Constitutional Journal. - Monday, Sept. 17, 1787
Last Friday, as proposed by John Rutledge of South Carolina, the Convention specified that the power to appoint the national Treasurer be taken away from Congress and given to the President. A MAJORITY of delegates affixed their signatures to the new Constitution today and then voted to dissolve this Convention 116 days after its formal opening.
Dr. Benjamin Franklin and Convention President George Washington failed in a last-minute effort to win over the three dissident delegates who refused to sign the document. James Wilson of Pennsylvania read a lengthy conciliatory speech prepared by Dr. Franklin pleading that ``for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution....
Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, allegedly acting on the wishes of General Washington, offered one final change in the new Constitution. He proposed that the population ratio for determining the number of seats for each State in the House of Representatives be lowered from 40,000 to 30,000. The delegates were startled to see Convention President Washington rise to his full six feet, two inches and give his one and only speech of this Convention. He told the delegates:
``It [is] much to be desired that the objections to the plan recommended might be made as few as possible. The smallness of the proportion of Representatives [has] been considered by many members of the Convention an insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people.''
The change was adopted without opposition, but the three die-hard delegates still refused to sign. General Washington's last-minute move was obviously aimed at winning over his old friend Col. George Mason of Virginia. Colonel Mason has been critical on grounds that the composition and powers of Congress do not express the will of the people. Today Colonel Mason was sullen and silent, joining Gov. Edmund Randolph, also of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts in their iron resolve not to sign. ``By opposing or even refusing to sign the Constitution, [they] might do infinite mischief,'' warned Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York.
Shortly after 3 o'clock today, 38 of the 41 delegates present affixed their signatures after all States unanimously consented to adopt the new Constitution. General Washington was the first to sign as President of the Convention. He was followed by individual State delegations, starting with New Hampshire and moving south State by State to Georgia.
George Read of Delaware signed for himself and then for John Dickinson, who became ill a few days earlier and departed for Delaware, leaving a letter authorizing Mr. Read to sign for him, making 39 signatures in all.
As the State House clock struck 4, the Convention dissolved itself by adjournment, and the exhausted delegates drifted out into the brisk clear autumn air. Most were filled with weary uncertainty, wondering whether months of work would have some meaning and life after this day in September.
Dr. Franklin sought to dispel delegate depression with an optimistic observation. In spite of his age and ailments, he had attended every session, and he pointed out that he had noticed on the back of the Convention President's chair a carved replica of a sun. During the weeks and months of debate he could not determine whether it was a rising or a setting sun.
But now, Dr. Franklin added, ``I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.''
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will conclude tomorrow.