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title:“Alexander J. Dallas' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention”
date written:1787-11-27

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:02 a.m. UTC
retrieved:April 20, 2021, 3:56 p.m. UTC

"Alexander J. Dallas' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 2. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 1976. 370-74. Print.

Alexander J. Dallas' Notes of the Pennsylvania Ratification Convention (November 27, 1787)

ROBERT WHITEHILL offered a resolution declaring that "upon all questions where the yeas and nays were called, any member might insert the reason of his vote upon the Journals of the Convention."
Whitehill: Moves that reasons for yeas and nays may be entered on the Journals.
THOMAS HARTLEY: Sir, before the question on this motion is decided, I should wish to understand how far it extends, and whether, contrary to what I have thought was the sense of the Convention, more than one question will be taken upon the proposed Constitution? If the questions are to be multiplied and protests are to be admitted on each, I shall certainly object to the source of embarrassment, delay, and expense, which this motion will open. But if we are limited to the comprehensive question, "Will you ratify or reject the plan?" then, I think it may be reasonable to allow every man that pleases, to justify his assent or dissent by the motives upon which it may be founded.
THOMAS McKEAN: When we were choosing our printers a few minutes ago, Mr. President, I did not think it a matter of so much importance, as the adoption of the motion before us would render it; for, if every member whenever he pleases shall be at liberty to load our Journals with long and labored arguments, it will be a profitable business, indeed, for those gentlemen that are appointed to publish them. There can, sir, but one question arise in the discussion of the plan that is submitted to us, which is simply, whether we will ratify or reject it; and if the motion were narrowed to that point, I should have no objection to give it my approbation. But on its present ground we would expose ourselves to a scene of altercation highly unbecoming the character and dignity of this body.
Robert Whitehill: I hope, sir, the measure I have proposed will, upon consideration, meet with the favor of the Convention, since the arguments by which it is opposed arise chiefly from a presumption that the liberty it affords will be abused. This Mr. President, ought not to be presumed, but rather that every member entertains so just a sense of his duty to himself and to this Honorable Convention, as to forbear everything, in language or in argument, which will be unbecoming a place in your Journals. In truth, sir, unless we are allowed to insert our reasons, the yeas and nays will be a barren document, from which the public can derive no information, and the minority no justification for their conduct. On the other hand, if we are allowed to state the foundation of our votes, the merits of the Constitution may be proved by the arguments of its advocates, and those who do not consider it to be an immaculate, or even salutary system, will have an opportunity to point out the defects from which their opposition originates. I think, sir, the public have a right in so important a transaction to know the principles upon which their delegates proceed; and it is the just right of every man who is bound by his vote to be permitted to explain it. I cannot, therefore, withdraw or reduce the object of my motion.
Thomas Hartley: Then, sir, if I comprehend the sense of the Convention, we are limited to the one great question which shall decide the fate of the Constitution; and upon that I agree in the propriety of permitting a protest. Let the opponents of the new system state their reasons fully and fairly, it will be the duty of its advocates to refute them upon the same terms, and the record of the whole will be preserved for the information of our constituents. This seems, indeed, to open a door for the renewal of all the arguments which have been previously advanced, but it will answer the same purpose as if protests were entered on each distinct proposition.
ROBERT WHITEHILL: We are now, Mr. President, in full enjoyment of the powers of the mind, and I hope we shall adopt no measure that will tend to curtail the exercise of our faculties. Upon every question that arises, it is in the power of any member to call the yeas and nays, and whenever a vote is registered in that permanent form, it is of no consequence whether it is in the intermediate or conclusive stages of the business, we ought to be permitted to promulge the reasons which have influenced our decisions. Every argument (and gentlemen seem to have conceded the propriety in one case) that will apply to entitle us to protest on the last question will entitle us to that privilege on any preceding one; for, I consider it rather as a right than an indulgence. But, Mr. president, it is said, that we can only have one question in the business before us. If this is true, I see no cause to proceed further. It will be great public saving to recur to that question at once, and we shall by such means escape the absurdity of arguing upon distinct propositions without determining anything with respect to them. Sir, there is no reason to suppose an improper use will be made of this necessary privilege. It is intended as the means of justifying to the people, the conduct of those with whom they have entrusted their dearest interests, and if in the manner or substance it is deficient or improper, the people will pronounce its condemnation. Let them therefore judge; but since we are answerable to them, let us not suppress the means of justification.
Benjamin Rush: I shall certainly, sir, object to any protest, but upon the great question, and even there it is hardly in my opinion proper or necessary. Those, Mr. President, who are in favor of the Constitution will be as anxious to vindicate their opinions as those who are against it; hence, whatever is advanced on one side will draw on a reply upon the other, till the whole debates of the Convention are intruded upon the Journals. The expense and procrastination of this transaction would be intolerable. But, sir, the proceedings of the Convention are stamped with authenticity, and it would be dangerous to suffer protests to be inserted in them which might contain insinuations not founded and consequently produce here what has disgraced the legislature of Pennsylvania, a majority defending themselves from the assertions and misrepresentations of a minority. We know, sir, of what nature the protests will be, and if they bear the complexion of the publications that have lately teemed from the press, I am sure they would not be honorable to this body. The proceedings of the Convention cannot be compared in this respect to the proceedings of the legislature, where protests may lay the foundation of a future revision or repeal of the law to which they object, by laying the necessary information before the people; but we can have no view either to a revision or a repeal, and therefore protests can only serve to distract and perplex the state. If, sir, the proposed plan should be adopted, by this Convention, it will be the duty of every man, particularly those who have opposed it, on the fundamental principles of society, to promote its interests among the people. But, if contrary to my opinion of what is their duty, the minority should persevere in their opposition, I hope they will be left to publish in their own way, without our authority, the motives of their conduct, and let them enjoy all the advantages they may derive from the effects of that publication. Thomas McKean: I shall be satisfied, Mr. President, if the object of the motion is confined to the final question, and indeed, I do not perceive to what other motions it can extend. But it is said no harm will proceed from its adoption agreeably to its present general terms. Sir, all laws are made to prevent evil, upon a supposition that it may occur, and in the instance before us I do not only think it probable, but I have no doubt it will occur. We are again told of the conduct of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, which some gentlemen seem to imagine is an unanswerable argument upon every topic. But even there the practice of protesting has only been introduced since the Revolution, nor was it known, in any province of America, or in occasion been paid to my legal knowledge, with an intention however to depreciate my knowledge of parliamentary proceedings. But the truth is, sir, that those proceedings have both before and since the Revolution formed a great object of my studies, and it has been my lot to have been engaged likewise considerably in the practice. I therefore repeat, confidently, that no precedent of protesting is to be found anywhere but in Pennsylvania. The Lords in England, indeed, enjoy and frequently exercise the privilege; but the reason is, that they are not a representative body, not accountable to any power for their legislative conduct but God and their consciences, and therefore from a desire to preserve their fame and honor free from suspicion and reproach, they render this voluntary account of their actions to the world. The same motive, however, does not prevail with a representative body, the members of which are from time to time responsible to their constituents, and may be elected or removed from their trust according to the proof of their fidelity and industry in discharging it. I have seen, sir, language by such means intruded upon the Journals of the legislature of Pennsylvania, which would have disgraced private club at a tavern. But in the British House of Lords, the language of the protest is under the control of the House, and it is not uncommon to erase sentences and paragraphs, and even whole protests from their records. But Mr. President, there cannot be any necessity for introducing the practice here, unless indeed to indulge the vanity of some gentlemen who wish to turn authors at the public expense, to write discourses upon government and to give them a value and consequence by incorporating them with your proceedings, to which they are not intrinsically entitled. I therefore move, sir, that the motion before you be amended, so as to restrict the right of protesting to the last great question, to adopt or reject the proposed plan.
This motion was seconded by Stephen Chambers.

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