The 1787 Constitutional Convention – The Compromise Survived Through the July 4th Holiday

a570af34_optJuly 2, 1787 (click to read Madison’s notes)


The delegates were deadlocked on Oliver Ellsworth’s motion to give each state one vote in the Senate with proportional representation in the House. Before adjourning for the July 4th holiday, the delegates formed a committee to discuss the motion over the break.

Influences on the Delegates

The day began with a tie vote on Ellsworth’s motion for split representation. With the failure, some alarm expressed by South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney. He worried that the chance to amend the government might be lost. Then the other Charles Pinckney from South Carolina proposed a committee to haggle over details and report a compromise.
I want to include a long passage of the speech by Gouverneur Morris. He is sometimes held up by Christian nationalists as figure who supports the Bible in schools. Rather, I think his input on religion was mixed.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS 1 thought a Committee advisable, as the Convention had been equally divided. He had a stronger reason also. The mode of appointing the second branch tended, he was sure, to defeat the object of it. What is this object? To check the precipitation, changeableness, and excesses, of the first branch. Every man of observation had seen in the democratic branches of the State Legislatures, precipitation — in Congress, changeableness — in every department, excesses against personal liberty, private property, and personal safety. What qualities are necessary to constitute a check in this case? Abilities and virtue are equally necessary in both branches. Something more, then, is now wanted. In the first place, the checking branch must have a personal interest in checking the other branch. One interest must be opposed to another interest. Vices, as they exist, must be turned against each other. In the second place, it must have great personal property; it must have the aristocratic spirit; it must love to lord it through pride. Pride is, indeed, the great principle that actuates both the poor and the rich. It is this principle which in the former resists, in the latter abuses, authority. In the third place, it should be independent. In religion, the creature is apt to forget its Creator. That it is otherwise in political affairs, the late debates here are an unhappy proof. The aristocratic body should be as independent, and as firm, as the democratic. If the members of it are to revert to a dependence on the democratic choice, the democratic scale will preponderate. All the guards contrived by America have not restrained the Senatorial branches of the Legislatures from a servile complaisance to the democratic. If the second branch is to be dependent, we are better without it. To make it independent, it should be for life. It will then do wrong, it will be said. He believed so; he hoped so. The rich will strive to establish their dominion, and enslave the rest. They always did. They always will. The proper security against them is to form them into a separate interest. The two forces will then control each other. Let the rich mix with the poor, and in a commercial country they will establish an oligarchy. Take away commerce, and the democracy will triumph. Thus it has been all the world over. So it will be among us. Reason tells us we are but men; and we are not to expect any particular interference of Heaven in our favor. By thus combining, and setting apart, the aristocratic interest, the popular interest will be combined against it. There will be a mutual check and mutual security.

Morris observed that human nature is animated by pride which certainly conforms to biblical teaching. Here I think we do have some evidence that this particular founder favored checks and entities with opposing interests in government to offset the negative aspects of human nature.
On the other hand, Morris didn’t look for supernatural intervention to move the delegates toward a compromise. His religion went as far as the bounds set by reason.
Having noted that Morris was apparently influenced by his religious views of human nature, I must add that the policy positions based on those views were not included in the Constitution. To his words above, Morris added:

He was also against paying the Senators. They will pay themselves, if they can. If they cannot, they will be rich, and can do without it. Of such the second branch ought to consist; and none but such can compose it, if they are not to be paid. He contended, that the Executive should appoint the Senate, and fill up vacancies. This gets rid of the difficulty in the present question. You may begin with any ratio you please, it will come to the same thing. The members being independent, and for life, may be taken as well from one place as from another. It should be considered, too, how the scheme could be carried through the States. He hoped there was strength of mind enough in this House to look truth in the face. He did not hesitate, therefore, to say that loaves and fishes must bribe the demagogues. They must be made to expect higher offices under the General than the State Governments. A Senate for life will be a noble bait.

I am not sure that his biblical reference to loaves and fishes fits his point well but in any case, he used a biblical image to illustrate his point about human nature. However, Senators don’t serve for life, are not appointed by the President, and they are paid. He relied on biblical rhetoric but his understanding of biblical principles didn’t carry the day.
At the end of the day, the delegates created a working committee and then adjourned with this note in Madison’s journal:

That time might be given to the Committee, and to such as choose to attend to the celebrations on the anniversary of Independence the Convention adjourned till Thursday.


Even though the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 2, the celebration was moved to July 4 because the Declaration was printed on that day. Even this short time after the events of 1776, the delegates worked on July 2nd and took off what has become the holiday we celebrate.