George Clymer was a member of the Pennsylvania legislature. He had also been a member of the Constitutional Convention. That gathering, which spanned the summer months of 1787, had seen argument, contention, and discord give way to eventual consensus. A Constitution had been ratified in mid-September, but as the month neared its end, the time had come for the states to get involved.
On the 28th (just a couple weeks after Mifflin unveiled the new document), George stood up in the state body and proposed that a convention for ratification be agreed upon. While there was hearty approval from those favoring the Constitution, there was plenty of dissent. The more hesitant noted that legislative session was due to end the following day (a Saturday), and new business (especially something as important as the Constitution) was probably better left tabled for the next session. In addition, elections were just a month away, so it was preferred to let the new body take up the debate about a special convention.
Those in Clymer’s camp knew the situation. They believed they had the votes to pass Clymer’s resolve now. But with the session ending and elections coming, there was adequate time for the “anti-federalists” to make enough noise to scare people. Maybe the elections would cause a wave of anti-federalists to be voted in, and a convention would be buried under the weight of opposition.
After some debate, the issue was put off until late Friday afternoon. But when everyone reconvened at 4:00pm, some people were missing from the room. Nineteen anti-federalists were no-shows, which meant the body didn’t have the quorum necessary to conduct any business…such as, shall we say…vote on a state convention for the purpose of debating the Constitution. What a coincidence!
This caused no small uproar in the city of Philadelphia. Taverns that evening were full of strong ale and strong opinion. People took to the streets, some with strong feelings one way or the other, and others with no real knowledge of what was being argued about at all. And the federalists?…those in favor of the Constitution?…they just wanted to know where the nineteen missing men were holed up. The sergeant-at-arms went looking and found them sequestered in a home owned by “Mr. Boyd” on 6th Street.
Do I really need to tell you what was about to happen? 18th century politics were a little bit different than they are today. Oh yeah, we have groups of delegates that will, in opposition to a bill or some piece of legislation, purposely vacate their chairs so that a quorum cannot be reached…it still happens from time to time. But we don’t very often see the response that the citizens of Philadelphia witnessed on September 29, 1787.
That Saturday morning, a group of men broke down the door of Mr. Boyd’s house, ran in, and absconded with two legislators. They were dragged, kicking and screaming, back to Independence Hall, and placed in their chairs. A quorum had been reached and, very quickly, the question of a constitutional convention was put to a vote. Not surprisingly, it passed 45-to-2.
Pennsylvania, ready or not, was going to debate and decide what to do about the Constitution. The date was set for November 30th.
Recommended Reading: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 – This one is not yet in my collection…it should be. It should also be in yours.