May 29, 1787
After these few short days of the convention here in Philadelphia, I
realized that it would be important to keep personal records of this
convention to assist in future discussion. This will also help me with
remembering details of the events.
Today the “Virginia Plan” was presented by that state’s delegates.
They proposed a series of many resolutions that seemed well thought out to
me. The plan was written by James Madison but was given to us by Edmund
Randolph who was a very effective speaker and clear orator.
I enjoyed listening to the resolutions and the fresh new ideas I heard
in the Virginia Plan. First, the Virginia Plan recommended a bicameral
legislature with representation to be determined by the size of the
population in each area. The lower body of this legislature would be
elected by voters while the upper house would be elected by the members of
the lower house.
Every night the delegates go down to the taverns at Head House Square
and discuss what they have heard. I will debate with them the notions
which we have been privy to. One of my personal goals of this convention
is to talk freely with Ben Franklin about his ideas about government. Mr.
Franklin has traveled widely and has seen many nations. He is old and wise
and I want to talk to him before he passes away. Right now he is at the
age of 81, I think.
Recently the convention has become vexatious. The summers in this
towne are very humid. We are forced to keep the window open everywhere.
Flies are about at all times and it is hard to concentrate. Also, some of
the discussions at this convention are sluggish and tiresome.
One good thing about the weather is that it has given me time to
reflect on the Virginia Plan proposed a few day ago.
The one point I disagree with regarding the Virginia Plan is that it
gives more power to all the states with higher population, thus giving the
smaller states no voice.
It is a shame that Tom Jefferson, Mr. Madison’s Virginia neighbor, is
not here. He feels that we are trampling upon the poor farmers. It’s
reported that he feels there should be a new government set up every few
years because any existing government becomes tyrannical. We must take
into regard people who feel this way. I hope we can prove Mr. Jefferson
wrong by showing that a stronger, consistent government can protect all its
Today I stayed home sick. I was well leeched and now feel much
I realized today that I should have begun this diary with the points
on the convention that we have all unanimously agreed upon, before it
First, we agreed that these meetings should be closed to the public so
that there could be frank debate and discussion about government, people,
and problems. The next thing agreed was that each state could have one
vote on topics, making all states equal. Finally we all agreed that no
subject could be closed permanently, even if it had been previously voted
on. These points have been ALL very helpful in making things run smoothly.
Today I took a walk down along the Delaware River with New York’s
Alexander Hamilton. Despite my personal feelings that Mr. Hamilton is a
autocrat who cares little about most people, I found him enjoyable to talk
to. Mr Hamilton has written much about the need for a federal government.
When I asked him about this, he commented that “Unless we place country
under the foundation of the law, we cannot survive.”
Today several of the delegates and I, including James Madison, went to
visit John Bartram out in the countryside surrounding Philadelphia. His
house was large and his gardens beautiful. Dr. Bartram has researched
vegetation and knows much about what to grow and when. His approach is
scientific and he has found many new types of plants. I admire his
Eighteen days after the Virginia Plan was proposed, the first
alternative plan came up. The very scholarly William Patterson introduced
today the “New Jersey Plan”. This plan proposed some interesting ideas of
how the government should be run. It suggests a single house of congress
which would appoint the executive branch and the courts. In this congress,
each state would get one vote (not very different from what we have at this
convention). Also in this congress, they planned to add two new powers:
taxation and the regulation of commerce (something I feel is very
important). Finally this plan named the power of the national government
as the greatest law of the land, as it could override anything from the
I am going to have to try harder to actually have my long awaited
conversation with Mr. Franklin. It seems every time I approach him, he is
busy. Tonight I’m going to sleep early. We have a long discussion of the
New Jersey plan tomorrow.
After four days of discussing the New Jersey plan, we have finally
rejected both the New Jersey plan and the Virginia plan. We have discovered
that one problem we had until today was that we had never formally voted to
discard the Articles of Confederation. Finally, today, we have set the
Articles aside and now we can right past wrongs. The inability to regulate
trade and commerce between the states, maintain order and levy taxes of the
Confederation made its government ineffectual.
Roger Sherman of Connecticut says he has a solution. He is going to
propose it on the twenty-fifth. Perhaps this will be the perfect plan.
I decided today to talk to Roger Sherman over lunch and try to gather
a piece of information on the plan that will come tomorrow. The roast
chicken lunch was excellent! Unfortunately, all I learned from my
conversation is that his plan will incorporate the best ideas from both the
Virginia and the New Jersey plan.
Today Mr. Sherman gave his presentation which took me by total
surprise! It was incredible organized and greatly accepted. Mr. Sherman
opened saying he listened quietly to all the proceeding and came up with a
plan that will agree with everyone, because it has the best points of each
He proposed having the bicameral legislature of the Virginia Plan, but
now there would be one house from each plan! The Virginia Plan suggested a
population based house, which Mr. Serman calls the House of
Representatives. He also thought we should have another house where each
state has one vote, the “Senate”. After some talk we agreed the senate
should instead have two members for each state instead of one.
Today, more elements came out of Rodger Sherman’s plan of
“compromise”, which Mr. James Madison (who is in great favor of this plan)
has coined the phrase “The Great Compromise”.
Mr. Sherman now suggests if we have any law going into effect as a
bill, it should pass through both houses of Congress before it can be
approved by a president. I think this is a excellent way to give equal
power to both houses! More details will come out over the next week or so.
I will give a summary of those ideas then.
This past week and a half have been incredibly productive! We have
finished many important details and have a few problems left. The first
point agreed on was the base of powers would be the national government,
and it would give reserved powers to the state (similar to the power idea
of the New Jersey plan).
Next thing we did (which I felt we should have done earlier), was
clarify and have a definite government set. We decided to have the three
branches of government of legislative (two houses), the judicial (a Supreme
court going absolutely by the constitution), and, finally, the executive.
We next agreed that when voting for the President and the
Vice-President, the votes should be counted under an electoral college.
The electoral college would be based on the number of people in congress
representing each state.
The final thing we did was we found problems with how the slave
population should be counted or if slavery should be abolished. We will
begin work on this tomorrow. With all this new sudden progress, I regret
not having more time around this beautiful, big city.
These days are going by much quicker compared to when we first arrived
here. The weather has improved, not much, but it is notably cooler.
In our discussions of slavery, some of us (including myself), brought
into question abolishing slavery altogether. Unfortunately, Georgia and
South Carolina brought up the fact that if we abolished slavery, it would
never be accepted by many states, and we would defeat the purpose of
holding this convention at all, which is bringing these states together
under a government. I know that what these delegates say is true, even
though I wish it were not that way! We then agreed to count slaves as part
of the population but as three-fifths of it.
Today we finally agreed on all our discussion points and will begin
debating, discussing, and writing this document until September
seventeenth, when it will be read out and those who wish to, will sign it.
After all these days since I first got here in Philadelphia, I finally
got to have lunch with Mr. Franklin. It was truly a great experience
talking to a man that had accomplished so much. I asked him what he thought
of the constitutional work that had been done thus far. He told me he did
not agree with everything in the document, but he knew it was necessary and
thus supported it. We then talked about the city, I learned it was planned
to continually expand much larger. In our conversation I mentioned the
great art work of the sun on the horizon behind Mr. Washington’s seat. He
told me he had not noticed it and would look.
When we met back in the convention later, we discussed for about an
hour many finalizing topics. When Mr. Washington said “If there are no
final questions… this meeting will be adjourned.” “I have one…” called
out Mr. Franklin “On the picture of the sun behind you, is that sun rising
or is it setting ?”. We all knew that Mr. Franklin was being symbolic and
really asking if this was the beginning or the end of a country. Mr.
Washington grinned. “It is rising…” He replied. This concludes the
records of my trip to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, 1787.