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title:“James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention”
authors:James Wilson
date written:1787-12-11

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retrieved:Jan. 23, 2018, 7:55 a.m. UTC

Wilson, James. "James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention." The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Vol. 3. Ed. Max Farrand. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911. Print.

James Wilson in the Pennsylvania Convention (December 11, 1787)

December 11, 1787.
The singular unanimity that has attended the whole progress of their business will in the minds of those considerate men, who have not had opportunity to examine the general and particular interest of their country, prove to their satisfaction that it is an excellent constitution, and worthy to be adopted, ordained and established, by the people of the United States.
. . . We were told some days ago, by the honorable gentleman from Westmoreland (Mr. Findley,) when speaking of this system and its objects, that the convention, no doubt, thought they were forming a compact or contract of the greatest importance. Sir, I confess I was much surprised at so late a stage of the debate to hear such principles maintained. It was matter of surprise to see the great leading principle of this system still so very much misunderstood. "The convention, no doubt, thought they were forming 'a contract!' " I cannot answer for what every member thought; but I believe it cannot be said that they thought they were making a contract, because I cannot discover the least trace of a compact in that system.1 There can be no compact unless there are more parties than one. It is a new doctrine that one can make a compact with himself. "The convention were forming compacts!" With whom? I know no bargains that were made there. I am unable to conceive who the parties could be. The State governments make a bargain with one another; that is the doctrine that is endeavored to be established by gentlemen in opposition; their State sovereignties wish to be represented! But far other were the ideas of this convention, and far other are those conveyed in the system itself.
. . . I do not think, that in the powers of the Senate, the distinction is marked with so much accuracy as I wished, and still wish; . . .
. . . Neither the President nor the Senate solely, can complete a treaty; they are checks upon each other, and are so balanced as to produce security to the people.2
I might suggest other reasons, to add weight to what has already been offered, but I believe it is not necessary; yet let me, however, add one thing, the Senate is a favorite with many of the States, and it was with difficulty that these checks could be procured; it was one of the last exertions of conciliation, in the late convention, that obtained them.
. . . The manner of appointing the President of the United States, I find, is not objected to, therefore I shall say little on that point. But I think it well worth while to state to this house, how little the difficulties, even in the most difficult part of this system, appear to have been noticed by the honorable gentlemen in opposition. The Convention, Sir, were perplexed with no part of this plan so much as with the mode of choosing the President of the United States. For my own part, I think the most unexceptionable mode, next after the one prescribed in this Constitution, would be that practised by the eastern States, and the State of New York; yet if gentlemen object, that an eighth part of our country forms a district too large for elections, how much more would they object, if it was extended to the whole Union! On this subject, it was the opinion of a great majority in Convention, that the thing was impracticable; other embarrassments presented themselves.
Was the president to be appointed by the legislature? Was he to continue a certain time in office, and afterwards was he to become ineligible?
. . . To avoid the inconveniences already enumerated, and many others that might be suggested, the mode before us was adopted.
[Footnotes as included or written by Farrand]
  • 1 Yet Wilson had said on November 24 (see CXLII above), "Providence has designed us for an united people, under one great political compact."
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