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What Really Happened At Start Of Federal Convention Of 1787, Pt. II

todayJune 4, 2014

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Interview With Kevin Gutzman Part II

James Madison by Kevin Gutzman book
James Madison & Making America -Autographed by author Kevin Gutzman

Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – On this day, on May the 29th — I just went back and read the record from Farrand’s records last night.  This doesn’t have anything to do with James Madison, but I know you know about this.  I noted that at this juncture of the meeting on May the 29th, Judge Yates has yet to blow a gasket.  He does blow a gasket but he hasn’t blown a gasket yet.  He’s just sitting there patiently making notes going: Mr. Randolph introduces plan, calls for this, calls for that.  I think John Dickinson made some similar notes.  It doesn’t seem that anyone was alarmed by this as yet but they will become alarmed.  Why do you think that was so?”  Check out today’s transcript for the rest…

Begin Mike Church Show Transcript

Mike:  On this day, on May the 29th — I just went back and read the record from Farrand’s records last night.  This doesn’t have anything to do with James Madison, but I know you know about this.  I noted that at this juncture of the meeting on May the 29th, Judge Yates has yet to blow a gasket.  He does blow a gasket but he hasn’t blown a gasket yet.  He’s just sitting there patiently making notes going: Mr. Randolph introduces plan, calls for this, calls for that.  I think John Dickinson made some similar notes.  It doesn’t seem that anyone was alarmed by this as yet but they will become alarmed.  Why do you think that was so?

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Kevin Gutzman:  Well, in those days they all knew they were going to get to speak and they were waiting their turns.  As soon as they stood up, they were going to say: This is not what we were sent here to do.  Some people are going to object immediately that far from amending the Articles of Confederation, what this amounted to was replacing them with a totally new form of government.  They said, notably Yates, but also Lansing from New York, that is the majority of New York delegates said: We can’t participate in this convention because it’s doing something other than what we were authorized by our state legislature to do.  Then they left and went home, worked on trying to defeat ratification in New York.  They weren’t the only people who did that. Several delegates left early saying: This convention is exceeding its mandate.

Ultimately these people are going to say that essentially we should have a federal constitution and this is going to be national one.  I think, though, that that’s inaccurate because in light of rejection of those several of Madison’s proposed features of the new government that I mentioned before, what came out of the Philadelphia Convention was a federal constitution, that is with limited power in the congress, with the states still controlling election of the senators, and ultimately with the people maintaining a supervisory authority over the federal government.  We can see that that’s true by looking at the following century or so of the federal government’s behavior.  With the notable exception of the Lincoln administration, it did behave as if it had limited authority.

Mike:  I should back up a day because today is May the 29th.  Yesterday was the 28th.  The convention actually met in earnest on the 28th and began its deliberations.  One of the first things they did, Kevin — of course, I don’t know that this would have to happen for the conspiracy theorists to launch the conspiracies, but they have ammo in what had transpired on the 28th, which was one of the first things that happened in convention.  I think you covered this in James Madison and the Making of America.  Like you said, Madison goes in with his plan, but he also suggests: Well, Mr. President, I think one of the kevin newthings we should do before we start deliberating is establish some rules.  One of the rules, as I said, the Bilderbergers and Rothschilders and Freemason conspiracy theorists have seized upon is that they made the proceedings secret.  You could only inspect the journal.  You couldn’t copy it.  You could look at it but you couldn’t copy it.   You weren’t supposed to send any correspondence out of Philadelphia that had anything to do with the convention.  Is there anything in your study of James Madison that indicates what was behind the push for secrecy?  Did he know or was he suspect that if the deliberations were public that they would be kabashed as soon as the new plan was being discussed?

Gutzman:  Well, anybody who turns on CSPAN today can see that having public deliberations means you don’t have any deliberations.  That is, if you watch what happens on the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate, you’ll see that it’s not actually deliberation.  Nobody is sitting there trying to figure out what his position will be on the pending measure.  Because why?  Well, because you can’t ask questions and receive sincere, candid answers in public.  You can’t make tentative proposals and see how people respond to them.  You can’t really do what a legislative body is supposed to do.  What’s happened in Congress since the introduction of television cameras is that the conversation goes on elsewhere.

I, for one, don’t see any particular problem in deciding they’re going to meet in secret.  They kept a record of it.  We know what was said.  Actually, not only did Madison do his level best to write down everything that was said, but several other delegates kept partial records of what was said, too.  It doesn’t seem that there was anything surprising that went on in the Philadelphia Convention.  The hyperventilation about some great conspiracy is, I think, misplaced.  If you want to call it a conspiracy to cooperate, then yeah, they were conspiring to create a new government or amend the Articles of Confederation to make a federal government national.  What’s the point of using the word conspiracy about that?

Mike:  Sometime in late June or early July or so, a motion is made that: We have to strike the word national from some of these propositions.  You want to talk a little bit about that?

Gutzman:  Sure.  What happened was, of course, as I mentioned before, the Virginia Plan contemplated a bicameral legislature with the lower house elected by the people and the upper house elected by the lower house, and in which both houses would be apportioned by population.  Patterson and other small-state delegates, along with New Yorkers, proposed that instead of that there should be a unicameral legislature with each state having the same vote and it should not have a taxing power.  Now, why did these people propose that when they had all come to Philadelphia having in mind that the Articles of Confederation as currently constituted were inadequate?  It seems very obvious to scholars, including the one that you’re talking to, that this is a kind of bargaining position.  It wasn’t that they really thought Congress shouldn’t have a taxing power, for example.  That was the one thing that almost everybody agreed needed to be given to Congress, a taxing power.  It shouldn’t have to ask the states to please send money because that had led to starving, freezing, un-fed, unarmed soldiers and American ambassadors who had to show up in Spain and France and immediately say: Please give us money or we can’t eat.  People agreed to that.

What they did generally want, these small-state delegates, what they did insist on is that they should continue to have an equal vote with the larger states.  This was a principle that several of them had been instructed not to surrender, that is they had been sent to Philadelphia on the stipulation from their state legislators: You will not give up our state’s equal vote in Congress.  After several weeks’ deliberation with Madison repeatedly saying we have to have population apportionment in both houses, finally what happened was that John Dickinson — by this point he’s representing Delaware, although he’s famous in the revolution for having been living in Philadelphia.  He goes to Madison and says: Look, if you keep insisting on this principle, this convention is going to produce nothing.  We cannot agree to have our equal voice in the congress taken from us.  Your hardheadedness on this point is going to mean that nothing happens here.  Madison still continued to insist on it.  Clearly it was true that if they continued to insist on it there would have been no fruit of the Philadelphia Convention.  The other delegates voted him down on that.  You end up having the situation we’re accustomed to in which one house of Congress is apportioned by population and the other one, Delaware, California, Wyoming and Texas all have the same two votes.

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Mike:  In The Spirit of ’76, my movie, I attribute to Ben Franklin — from the record there’s a speech that Franklin gives and Madison does his best to write it down.  Franklin stands up and says: Gentlemen, I have drafted what I believe is a compromise to your current dilemma.  Franklin basically lays the idea out, I guess on behalf of the other ones that: Look, we’ll just have two votes per state, all right?  Everybody gets two votes in the Senate.  That body will be chosen by the legislatures of the several states.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Gutzman:  Ultimately this idea of apportioning the two house of Congress as they are now apportioned is called the Connecticut Compromise because people associate it with Roger Sherman of Connecticut.  Actually, Mark David Hall, in his recent, excellent biography of Roger Sherman, shows that Sherman had this idea at least five years earlier.  That is, Sherman had proposed the idea of a bicameral congress with one house apportioned by population and equal votes for all the states at least as early as 1782.  It seems to me that it’s correct to associate this idea with him.

Mike:  One of the other notes here that I would just make about Roger Sherman is that Sherman’s name is on the ink that’s dry on all those parchments on every significant act of the American Revolution, the Articles of Association, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, Northwest Ordinance, U.S. Constitution.  Sherman is there at every step of the way.  That bio, I haven’t read it yet.  I bought it but it’s one of those books I’ve got sitting there in that pile that’s about six and a half feet tall now.

Gutzman:  You can find a review of it online at The American Conservative website by some guy named Gutzman.  Another interesting thing to notice about Sherman, besides the fact that he’s credited with working out this arrangement about Congress, is that when in the First Congress Madison proposed amendments to the Constitution that we now think of as the Bill of Rights, Madison actually had in mind that they should be sprinkled through the Constitution.  You would have, for example, the recognition of a right to trial by jury in civil cases, that would be at the appropriate point in Article III.  The ban on Congress establishing religion, that would be in Article I, Section 10, and so on.


You wouldn’t have the First Amendment, Second Amendment and so on tacked onto the end of the Constitution.  It was Sherman who said: No, I don’t think we should do it the way Madison is proposing because the Constitution itself, the main body is going to be of more authority.  That’s the part that was written in Philadelphia.  I think that we should add amendments to the end of the Constitution.  Madison, as is typical in these instances, argues: No, that’s not the way we ought to do it.  But Congress voted Madison down, so that’s why we have what we now think of as the Bill of Rights being the first ten amendments.  This was Roger Sherman’s idea.

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Mike:  Professor, that’s all the time we have today.  We covered a lot of ground here today.  You people have all the ammo you need now to shoot down nationalists and their ridiculous statements about how the “We the people” clause formed one government of one people of one blob of Americans.

End Mike Church Show Transcript

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