The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Small Progress, Big Disagreements

a570af34_optJuly 6, 1787 (click to read Madison’s notes)


The delegates retained as an option the provision that the House would be responsible for finance bills but referred the question of representation to a committee led by Gouverneur Morris.

Influences on the Delegates

Britain again was a touchstone for debate, this time regarding which legislative body should originate money bills.

Mr. WILSON could see nothing like a concession here on the part of the smaller States. If both branches were to say yes or no, it was of little consequence which should say yes or no first, which last. If either was, indiscriminately, to have the right of originating, the reverse of the Report would, he thought, be most proper; since it was a maxim, that the least numerous body was the fittest for deliberation — the most numerous, for decision. He observed that this discrimination had been transcribed from the British into several American Constitutions. But he was persuaded that, on examination of the American experiments, it would be found to be a ‘trifle light as air.’ Nor could he ever discover the advantage of it in the parliamentary history of Great Britain. He hoped, if there was any advantage in the privilege, that it would be pointed out.

Morris viewed the British system as a problem to be avoided in the U.S.

Mr.  GOUVERNEUR MORRIS had waited to hear the good effects of the restriction. As to the alarm sounded, of an aristocracy, his creed was that there never was, nor ever will be, a civilized society without an aristocracy. His endeavor was, to keep it as much as possible from doing mischief. The restriction, if it has any real operation, will deprive us of the services of the second branch in digesting and proposing money bills, of which it will be more capable than the first branch. It will take away the responsibility of the second branch, the great security for good behaviour. It will always leave a plea, as to an obnoxious money bill, that it was disliked, but could not be constitutionally amended, nor safely rejected. It will be a dangerous source of disputes between the two Houses. We should either take the British Constitution altogether, or make one for ourselves. The Executive there has dissolved two Houses, as the only cure for such disputes. Will our Executive be able to apply such a remedy? Every law, directly or indirectly, takes money out of the pockets of the people. Again, what use may be made of such a privilege in case of great emergency? Suppose an enemy at the door, and money instantly and absolutely necessary for repelling him, — may not the popular branch avail itself of this duress, to extort concessions from the Senate, destructive of the Constitution itself? He illustrated this danger by the example of the Long Parliament’s expedients for subverting the House of Lords; concluding, on the whole, that the restriction would be either useless or pernicious.

James Wilson of Pennsylvania thought one branch having the power to originate money bills would be divisive as had been the case in Britain.

Mr. WILSON. The difficulties and disputes will increase with the attempts to define and obviate them. Queen Anne was obliged to dissolve her Parliament in order to terminate one of these obstinate disputes between the two Houses. Had it not been for the mediation of the Crown, no one can say what the result would have been. The point is still sub judice in England. He approved of the principles laid down by the honourable President1(Doctor FRANKLIN) his colleague, as to the expediency of keeping the people informed of their money affairs. But thought they would know as much, and be as well satisfied, in one way as in the other.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
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The 1787 Constitutional Convention – Division Over Representation Continued

July 5, 1787


Elbridge Gerry’s committee reported recommendations for representation. Although the committee wasn’t unanimous, the report recommended that the first branch (House of Representatives) have a member for every 40,000 citizens, with the Senate made up of one member per state. Finally, all finance bills should originate in the House without possibility of amendment in the Senate.

Influences on the Delegates

The disputation continued in this session. Even after Ben Franklin’s call for prayer and the July 4th festivities, the delegates were still not in a compromising mood. Madison appealed again to experience in Great Britain and the states as reason for his concern about aspects of the report.

Mr. MADISON could not regard the privilege of originating money bills as any concession on the side of the small States. Experience proved that it had no effect. If seven States in the upper branch wished a bill to be originated, they might surely find some member from some of the same States in the lower branch, who would originate it. The restriction as to amendments was of as little consequence. Amendments could be handed privately by the Senate to members in the other House. Bills could be negatived, that they might be sent up in the desired shape. If the Senate should yield to the obstinacy of the first branch, the use of that body, as a check, would be lost. If the first branch should yield to that of the Senate, the privilege would be nugatory. Experience had also shown, both in Great Britain, and the States having a similar regulation, that it was a source of frequent and obstinate altercations. These considerations had produced a rejection of a like motion on a former occasion, when judged by its own merits. It could not, therefore, be deemed any concession on the present, and left in force all the objections which had prevailed against allowing each State an equal voice.

Some delegates were worried that “the people” would reject the plan.

Mr. BUTLER said, he could not let down his idea of the people of America so far as to believe they would, from mere respect to the Convention, adopt a plan evidently unjust.

Gouverneur Morris appealed to the whole world and wanted the delegates to craft a good plan without regard to critics.

Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS thought the form as well as the matter of the Report objectionable. It seemed, in the first place, to render amendment impracticable. In the next place, it seemed to involve a pledge to agree to the second part, if the first should be agreed to. He conceived the whole aspect of it to be wrong. He came here as a Representative of America; he flattered himself he came here in some degree as a Representative of the whole human race; for the whole human race will be affected by the proceedings of this Convention. He wished gentlemen to extend their views beyond the present moment of time; beyond the narrow limits of place from which they derive their political origin. If he were to believe some things which he had heard, he should suppose that we were assembled to truck and bargain for our particular States. He cannot descend to think that any gentlemen are really actuated by these views. We must look forward to the effects of what we do. These alone ought to guide us. Much has been said of the sentiments of the people. They were unknown. They could not be known. All that we can infer is, that, if the plan we recommend be reasonable and right, all who have reasonable minds and sound intentions will embrace it, notwithstanding what had been said by some gentlemen.

Morris also appealed to the negative example of Germany:

This country must be united. If persuasion does not unite it, the sword will. He begged this consideration might have its due weight. The scenes of horror attending civil commotion cannot be described; and the conclusion of them will be worse than the term of their continuance. The stronger party will then make traitors of the weaker; and the gallows and halter will finish the work of the sword. How far foreign powers would be ready to take part in the confusions, he would not say. Threats that they will be invited have, it seems, been thrown out. He drew the melancholy picture of foreign intrusions, as exhibited in the history of Germany, and urged it as a standing lesson to other nations.

Morris then offered a suggestion that property ownership be considered as a part of how representatives were apportioned. He also thought the original states should have a fixed number of representatives with any new states placed at a disadvantage (if the population of the original states dipped to reduce representation). He wanted the original states to have a fixed advantage. Although Morris said a lot, there was a lot that never saw the light of day in the Constitution.

The 1787 Constitutional Convention – An Independence Day Oration in Philadelphia

July 4, 1787 – Happy Independence Day!
(Since May, I have been reading through the notes taken by James Madison at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Every day the Convention was in session, I have posted a summary of the day and an account of the influences on the delegates. I am testing claims that the Bible and Christianity inspired the Constitution as well as satisfying my curiosity about what went into making our Constitution. You can catch up on the series via this link.)


The delegates were not in formal session today. A subcommittee of delegates was given the task over the July 3-4 break of discussing the Connecticut compromise with a hope that a consensus might develop. Many delegates did take part in various activities around Philadelphia marking the holiday. One such event was an oration by James Campbell titled:

PHILADELPHIA: Printed and Sold by PRICHARD and HALL, in Market Street, between Front and Second Streets. MDCCLXXXVII,

David Barton’s False Links

David Barton falsely claims that the prayer before the oration by Campbell was in response to Ben Franklin’s unheeded call to prayer on June 28, 1787. Barton said on his Wallbuilders website:

In response to Benjamin Franklin’s call to seek God that was made on June 28, 1787, the Rev. William Rogers prayed before the service that was held at the Reformed Calvinist Church in Philadelphia on July 4th of that year. The below text is taken from The Massachusetts Centinel on August 15, 1787.

In fact, as those who are following my Constitutional Convention series know, Franklin’s call went without a vote because only three or four delegates thought it necessary to pray before the proceedings. Rogers prayed on July 4th as requested by the Society of Cincinnati, the group who sponsored Campbell’s oration.  This event nothing specific to do with any action in Convention. Barton also tries to link the Campbell speech with a motion made in Convention by Edmund Randolph also on June 28, 1787. From the Wallbuilders website:

Those orders were followed a few days later at the Reformed Calvinist Lutheran Church. In response to Franklin’s appeal, Virginia’s Mr. Randolph offered a counter proposal. He recommended that a “sermon be preached at the request of the convention on the 4th of July, the anniversary of Independence, & thence forward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning.” One report has Washington leading most of the Convention delegates to the church, where James Campbell preached a sermon trusting in the wisdom of the delegates to establish a “free and vigorous government.”

Randolph did make that motion after Franklin’s call to prayer. However, Randolph’s motion, like Franklin’s, was not voted on. In his notes, Madison recorded:

Mr. RANDOLPH proposed, in order to give a favorable aspect to the measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the Convention on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of Independence; and thenceforward prayers, &c. to be read in the Convention every morning. Doctor FRANKLIN seconded this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for silently postponing this matter by adjourning, the adjournment was at length carried, without any vote on the motion.

Barton calls Campbell’s speech a “sermon.” You can read it here. The only mention of religion that I can find in this “sermon” is as follows:

Another, and a principal advantage of our Independence, results from the material change it has wrought on the opinions, con|duct and government of the European na|tions: It was by contemplating our Indepen|dence that France has become the land of free enquiry and general toleration; Ger|many, from the same cause, has shaken off an immense load of religious prejudice and bigottry; Spain has caught our spirit of en|terprise and innovation; and even Britain herself has been taught, by our successful struggle to relax in her system of general sub|jugation; hence Ireland enjoys what she had long demanded in vain; an exercise of her na|tural rights to commerce, liberty and inde|pendence. Propitious aera! happy event! which has softened the rigours of tyranny, and taught even Kings to revere the great laws of justice and equity. (emphasis added)

Campbell was a lawyer, not a minister. He spoke to the audience about the benefits of American independence for America and the world.
The whole picture includes Rogers animated prayer to God and Campbell’s encomium celebrating the heroes of natural rights from Cicero to Jefferson.

Further reading on Independence Day

As Predicted by Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams Both Died on July 4th

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)

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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.

President Trump Beats Up CNN in Tweeted Video

Perhaps trying to see how outrageous he can get, the man who was elected to be president, Donald Trump, posted the following video on Twitter.

While many of his die-hard evangelical followers were in church hearing about turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies, Trump was tweeting a video inciting retaliation against journalists who report the news.
Jim Acosta had a good and appropriate response:

Here is the clip of Sanders saying Trump never encouraged violence.
My guess is she will say he didn’t condone violence and have some rationalization for it all.
I wonder how Trump’s court evangelicals will handle this one.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
To follow on social media, click the following links:
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