When James Madison addressed the men meeting in the stifling heat of Independence Hall on June 19th, he made no mention of the preceding day’s events. Actually, “events” (plural) is incorrect, as there was really on one event on the 18th. The entire day was devoted to Alexander Hamilton’s vision of a new American government. For nearly six hours, Hamilton’s laid out his plans. The big problem was that it was too British in scope.
In broad strokes, he laid out a panorama of strong central government with a very powerful President, Senators elected for life, and state governors appointed by the national government. There was no real debate over his plan…probably because the remaining delegates at the Federal Convention were completely stunned into silence. To many, his plan was dangerously close to monarchy. Diminished states’ rights put supporters of the existing Articles of Confederation instantly on the defensive. Hamilton was a brilliant thinker, and the proceedings of the Convention were to be kept secret until all attendees had died, but Hamilton’s speech was leaked to the public and it would follow him for the rest of his life.
And while Madison may have only agreed with parts of Hamilton’s plan, he was thrilled that it made the Virginia Plan (which he fully supported) seem very moderate by comparison.
But June 20, 1787 was more than just the first day since the Virginia Plan was presented that George Washington sat through a full day of debate. It was the day the opposition really started to dig in. New York’s John Lansing got up and gave a long speech protesting the proceedings in general (he would end up leaving the Convention early in protest). He was followed by Virginia’s George Mason, who disagreed with the power being given to Congress.
But it was Luther Martin (shown above) who worked his voice the most that day. The Marylander was characterized throughout the 3-month process as an angry dissenter. In her book Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Bowen described him as “impulsive, undiscipline, altogether the wild man of the Convention, furious defender of state sovreignty, by no means foolish in all that he said…” His verbosity was off-putting and, on this day, he spent a lot of time disputing the need for two branches of Congress. Giving a national judiciary power over the states was anathema to Martin, as were most of the rest of the proposals.
There had been debate throughout the Convention, but on this day, it became apparent how difficult the debate was going to be.