22. The Road to a Constitutional Convention
Articles Blog

22. The Road to a Constitutional Convention

October 9, 2019


Prof: Coming in to the
home stretch. We’re moving towards the
Constitution; it’s kind of amazing,
kind of weird. And so, as a matter of fact,
that’s what we’re going to be doing with today’s lecture,
which is going to get us on the road to the Federal Convention.
Now just a quick review before
we plunge down the road. On Thursday,
as I hope you all remember, I talked about some of the
problems of the Articles of Confederation and I talked about
things that caused confusion or complications like boundaries
between states; I talked about Vermont;
I talked about the state of Franklin;
I talked about Shays’ Rebellion, toward the end of the
lecture. And throughout that lecture,
from time to time, I talked about some people who
were strong advocates for a stronger central government for
the Confederation– and I mentioned a few names in
passing. I think I mentioned James
Madison, and I mentioned Alexander Hamilton,
and I mentioned George Washington.
Obviously, there are others.
Those are just three big-name
contenders. There are others.
Though at first,
we’re not talking about a massive group of people here.
We’re talking about a select
group of people who really believe that there has to be a
stronger national government. Now these men saw a host of
problems with the Articles of Confederation.
I mentioned some of them on
Thursday. One of them you’ll actually see
a couple of times in the course of today’s lecture.
So these nationalists–they saw
problems with things like currency,
congressional indecision, the fact that Congress was
powerless to enforce things, obviously boundary
complications between states, and a host of other problems
that, at least to them, signaled the really obvious
need for some kind of wide-ranging national political
reform that would put more power at the center.
And for years and years and
years these people kept calling for some kind of a national
convention to reform the government.
Now, as I mentioned just a
minute ago when I said sort of a select group,
it’s important to note that this drive for a stronger
national government was not initially widespread,
and as a matter of fact, there were any number of
reasons for people really to fear the idea of strengthening
the national government. And you’re going to get a sense
of some of these reasons next week when you look at some of
the Federalist essays, because part of what the
Federalist essays are doing is explaining and
promoting the new Constitution, or hopefully,
what will be the new Constitution.
But the other thing that the
Federalist essays are doing is they’re actually trying
to calm people’s fears down. Like: ‘okay,
you think that if you approve of this new Constitution,
horrible things will happen, but here’s yet another way in
which horrible things won’t happen.’
So you’ll see that kind of as a
running subtheme in the Federalist essays too,
when you read them next week. And, as I suggested in the
lecture, I think on Thursday’s lecture,
obviously after you’d fought a Revolution against what you
perceived to be as a tyrannical centralized power–
right?–the British monarchy–it would make perfect
sense in general to be a little worried about centralized power.
Plus, many people assumed that
America was just bound to drift back into what it had been
before. And this fear goes actually
even into the 1790s. People assumed that because
people in America were so used to one way of things,
it was kind of a nifty little experiment they were undertaking
now, but as a matter of fact,
over time, when push came to shove,
everything would sort of drift back to where it had been.
So the assumption is:
waiting out there in the wings somewhere there is an
aristocracy that’s going to leap up and take over as soon as they
have an opportunity and then suddenly–
poof–we’ll have an aristocracy and maybe a monarchy and
everything will go back to the way it was before.
So it makes sense that people
were nervous about centralized power,
and it makes sense that the states would be nervous too
about centralized power, because they’d be nervous about
giving up power to whatever this stronger centralized government
was going to be. So what today’s lecture is
going to do is look at how things evolved over the course
of just a few years, so that by 1787,
which is where we’re going to be on Thursday,
there actually was a call for a national convention to reform or
amend the government, and then ultimately,
the new nation really did end up strengthening the national
government significantly, which is all in all pretty
remarkable. When you think about some of
what I’ve just been talking about,
it is pretty remarkable that there was that much change
over– in the end–what isn’t that
huge an expanse of time. And, as you’ll see,
part of what’s important to think about–
and I’ll mention it a couple times in the course of today’s
lecture– is the way in which America
found its way into strengthening the government because,
as you’re going to see, there’s a series of individual
events or individual meetings. None of them really focused on
centralizing, strengthening,
the central national government,
although over time each one of these decisions,
as you’re going to see today, pushed things in that
direction. So in a sense what you’re going
to see in today’s lecture particularly,
is how the new nation backed its way into a stronger central
government, one decision at a time.
They didn’t leap into a new
stronger government. They backed their way in,
aided of course by some really strong nationalists in the
background trying to push things in that direction like Madison,
Hamilton, Washington, and the other crew of really
firm nationalists. So basically that’s kind of the
subtheme, or one of them at least, of today’s lecture.
It’s how the new nation backed
its way in to a new stronger central government,
one decision at a time. And in a sense,
it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the main issues that
pushed this series of events into operation was commence,
the question of commerce. With thirteen different states,
each with its own arrangement of commerce, there were bound to
be complications. And obviously,
commerce is a big deal. Right? Commerce matters.
Commerce is prosperity.
Commerce is livelihoods.
Commerce is going to make or
break individual states and make or break the new nation.
If you think back to the
Revolution, and think back to some of the
things that people were upset about,
again, you’re going to realize commerce is underlying a lot of
what we’re talking about here. Right?
Rights are intermingled with
these thoughts about commerce–but we talked about
taxation, direct taxes, imports, exports,
shipping. All of these kinds of things
and more were among the many central components that were
also helping to fuel the Revolution.
So it shouldn’t be a really big
surprise that they continued to play a major role in the
development of the new nation. And so what we’re going to see
in today’s lecture is that the strong nationalists pushing for
a stronger national government would find that problems of
commerce sometimes opened little doors of opportunity for
political reform in ways that might not have been expected.
Okay.
So that’s what I want to do.
I want to sort of show the
little process of reform, or, the process of change over
time and action. And one major moment of
opportunity that I’m going to start by talking about here for
these nationalists took place in 1785 because of a local
complication between Virginia and Maryland about navigating
the Potomac River. Okay.
So this is–It’s local and it
also has to do with shipping, again more commerce.
So in response to this
question, both Virginia and Maryland named commissioners to
meet in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss the issue
and work out some kind of a policy.
So it doesn’t seem necessarily
like a really big deal. There were a total of seven men
named to be at this meeting. There were three from Maryland.
There were four from Virginia,
including James Madison. Unfortunately,
Virginia Governor Patrick Henry somehow or other managed to
fumble something, so he basically didn’t tell the
four Virginia delegates when the meeting was happening and where
the meeting was happening. It’s one of those
administrative mistakes that you don’t realize when you make it,
it will be remembered forever. [laughs]
Sorry, Governor Henry, but you goofed.
So the Virginia delegation is
never told about where or when the meeting is.
The Maryland delegates arrive
in Alexandria and find nobody waiting for them.
It’s like: ‘we’re here.’
And ultimately,
two Virginia delegates, the ones who lived closest to
Alexandria, managed to make their way there
as soon as they found out they were supposed to be there.
Madison was not one of the
people who ended up being there. So now you have five people,
three from Maryland, two from Virginia,
meeting in Alexandria and now they begin talking about the
problem and maybe entering into some kind of negotiation.
Now meanwhile,
George Washington knew about this conference.
And given that Mount Vernon is
not that far away– just down the road from the
town of Alexandria– he invited the commissioners
out to Mount Vernon to meet there.
Now Washington wasn’t just
being hospitable. He actually had a really keen
interest in having a canal built on the Potomac,
partly to promote its use and hopefully thus to make
Alexandria an important link to the West and thus a big center
of shipping in the United States.
So Washington’s thinking about
promoting the importance of Alexandria through doing
something with the Potomac. And he had been interested in
this idea of building a canal for a while.
And he had met with engineers,
and he had served in various committees,
and this was really something that he felt very strongly
about– enough so that apparently
during a certain period of time, anyone who went to visit him at
Mount Vernon ended up just getting talked to about canals.
Right?
You just knew in that phase of
Washington’s life, if you visit him at Mount
Vernon, you’re going to hear about canals.
So, as one visitor to Mount
Vernon put it at the time, “Hearing little else for
two days … I confess completely infected
me with canal mania.” Okay.
So Washington is suffering from
canal mania too. So he invites these
commissioners to meet at his home at Mount Vernon,
knowing that there he can wine and dine them and hopefully
encourage some kind of compromise,
and maybe even promote the development of the Potomac.
The meeting at Mount Vernon was
ultimately known as, logically enough,
the Mount Vernon Conference. Surprise, surprise.
This should be an easy one to
remember, the Mount Vernon Conference.
It took place on March 25,1785,
and continued for three days. Mount Vernon Conference,
March 25,1785. In the end, the Mount Vernon
Conference not only settled some matters of navigation,
but it also dealt with things like customs duties between the
two states, trade regulations between the
two states, and made recommendations about
somehow or other coordinating one state’s currency with the
other state’s currency. And the delegates also
recommended that they meet annually to keep channels of
cooperation and communication open.
There’s the key to the Mount
Vernon Conference: let’s meet annually to talk
about this. So although it wasn’t intended
to set any kind of a precedent, that conference ends up being a
step in the direction of some kind of regular interstate
cooperation apart from the Confederation Congress.
It’s not just a local
conference about the Potomac and two states.
Now it’s proposing some kind of
long-term something in which two states get together and sort of
figure out how to cooperate amongst themselves.
And a little side note that
actually won’t really play a role in today’s lecture but
it’ll sort of echo something in Thursday’s lecture:
In a sense, the Mount Vernon Conference
ended up kind of violating Virginia’s instructions to its
commissioners, because the Virginia assembly,
in appointing the commissioners,
had said, ‘Okay. So for you to approve of
something, three out of the four of you have to approve of
it–right?–but only two guys actually showed up.
So even though the two guys
were there and voted and things happened, three out of four of
them didn’t vote on anything. Right?
So officially,
formally speaking, they weren’t abiding by the
mandate that they had gotten from their home state,
and I only mention this now because this will echo with some
of things that happen in conjunction with the Federal
Convention, the Constitutional Convention,
on Thursday too. Okay.
So let’s pause here for a
minute just to note how these people backed their way into
this agreement, because the Mount Vernon
Conference didn’t consist of five really ardent nationalists
just trying to find a sneaky way to do something that’ll push
people towards being more organized in a centralized way.
The conference wasn’t branded
as anything other than a meeting for commissioners from Maryland
and Virginia to discuss navigation.
That led into a conversation
about interstate trade. That led into a decision to
maybe meet regularly and talk about this more broadly.
So in a sense,
what begins this chain of events–a somewhat significant
interstate agreement–is kind of unintentional.
It’s something really practical
that gets it going. We’ve seen this a lot in this
course– right?–something very
practical that moves people to take action,
and then there are really interesting outcomes from that
response to something, some really practical need.
And as we’ll see,
given all of the fears about centralized power,
in some ways it’s this kind of informal,
indirect way of proceeding that’s maybe the best way for
people to move towards centralizing or to move towards
giving a central government more power.
We’re going to see that again
and again today. Okay.
So it’s informal,
it’s indirect in a sense, but the Mount Vernon Conference
did have the support of some eager nationalists.
So certainly James Madison was
in favor of it, even though he didn’t make
it–but he was in favor of it. He should have been there,
and of course George Washington is the host–so yet another
strong nationalist who is clearly in favor of it.
Both men certainly would have
done their best to usher the agreement through the Virginia
legislature. It also passed the Maryland
legislature as well. Even more significant,
Maryland proposed bringing Delaware in,
the next time they met–inviting them to attend the
next year’s meeting– and the commissioners
themselves when they were at Mount Vernon,
they thought maybe they should invite Pennsylvania too.
Okay.
So now we potentially have four
states maybe agreeing to meet every year to talk about
interstate trade matters. Now James Madison,
who’s thinking nationally, hoped that the Virginia
legislature would agree to submit this agreement to the
Confederation Congress, and then maybe all of the
states would agree to meet in this way every year.
And of course that idea did not
happen; it failed.
Instead, the Virginia
legislature proposed a resolution that called on the
other states to appoint delegates,
and to deliberately sit back and consider,
quote, “the trade of the United States”
as a group, and to propose some kind of an
act regarding the issue that could be sent to the
Confederation Congress for passage.
So clearly, amidst fears about
centralized power at the time, this is a pretty significant
suggestion on the part of the Virginia legislature.
And it’s worth noting that even
the mere suggestion of something like this had to be helped along
in its passage by some really careful strategy.
So although Madison really
clearly wanted this proposal to go through the legislature,
Madison is not the guy who proposed it,
because if Madison, Mr. Nationalist,
stood up and said, ‘Hey, I really think that we
should all meet, all of the states together,
and consider the trade of the United States,’ everyone would
have said, ‘Oh, it’s Mr. Nationalist
speaking. I’m sorry.
We don’t trust you.’
So instead another
man–actually John Tyler, who is the father of a future
President Tyler– is not particularly known for
his nationalist sentiments, so his motives wouldn’t be held
suspect, and he’s the guy who actually
makes this proposal. So even just to recommend
something along these lines, people are being very
strategic. So ultimately there is a
decision to hold a meeting about American trade,
a meeting that supposedly is going to include all of the
states. It’s agreed to by the Virginia
legislature and it’s scheduled to meet in Annapolis,
Maryland, the next year, September 1786.
Okay.
So that’s been going on in the
South. We have Virginia,
we have Maryland, maybe Delaware and
Pennsylvania. But it’s not as though none of
this sort of activity or none of these fears have been happening
in the North, and they had been,
also involving trade. So at roughly the same time
that all of this is going on in the South,
the Massachusetts legislature ended up proposing their own
resolution to think more broadly about the national government,
again, spurred by trade complications.
Basically, Northerners,
and in particular merchants in Boston,
found themselves affected by British trade restrictions in
some ways that they really didn’t like,
and they wanted the Confederation Congress to do
something about it, and they also realized the
Confederation Congress probably didn’t have enough power to do
anything about it. So the Massachusetts
legislature, thinking along these lines, proposed something
more broadly. So instead of just saying,
‘Well, let’s get together and talk about trade,’ the
Massachusetts state government asked the Massachusetts
delegates in the Confederation Congress to suggest calling a
general convention of all of the states to revise the Articles of
Confederation as a whole. Okay. That’s a big suggestion.
So the Massachusetts
legislature basically asks its delegates in the Confederation
Congress, ‘Hey, would you–here’s a
proposal for us to call some kind of meeting for all of the
states just to revise the Articles.
Would you present it to the
Confederation Congress?’ And the response of the three
Massachusetts delegates in the Confederation Congress is really
interesting, because it shows you why it
seemingly took things happening outside of official channels,
like the Mount Vernon Conference, for there to be
broad interstate changes. Because basically,
in short, the Massachusetts delegates responded by just
refusing to submit the whole proposal to the Confederation
Congress. And their written response is
really interesting. I’m going to quote just a
couple sentences from it here– and this is what the delegates
in the Confederation Congress responded to the people back in
Massachusetts: “Many are of opinion,
the States have not yet had experience sufficient to
determine the extent of powers vested in Congress by the
Confederation; & therefore that every
measure at this time, proposing an alteration is
premature … The present Confederation with
all its inconveniences is preferable to the risque of
general dissentions & animosities,
which may approach to Anarchy & prepare the way to a
ruinous system of Government.”
And what specifically did these
guys think when they said “general dissentions and
animosities”? Well, in part they meant the
following, again their words: “We are apprehensive &
it is our duty, to declare it,
that such a measure”– reforming the
Articles–“would produce thro’out the Union,
an exertion of the friends of an Aristocracy to Send members
who would promote a change of Government: &
we can form some judgment of the plan,
which Such members would report to Congress.”
Okay.
So essentially the
Massachusetts delegates to the Confederation Congress say:
‘No, we’re not even going to
consider this idea of revising the Articles because it’s going
to result in what they call “baleful
aristocracies.” Right? This is dangerous.
It’s opening things up so that
it’s going to get more centralized.
Scary aristocratic types are
going to take over. Bad things will happen.
“Poof”–spirit of the
Revolution all gone. So here in 1785,
we have Maryland, we have Virginia,
we have Pennsylvania, we have Delaware trying to do
something centralizing about trade,
and Massachusetts also suggesting some pretty bold
reform because of problems with trade.
What was still pending at this
time was the meeting that had been scheduled to meet in
Annapolis in September of 1786. Now, Madison for one was not
overly optimistic about whatever was going to happen at
Annapolis, because he basically
assumed–and he probably was smart to assume it–
as soon as you ask all of the states to agree to meet and
decide anything, it’s not going to work, right?
You’re just bound to fail.
And indeed, he gets to
Annapolis and things just don’t look too good.
As he wrote to his brother:
“I came to this place a day or two ago,
where I found two commissioners only.
A few more have since come in,
but the prospect of a sufficient no.
to make the meeting respectable
is not flattering.” And sure enough,
ultimately only five states sent delegates who arrived in
time for the meeting. Even Maryland,
the host state, did not send delegates to the
Annapolis Convention–okay; that’s a real snub–out of fear
that it transcended the power of the Confederation Congress.
So the host state wasn’t
represented at the Annapolis–Maryl
and–convention. Three other states besides
Maryland also chose not to send delegates: South Carolina,
Georgia, and Connecticut–yay, Connecticut–
all decided they would not send delegates.
And then delegates from some of
the states that were at the outer edges of the Union–
Massachusetts, New Hampshire,
Rhode Island, North Carolina–they arrived
too late to take part. [laughs]
All these people having these sort of weird administrative bad
moments. Sorry, guys,
you didn’t take place in the historic convention in Annapolis
because you left home late or whatever it is they did;
they didn’t plan well. So all of those states are not
represented at the Annapolis Convention.
But so, they had all this
fanfare. All these nationalists were
like: ‘wow, we really need to meet about this.’
They finally get a meeting.
It’s scheduled for Annapolis,
and now it seems like nobody’s going to attend.
So as one Delaware delegate
wrote to a friend: Should half of the states fail
to participate, quote, “How ridiculous
will all this parade appear?”
So they’re getting ready in
Annapolis to be mortified. That after all their efforts:
big deal, nobody cares. Now, before we see what
actually transpired in the Annapolis Convention,
I want to have a little brief James Madison moment.
This is kind of a James Madison
lecture. He’s going to shine.
But I want to have a little
moment for him here, because, as you’re going to see
throughout the rest of this lecture and also on Thursday,
he does a number of really interesting things and
ultimately some really important things in 1786 and 1787,
all of them in one way or another bound up with
strengthening the government. And I brought a very
sophisticated visual aid.
Okay.
So [laughter]
this is James Madison. I bring this James Madison
because a graduate student gave this to me years ago,
and what really amuses me about this–I don’t know if you can
tell. This is a GI Joe body with a
Madison head stuck on top [laughter]
and you can’t see really, because of the lace covering
his hands. He has the kung fu grip thing
going, [laughter] like he wants to be holding a
gun. So this is buff James Madison.
[laughter]
This is a macho Madison. It is the weirdest-looking
thing with this little, tiny scholarly head sort of
stuck on top. [laughter]
This is my high-tech visual aid.
Here.
We’ll stick Madison over here.
He actually has a little–Oh.
Look, he’s missing a shoe–his
little stand–[laughter] this little Madison stand.
Poor guy.
There’s no respect.
He’s not even getting respect
now in the class during his moment.
He’s shoeless.
[laughter]
Okay. So we’re giving Madison some
love. Okay.
I do want to look at what
Madison was doing in the month before the Annapolis Convention
because it’s actually really interesting.
He does this twice.
He does this for two different
summers. He’s think–obviously thinking
to himself: okay, I don’t know what’s coming down
the road but there might be actual reform happening;
this is very exciting. So I’d better prepare myself
for the possibility of government reform.
So in this summer of 1786,
he basically does a little research project,
and he decides he’s going to study confederacies of all time.
Right?
He’s going to look at ancient
times. He’s going to look at modern
times. He’s going to look at every
confederacy that ever existed, and then list in some way their
virtues and their vices. So in essence,
Madison is going to look over all time and then come up with
these rules of confederacies, right?–what works,
what doesn’t, and then hopefully once he
figures that out somehow or other maybe it’ll help him in
making suggestions to create or improve the present one.
Now this is real–This is age
of reason thinking, this idea that if you can
figure out the patterns of the past,
you can figure out the laws of nature and the way that things
are supposed to work. And there’s a great example.
When I was in grad school,
I guess, I read a book that at the time
I thought was really fascinating,
which I guess means I’m destined to be a professor of
early American history, because I am the only one who
finds it fascinating. But–and I thought it was
really fascinating. It’s actually by Adam Smith.
It’s called A Theory of
Moral Sentiments, and what amazed me about it
was, it’s Adam Smith coming up with
a sort of theory for patterns of human emotion and morality.
So that’s, again,
“Age of Reason” thinking.
Adam Smith is like:
‘okay, I’m going to come up with a theory of moral
sentiments and then present it to you as to how morality works
in human nature.’ What I found really interesting
about it was just, if you’re trying to figure out
the mindset of people in the eighteenth–
late eighteenth century, that book is helpful.
It may not present the all-time
tried and true theory, but it is really interesting.
It says all kinds of sort of
quirky, interesting things in there
that–even if some people felt that way,
that’s really interesting, really–because another time
period is really a different mindset.
So the Smith book is kind of in
the same spirit as Madison’s efforts to study all
confederacies and then come up with these amazing patterns.
So he’s reading through book
after book after book. He’s keeping record–keeping
little notes about various confederations and what he likes
and what he doesn’t like and what worked and what didn’t
work– really, really trying to figure
out some kind of pattern that’s going to help the United States.
And supposedly he recorded his
notes in a little notebook that was about forty pages long,
that maybe he intended to have with him during debate;
maybe he intended to have it with him as a sort of writing
reference. I love just the whole system
and operation of this. Right?
I will figure it all out and
then I will carry it in my pocket, my knowledge about all
confederacies over time, well, let me look in–Yeah.
So this is very Madison,
very typical Madison. And actually,
little bits of that end up appearing in the
Federalist essays, so if he was thinking it was
going to be a help in his writing,
he was right; he actually does draw on it.
And so he looks at all these
confederacies, and so it’s not a big surprise.
What does Madison discover?
Well, basically everywhere he
looks he finds jealousies and animosities between member
states of whatever confederacy we’re talking about.
He sees domestic turmoil.
He sees international
humiliation. He sees basically weak unions
or problem unions. That’s the lesson he draws from
his little survey. So this is on his mind.
Right?
He does this little studying
project, and then he heads out to Annapolis to join the
Convention in September of 1786. Only five states were
represented: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, and Virginia. I’ll repeat that for you:
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
Delaware, and Virginia. A total of twelve delegates,
so we’re not talking about massive numbers of people here.
And logically enough you get
the twelve guys there from the five states,
and the first thing they do is, they compare what their home
states told them to do. Okay.
‘Why did your state send you
here? Why did your state send you
here? Is there actually anything that
we have in common?’ What they discovered was that
four of the five states had instructions from their home
states confining their attention to just matters of trade.
Right?
Okay.
Go to Annapolis and talk about
trade, period. But we’re going to have a New
Jersey moment. Is there–Are there New Jersey
people–Oh, we’ve got New Jersey people.
Yes. Okay.
This is a New Jersey–a shining
New Jersey moment. So four of the five just said,
‘Just consider trade.’ New Jersey–New Jersey has
three magical words in their instructions from home.
And the New Jersey instructions
say: yeah, go ahead, consider trade and,
quote, “other important matters.”
[laughs]
Okay. That’s the only opening they
needed. It’s like: ‘oh,
other important matters.’ [laughs]
In that case we can think more broadly than trade,
right? So New Jersey has the little,
tiny key that lets these people meeting at Annapolis at least
think about moving beyond just talking about trade.
They talk for three days about
whether they should really proceed along any line because
of the magical three words in the New Jersey instructions.
They finally decide that yes,
they will take advantage of that little opening to talk
about other important matters. So they prepared an address to
their own states and to all the other states that had decided
not to come, or that hadn’t made it on time,
that are rushing somewhere from North Carolina–
and the address was prepared by Alexander Hamilton,
obviously yet another one of these strong nationalists.
He’s trying,
I think as early as 1780: we need a stronger government.
So Hamilton’s address asked the
states to name delegates to meet in Philadelphia the following
year to, quote, “take into
consideration the situation of the United States;
to devise such further provisions as shall appear to
them necessary to render the Constitution of the Federal
Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.”
Okay.
So basically,
we need to meet and just think more broadly about the
government, is what Hamilton’s proposal says.
Now again, look at how almost
accidental what we’re looking at here is, right?–this
significant proposal to alter the Articles.
With only a handful of men
present at Annapolis, this suggestion almost is more
a matter of desperation like: ‘well we have to come out of
this with something; thanks to New Jersey we can do
something, so here, let’s make a proposal and send
it out and see what happens.’ And this bold move is grounded
on three words in the New Jersey instructions.
Again, it’s all of these sort
of out-of-formal-channels, informal ways in which people
are promoting some kind of more centralizing agenda.
So once the move is taken,
they send this out–the address is sent out.
Nationalists like Hamilton and
Madison and others throughout the states take full advantage
of it and really push, so that something will come of
this; there’ll be some kind of an
attempt to actually strengthen the national government.
In eight states nationalists
managed to get their state legislatures to pass resolutions
suggesting precisely the kind of broad agenda for a conference
that the Annapolis people wanted.
So eight states are like:
‘yeah, okay, we could get behind a
conference to reconsider the government.’
Which brings us to Shays’
Rebellion momentarily, because in a really handy
stroke of timing, Shays’ Rebellion happens right
in the middle of what we’re talking about right now.
Right?
So they’re like:
‘well, let’s push to try and make the government stronger.
Oh, Shays’ Rebellion.’
Right?
So the nationalists are like:
‘we hate this but, yes.’
[laughs]
It’s like: ‘this is really bad but wow, this is a handy PR
tool’–because now they can point to Shays’ Rebellion and
say, ‘Look. We’re collapsing into chaos.
Wow.
Do we need a stronger national
government.’ So the timing of it,
if you’re a guy who really wants a stronger national
government in this period, was a good stroke of fortune.
So again, as we’re looking at
ultimately what’s going to become the Constitutional
Convention or the Federal Convention,
you can see here some of the problems of having a central
government with such diffuse powers,
because even now, someone says,
‘Well, let’s strengthen the
government’–and then Congress takes a long time to think about
the possibility of strengthening the government,
surprise, surprise. So a committee is appointed to
consider this idea in October of 1786, and in February of 1787
the committee finally issues a report.
And the report says:
well, revising the Articles maybe, right?
None of this,
let’s review everything. Revising the Articles,
okay, maybe we can go along with that and the states should
name delegates to attend the conference to just improve the
Articles, not to just evaluate the needs
of the Union. So four states ultimately
follow that formula. Right?
They say, ‘Okay,
only revise.’ Other states follow the
Annapolis formula and say, ‘Oh, okay.
Let’s actually reconsider the
government.’ So the meeting at
Philadelphia–what ends up being the Constitutional Convention–
starts out with a confused, contradictory mandate,
because there’s no general agreement about number one,
what the meeting is really supposed to accomplish and
number two, how it’s even supposed to be
planned. So eight states get the call
from Annapolis and respond. The other states are–A number
of the other states wait until the Confederation Congress says
something and then they respond to the Confederation Congress
instead. So ironically,
in a meeting that’s supposed to repair shortcomings of the
Confederation Congress, that meeting itself is being
complicated by shortcomings of the Confederation Congress.
You can see how it’s very hard
to do anything in a really national manner with all of the
states. So obviously the nationalists
are really hoping things are going to follow the Annapolis
formula, as Washington put it,
revising the– not just revising the Articles,
but probing “the defects of the Constitution to the
bottom, and providing radical
cures.” So that’s what the nationalists
want. As we’re going to see on
Thursday, strong nationalists were really
active in the month before the Convention,
planning and preparing to push forward their agenda.
And here we have James Madison,
shoeless [laughs] James Madison–where did his
shoe go?–shoeless James Madison moment number two.
Well, see, I guess that he
makes professors happy, because he liked studying,
all by himself, like: I’ll do a summer study
project, which–He’s a scholarly founder.
Scholars like James Madison.
So scholarly project number
two: He decides that now– just like before he was looking
for virtues and vices of confederacies over time–
now he’s going to look at vices in the American confederacy,
and he actually titles this document “Vices of the
Political System of the U.***States,”
or the United States. So he again comes up with a
list of vices, problems in the American
system, and he lists things like states trespassing on each
other’s rights; like a lack of unity between
states even when unity is desperately required;
like the fact that states can encroach on federal authority
without any repercussions; states violate treaties and
again–well, who’s going to do anything about it?
So he’s making a list of all
these vices and some of them, again, ultimately end up being
talked about in the essays that he contributes to the
Federalist. So Madison basically has this
long-term study project in preparation for what comes to be
known as the Constitutional Convention.
As we’ll talk about on
Thursday, he also arrives– in addition to all of his
studying– with a draft plan of
government, so in case he hasn’t done enough: now I will arrive
with the draft plan of government.
And we will talk more about
what his plan suggests for an entirely new Constitution on
Thursday. In the last bit of the course
of today’s class, I want to mention one other
thing I think just because I don’t think I’m going to have
time to talk about it on Thursday,
but I don’t want to go without mentioning it,
because it’s yet another one of the sort of weird,
interesting things that Madison does associated with the
Constitutional Convention and it’ll have more meaning after
Thursday’s lecture but I’ll mention it now.
And some of you may already
know this, because you may have used this
in papers or things for classes, but Madison took notes and he
didn’t just take notes; he really took notes.
He noted almost all of the
proceedings of the Convention. Of all of the delegates,
he ended up taking the most careful,
the most consistent, not quite minute by minute,
not quite comprehensive, but really thorough notes of
what went on at that Convention, of what people said,
of how they argued, about what they argued about,
about what was done. His notes are really amazing.
They’re published.
They’re easy to find.
They’re even on the Internet.
The Library of Congress has–I
think they’re called Farrand’s Notes of Debate
or something but they’re–you can see Madison’s notes;
you can read Madison’s notes. He actually invented some kind
of a little shorthand, so during the day with his
little shorthand he was copying down everything that people
said, and then at night he was
transposing that back into real writing.
And again, this was like his
project of the Constitutional Convention.
And his notes–They’re
published and they’re easy to find, but the fact is his actual
notes are at the Library of Congress.
And, a million years ago–I’m
not going to say how many years ago–
many years ago, I worked at the Library of
Congress, and I worked on exhibits at the
Library of Congress, museum exhibits, curating them.
And the Library of Congress is
an amazing place to do that because,
how much fun is it to be able to pick stuff from the Library
of Congress to put in exhibits? They have everything.
They have amazing stuff.
They have the contents of
Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he died.
They have drafts of the
Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of–and it’s just
amazing, amazing stuff. I remember one exhibit I worked
on, on the Bicentennial of Congress.
We had a little room where we
were stacking stuff for the exhibit,
and it was like well, it’s space instruments from the
first voyage into space and a draft of the Gettysburg Address,
and here is–it was like aah, [laughter]
like waves of history emanating out of the room.
So they have Madison’s notes
there and the Library, and–I don’t know if the same
thing exists now– but I know that a million years
ago, when I worked at the library,
they had the top treasures– I think it was the top twelve
treasures of the Library of Congress,
and they kept them in a vault. And it was like,
the Gutenberg Bible, Madison’s notes,
Jefferson’s draft of the declaration.
What else?
George Mason’s Virginia
Declaration of Rights, just like: aah,
sort of objects in this vault in the Library of Congress.
And supposedly,
when these items come out of the vault, they are supposed to
be accompanied by an armed guard.
Okay, which I thought was a
rule, but like, ‘ha, ha, sure,
armed guard, okay, high security’–
but lo and behold, when I wanted to get some of
George Mason’s notes to put in the exhibit,
there was a guy with a gun walking next to me.
[laughter]
It was like: George Mason,
we’re protecting George Mason from–
I don’t know who is going to come running down the halls of
the Library of Congress– but anyway they really meant it
with the armed guard. But so, for that same exhibit,
I got to look through Madison’s notes.
I got to pick a page from
Madison’s notes to put in the exhibit.
And it’s just amazing to see
them because– okay, they’re the notes from
the moment, so there’s the guy basically
recording how the Constitution’s being created.
And Madison–[laughs]
I was about to say something which this doesn’t illustrate.
He’s actually a little guy.
[laughs/laughter]
He’s not GI Joe. He’s a small man,
a quiet man, sort of bookish kind of a guy,
so he has this little, tiny, bookish,
perfect, meticulous handwriting.
His handwriting was just like
you think James Madison’s handwriting ought to be.
You look at it and you’re like,
‘that must be James Madison.’ And so, there is this box of
these little slips of paper with his little, meticulous Madison
notes of what he saw at the Federal Convention.
For some magical reason–I
think it was long enough ago that nobody will get fired by my
saying this–there was no guard. [laughs]
They just left me with the box, so I was sort of like:
aah, Madison’s notes, this is so exciting–like,
yeah, I think it’ll take me an hour to find a page,
so that I could leaf through and see everything.
It’s kind of an amazing
artifact. And the fact of the matter is,
Madison was doing that for a very specific reason.
Madison–This whole generation
tends to think about posterity. I’ll talk about that a little
bit in the last lecture as well, but they’re very posterity
minded so part of the reason why Madison goes through all of this
trouble to record what’s going on at the Convention–
although I think he actually doesn’t record jokes.
I think some other people’s
notes– now that I’m thinking about
it–some other people’s notes suggest that Madison did not
think constitution-making was funny.
[laughter]
There will be no jokes in Madison’s notes.
They’re pretty sad jokes.
Eighteenth-century jokes often
are not like: ha, ha–and it’s like
[laughter] okay.
[laughs] It’s kind of sad.
There is a book called
something like George Washington Laughing,
but it’s George Washington laughing at other people’s jokes
because [laughter] I guess he didn’t tell them.
Anyway, so I think Madison
expunged the humor out of the whole situation,
but he’s thinking about posterity–not necessarily by
taking out the jokes– but he’s really thinking about
the fact that somewhere down the road,
if this actually works, if this Constitution actually
survives and actually functions, it’s going to be this amazing
thing. It’s going to be a room of
people that deliberated and thought about government and
then created it based on deliberating in a really
purposeful way, which almost never happens when
you’re creating a government, and then they created what
Madison hoped would be a fair, just, small “r”
republican government. So he’s thinking:
well, if I take all of these notes,
and I record this whole process down,
it’s almost like a little guidebook to future countries
that might want to make republican governments–
like: here’s how we did it. And that was the idea behind
what he was doing–was, he really did want to preserve
the process, and that’s pretty much what he did with his notes.
So those of you who are
interested, again they’re kind of easy to find;
they’re all over the place. F-a-r-r-a-n-d,
Max Farrand, I think is the most famous
version of them, but they’re very easy to find.
I think I will end there;
I will not move on to talk about Madison’s plan.
I will talk about the plan and
the Constitution on Thursday. Those of you have not yet
handed in papers should be handing in papers–and I will
see you on Thursday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *