Posts Tagged ‘Edmund Randolph’

Well, eleven days I wrote about the Constitutional Convention.  Specifically, we were introduced to the Committee of Detail.  Their job was to take all the proceeding of the previous sixty days of work and, over eleven days, condense it into some semblance of order.  As I mentioned before, this wasn’t in any way a finished product.  It was what we call at our office a “strawman” document…a starting point from which to refine issues.

The Convention delegates took a much-needed eleven-day vacation.  They wrote letters home, caught up on the latest news in Philadelphia, took in a play, did some reading, or just relaxed.  All the delegates, that is, except the five members of the Committee, who worked really hard to put things together.

Edmund Randolph desired “a fundamental constitution.”  He wanted it kept simple and free from the kinds of language and provisions that simply bogged down the document with inflexibility with which the future couldn’t deal.  The Constitution should contain general principles and propositions, believing “the construction of a constitution of necessity differs from that of law.

The Committee of Detail did not, as far as I can tell, come up with the famous Preamble.  That would fall to the Committee of Style down the road.  But they offer up some general guidelines.  We again turn to Virginia’s Randolph, who believed such text should state “that the present foederal government is insufficient to the general happiness, that the conviction of this fact gave birth to this convention, and that the only effectual means which they can devise for curing this insufficiency is the establishment of a supreme legislative, executive and judiciary…“.

The document was divided into articles and sections and printed.  On August 6, 1787, the delegates returned and received their “strawman” copy.  Some were surprised and even shocked at what the document contained, though not because (like our recent healthcare legislation) no one knew what it contained.  Quite the contrary, there were no unknowns here.  It’s just that, after months of debate, it was still a little bit unnerving to see all laid out in plain text.  After receiving the draft, the session for the day ended, but the convention was far from over.

Each article, section, and clause was still open for debate and, if necessary, a vote.  And for the next five weeks, that debate would continue.  The delegates to the Constitutional Convention knew that much had been accomplished.  And each one knew there was a long way to go.

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On September 14, 1786, the Annapolis Convention came to a close.

Well, sort of.

The reality is that it never really got started.  Only five of the states were represented by just a dozen delegates.  And that wasn’t nearly enough representation to really get any business done.  But that’s not to say nothing was accomplished at this non-Convention.

First off, the small number of people kept the meeting short…the Convention lasted just three days.  Second, sparse attendence allowed for a greater comraderie and intimacy among those present, which meant the discussions freely ranged far beyond just those listed on the itinerary (interstate commerce and trade problems) to more fundamental issues, like the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

In fact, the focus came to be on the Articles themselves, and this was probably the most important result of the gathering.  Chernow writes, “The Annapolis attendees soon agreed that the commercial disputes among the states were symptomatic of underlying flaws in the political framework, and they arrived at a breathtaking conclusion:  they would urge the states to send delegates to a convention in Philadelphia the following May to amend the Articles of Confederation.”

It fell to Alexander Hamilton (shown on the left) to write the appeal urging states to attend, but it was so strongly worded that Edmund Randolph asked him to tone it down.  Hamilton bristled at the request, but James Madison (shown on the right) took him aside and urged him to give ground, warning him that such stout language would alienate Virginia (whose support would be essential).  Hamilton took the advice and softened the letter’s tone.

As it turns out, the legislature in Hamilton’s home state of New York was absolutely opposed to the recommendations of the Annapolis address, thanks in large part to Governor George Clinton’s strong stance against it.  In Madison’s (and Edmund Randolph’s) state of Virginia, however, the letter was welcomed with enthusiasm and, early on, George Washington was selected to lead the delegation that eventually attended the Constitutional Convention.

The other good thing…well, great thing…that came from Annapolis was the renewing of the friendship between Hamilton and Madison.  They probably hadn’t seen each other since their congressional days, and this time together put them on the same page concerning the need for a change in the governmental structure.  And while they would eventually become intense rivals, that was several years down the road.  In the meantime, there would be Philadelphia (where both play crucial roles), and together they would pen nearly all of the Federalist Papers, quite possibly the finest collection of essays that has ever defended a national charter.

The Annapolis Convention may have been brief, and it may have been sparsely attended, but its effects are (thankfully) still with us more than two centuries later.

Recommended Reading: Alexander Hamilton

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In today’s world, it’s a word we hear an awful lot.  And I suppose that’s good, because it’s all around us.  I’m typing on a laptop computer due to innovation.  It has an LCD screen due to innovation.  It weighs in at less than 6 pounds due to innovation.  It’s 86°F outside as I type, but I’m nice and comfy inside due to that word.  It’s innovation that allowed me to give my 35″ tube TV (that weighs 150 pounds) to my folks, replacing it with a 40″ model that’s barely 1″ thick and weighs just 40 pounds.

It made Bob Ross a terrific painter and teacher.  It helps you fix your car, mow your lawn, see in the dark, and keep dry when it rains.  Let’s be honest…innovation is pretty nice.

But it wasn’t always that way.  There was a time when innovation was something to be avoided.  For example, when the delegates gathered in 1789’s version of Philadelphia for the Federal Convention, those considered innovators were looked down on.  In her book Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Bowen writes, “Innovation was a word that had been in bad repute for centuries.  It meant something impulsive, a trifle addled, the work of an enthusiast and certainly an infringement on the law.”

On May 29, 1787, Virginia Congressman William Grayson, giving his thoughts on the prospects for the Convention, said, “What will be the result of their meeting I cannot with any certainty determine, but I hardly think much good can come of it:  the people of America don’t appear to me to be ripe for any great innovations.”

Had Grayson actually been a fly on the wall of Independence Hall the same day he gave his assessment, he would have been blown away when, as James Madison recollected, “Mr. Randolph then opened the main business.”  Speaking for the Virginia delegation, Edmund Randolph (shown above, from Grayson’s own state no less!)  offered up fifteen Resolves that were not only “innovative”, they turned the Articles of Confederation on its proverbial head.

The Resolves, which ultimately became known as the Virginia Plan, called for a brand new three-pronged government, comprised of a national executive, a national judiciary, and a national legislature.  The legislature was to be made up of two branches, a house made up of representatives elected by the public, and another house made up of representatives elected by the first house.

And as we all know, the Virginia Plan was very close to the final structure that was adopted.  What’s more, the other “radical” ideas suggested were very similar in their construction, which shows how many of the delegates were very much on the same page.  The Convention was but 4 days old, and already the current government structure was being shown the door.

Innovation, indeed!

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