In Vain Did the Opponents Urge That This Was Irregular

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

In Pennsylvania the proceedings connected with the ratification were precipitous and narrowly escaped being irregular. Before it was known that Congress would even transmit the Constitution to the states for their consideration, George Clymer, who had been a member of the national Convention and was then serving in the Pennsylvania legislature, “rose in his place and moved that a state convention of deputies be called, that they meet at Philadelphia, and that they be chosen in the same manner and on the same day as the members of the next general assembly.” In vain did the opponents urge that this was irregular, that it was not known whether Congress would act favorably, and that deliberation rather than haste should characterize such a weighty procedure. The legislature, nevertheless, resolved to call the convention, and adjourned until the afternoon, leaving the date of the convention and manner of selecting delegates to be settled later. The opposition thereupon decided to secure delay by staying away and preventing the transaction of business for want of a quorum.

Meanwhile the news reached Philadelphia that Congress had sent the Constitution to the states for their consideration. The Federalists in the legislature, now having secured the sanction of regularity, determined not to brook further delay, so they sent officers after some of the recalcitrants, who thought “filibustering” justifiable in view of the importance of securing more deliberation before acting. These officers, ably assisted by a Federalist mob “broke into their lodgings, seized them, dragged them through the streets to the State house, and thrust them into the assembly room, with clothes torn and faces white with rage. The quorum was now complete.” The legislature (September 29) fixed the election of delegates to the state convention at a date five weeks distant, November 6, 1787. Thus the people of the state were given a little over a month to deliberate on this momentous issue before selecting their agents to voice their will. Some Federalists, like Tench Coxe, expressed regret at the necessity of adopting these high-handed methods; but the stress was so great that it did not admit of delay.

After the convention assembled, the Federalists continued their irregular practices, although from the vote on the Constitution in the convention this latter manipulation seems to have been a work of supererogation. Everything was done that could be done to keep the public out of the affair. “Thomas Lloyd applied to the convention for the place of assistant clerk. Lloyd was a shorthand writer of considerable note, and when the convention refused his request, determined to report the debates and print them on his own account. His advertisement promised that the debates should be accurately taken in shorthand and published in one volume octavo at the rate of one dollar the hundred pages. These fine promises, however, were never fulfilled. Only one thin volume ever came out, and that contains merely the speeches of Wilson and a few of those of Thomas M’Kean. The reason is not far to seek. He was bought up by the Federalists, and in order to satisfy the public was suffered to publish one volume containing nothing but speeches made by the two federal leaders.” The Federalists appear to have suppressed other attempts at issuing the debates, and they “withdrew their subscriptions from every publication that warmly supported the Anti-federal cause.” The Constitution was ratified by a vote of 46 to 23.

Against these precipitous actions on the part of the Federalists in carrying the ratification of the Constitution, a minority of the state convention, twenty-one members, protested in an address to the people after the day had been lost. The protestants told how the federal Convention had been called by Congress, and then recited the facts as they viewed them: “So hastily and eagerly did the states comply [with the call of Congress for the Convention] that their legislatures, without the slightest authority, without ever stopping to consult the people, appointed delegates, and the conclave met at Philadelphia. To it came a few men of character, some more noted for cunning than patriotism, and some who had always been enemies to the independence of America. The doors were shut, secrecy was enjoined, and what then took place no man could tell. But it was well known that the sittings were far from harmonious. Some left the dark conclave before the instrument was framed. Some had the firmness to withhold their hands when it was framed. But it came forth in spite of them, and was not many hours old when the meaner tools of despotism were carrying petitions about for the people to sign praying the legislature to call a convention to consider it. The convention was called by a legislature made up in part of members who had been dragged to their seats and kept there against their wills, and so early a day was set for the election of delegates that many a voter did not know of it until it was passed. Others kept away from the polls because they were ignorant of the new plan; some because they disliked it, and some because they did not think the convention legally called. Of the seventy thousand freemen entitled to vote but thirteen thousand voted.” For a long time the war of the dissenters against the Constitution went on in Pennsylvania, breaking out in occasional riots, and finally in the Whiskey Rebellion in Washington’s administration; but they were at length beaten, outgeneralled, and outclassed in all the arts of political management.

— Charles Austin Beard

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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