.
``Even in the country with which we have been lately at war,'' Dr. Franklin noted, ``we have now & had during the war, a great many friends not only among the people at large but in both Houses of Parliament.''
The thought remained unspoken, but many delegates voted for a nine-year residency rather than 15 years, and they may have been thinking of America's foreign debt and the need for expanded foreign trade.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue tomorrow.