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Philadelphia Convention



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The Constitutional Convention - @MrBettsClass

Across the country, the cry "Liberty! But what liberty? Few people claim to be anti-liberty, but the word "liberty" has many meanings. Should the delegates be most concerned with protected liberty of conscience, liberty of contract meaning, for many at the time, the right of creditors to collect debts owed under their contracts , or the liberty to hold property debtors complained that this liberty was being taken by banks and other creditors? Moreover, the cry for liberty could mean two very different things with respect to the slave issue--for some, the liberty to own slaves needed protection, while for others those more able to see through black eyes , liberty meant ending the slavery.

On May 25, , a week later than scheduled, delegates from the various states met in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia. Among the first orders of business was electing George Washington president of the Convention and establishing the rules--including complete secrecy concerning its deliberations--that would guide the proceedings. Several delegates, most notably James Madison, took extensive notes, but these were not published until decades later. The main business of the Convention began four days later when Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia presented and defended a plan for new structure of government called the "Virginia Plan" that had been chiefly drafted by fellow Virginia delegate, James Madison. The Virginia Plan called for a strong national government with both branches of the legislative branch apportioned by population.

The plan gave the national government the power to legislate "in all cases in which the separate States are incompetent" and even gave a proposed national Council of Revision a veto power over state legislatures. Delegates from smaller states, and states less sympathetic to broad federal powers, opposed many of the provisions in the Virginia Plan.

Charles Pinckney of South Carolina asked whether proponents of the plan "meant to abolish the State Governments altogether. The New Jersey Plan kept federal powers rather limited and created no new Congress. Instead, the plan enlarged some of the powers then held by the Continental Congress. Paterson made plain the adamant opposition of delegates from many of the smaller states to any new plan that would deprive them of equal voting power "equal suffrage" in the legislative branch.

Over the course of the next three months, delegates worked out a series of compromises between the competing plans. New powers were granted to Congress to regulate the economy, currency, and the national defense, but provisions which would give the national government a veto power over new state laws was rejected. Most importantly, perhaps, delegates compromised on the thorny issue of apportioning members of Congress, an issue that had bitterly divided the larger and smaller states. Under a plan put forward by delegate Roger Sherman of Connecticut "the Connecticut Compromise" , representation in the House of Representatives would be based on population while each state would be guaranteed an equal two senators in the new Senate.

By September, the final compromises were made, the final clauses polished, and it came time to vote. In the Convention, each state--regardless of its number of delegates-- had one vote, so a state evenly split could not register a vote for adoption. In the end, thirty-nine of the fifty-five delegates supported adoption of the new Constitution, barely enough to win support from each of the twelve attending state delegations. Commerce regulations were also hotly debated. Northern industrial states wanted federal tariffs to keep out cheaper European products. By forcing the purchase of domestic goods, the Northern delegates hoped to raise revenues for the federal government through taxation.

Those opposed to this idea included delegates from cotton and tobacco producing states, who relied heavily on trade with Europe and who resisted the idea of tariffs for exports. Furthermore, fearing unreasonable changes to trade regulations, these mostly Southern delegates asked for a two-thirds majority rule on all commerce bills in Congress. After much debate, a Commerce Compromise was reached that required no tax on exports, and only a simple majority needed to pass commerce bills through Congress. A third long-standing debate and eventual area of compromise at the Philadelphia Convention, questioned whether slaves should be counted as people or property. Supporters of this school of thought were primarily Southerners who were eager for the power that their states would gain if the large number of slaves in the south were counted as people.

Conversely, Northerners feared an increase in power by the south that might result from counting slaves as people. These delegates argued that slaves should be counted as property, and therefore taxed as such, since doing so could bring much-needed revenue to the federal government. Eventually, the delegates compromised on the slavery issue as well. Slaves were declared to count as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of population counts. However, neither the word slavery nor slave was used in the Constitution. Still, it was apparent whom the Three-Fifths Compromise targeted, since it went a step further and addressed the issue of the African slave trade. Northerners expected the African slave trade to dwindle and eventually become unnecessary, and they wanted the Constitution to reflect that expectation.

Southerners only knew that they had an immediate and ongoing need for slave labor in their fields and paddies, so they resisted slave trade restrictions. In addition to addressing the issues of population counts, the Three-Fifths Compromise stated that Congress would not restrict overseas slave trade for a period of twenty years, but following Congress was free to readdress the issue. In , Congress did revisit the issue and decided to disallow overseas slave trade. By that point it was nearly moot since every state except Georgia had included an embargo on overseas slaves in their state constitutions. Previous Outline Next Outline.

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