-Friday, Aug. 31, 1787
Yesterday the Convention voted to grant Congress the power to admit new States without specifying that admission is to be on an equal basis with the original 13 States.
IN one of the most revolutionary actions of this Convention, a majority of delegates voted today to have the new Constitution ratified by conventions elected by the people in the States rather than by the State legislatures.
The Convention is also requiring only nine States to ratify the document, rather than all 13 now operating under the existing Articles of Confederation. Today's action amounts to a death sentence for the Confederation, which requires approval of all States if any changes in the Articles are to be made.
Rhode Island's refusal to attend this Convention and New York's walkout in early July make it impossible to abide by the unanimous-consent rule. In agreeing to ratification of the new Constitution by fewer than 13 States, a majority of delegates have worked a bloodless revolution in government, overthrowing the existing Articles of Confederation. This Convention had originally met only to amend the Articles, not to create an entirely new Constitution.
A vain effort was made today to postpone debate on the question of ratification. Failing in this, a handful of delegates bitterly denounced the decision of the majority. James McHenry of Maryland reminded the delegates that he and his colleague Luther Martin had sworn an oath to uphold the unanimous-consent provision in the Articles. Mr. Martin insisted that the people would be against the new Constitution ``unless hurried into it by surprise.''
Col. George Mason, in a display of temper, said he ``would sooner chop off'' his right hand than ``put it to the Constitution as it now stands.'' He and Gov. Edmund Randolph said they favored having a new convention rather than accepting the creation of the present one that has, in their judgment, gone too far.
But Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania proposed another convention with the argument that the present one had not gone far enough.
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts denounced the majority for destroying the existing Confederation without the unanimous consent of the parties in it. He said:
``[I object to] ... the indecency and pernicious tendency of dissolving in so slight a manner, the solemn obligations of the Articles of Confederation. If nine out of thirteen can dissolve the compact, six out of nine will be just as able to dissolve the new one hereafter.''
Those delegates favoring ratification by State conventions elected by the people refused to reply to the bitter assertions of the minority that what was approved today was illegal.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania appealed to a higher law and the principle of national self-preservation: ``The House on fire must be extinguished, without a scrupulous regard to ordinary rights.''
James Madison of Virginia justified today's death sentence for the Articles and the Confederation in the name of the people who ``were in fact, the fountain of all power, and by resorting to them, all difficulties [will be] got over. They [the people] could alter Constitutions as they pleased.''
The triumph of a new nationalism over the old States'-rights order was completed today when the Convention voted that the new Constitution need not have the approval of the Continental Congress in New York.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Monday.