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title:“Newspaper Report of Pennsylvania Convention Proceedings”
date written:1787-12-8

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:02 a.m. UTC
retrieved:June 26, 2022, 10:50 a.m. UTC

"Newspaper Report of Pennsylvania Convention Proceedings." 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. 528-31. Print.

Newspaper Report of Pennsylvania Convention Proceedings (December 8, 1787)

Findley: On Saturday last, in the course of an argument to prove the dissolution of the trial by jury, if the proposed system was adopted, and the consequent sacrifice of the liberties of the people, Mr. Findley observed, that when the trial by jury, which was known in Sweden so late as the middle of the last century, fell into disuse, the commons of that nation lost their freedom and a tyrannical aristocracy prevailed.
James Wilson and Thomas McKean interrupted Mr. Findley and called warmly for his authority to prove that the trial by jury existed in Sweden, Mr. Wilson declaring that he had never met with such an idea in the course of his reading; and Mr. M'Kean asserting that the trial by jury was never known in any other country than England and the governments descended from that kingdom.1 Mr. Findley answered that he did not, at that moment, recollect his authority, but having formerly read histories of Sweden, he had received and retained the opinion which he now advanced, and would on a future occasion, perhaps, refer immediately to the book.
On Saturday last a very warm altercation passed in the Convention, of which we submit to our readers the following impartial statement.
Mr. M'Kean, rising in consequence of the repeated call of the opposition for an answer to their arguments, observed, that the observations and objections were so often reiterated, that most of them had already been replied to, and in his opinion, all the objections which had been made to the proposed plan might have been delivered in the space of two hours; so he concluded, that the excess of time had been consumed in trifling and unnecessary debate. In reply to these observations, Mr. Smilie remarked, that the honorable gentleman had treated the opposition with contempt; and with a magisterial air had condemned their arguments. He was about to proceed in his animadversion upon the conduct of the majority, who presumed thus, he added, upon their numbers, when several members started up, but at length, Mr. Chambers claimed the attention of the President. He began a speech of some length with terming Mr. Smilie's language indecent, because, he said, it alluded to Mr. M'Kean as a judge. He then proceeded with great heat to reprobate the behavior of the three gentlemen who managed the arguments against the proposed system, and declared that they had abused the indulgence which the other side of the house had granted to them in consenting to hear all their reasons. He next animadverted upon the characters of those who composed the opposition, and loudly asked, where had they been found in the day of danger? Thence drawing contrast between them and the representatives of Pennsylvania in the late Federal Convention, who were, he remarked, men of as great talents and patriotism, as good generals and statesmen, as any that had appeared in the business of the Revolution. From this ground he took an opportunity of saying something about those Englishmen who had arrived in this country since the peace, and who had presumed to judge for themselves respecting the politics of Pennsylvania. He referred to Mr. Findley's having no more than two votes as a delegate to the Federal Convention, in order to show the insignificance of his character, and the wisdom of Pennsylvania, which would not admit of his being elected on that occasion. He then adverted to the character of Mr. M'Kean, which he asserted was superior to all attacks, and concluded with declaring that everything which had been offered by the opposition was, in his judgment, trifling and unnecessary. When Mr. Chambers had finished, Mr. Smilie appealed to the candor of the Convention, whether he had used a single word which could be deemed indecent and which was not fairly justified by the conduct to which he had alluded. He feelingly exclaimed that he was pleading for the interests of his country, and that no character should influence, and no violence overawe his proceedings. For, he not only claimed the free exercise of speech as a right, but he would exercise it as a duty. Mr. Findley followed, promising that he should take very little notice of the speech delivered by Mr. Chambers, as, indeed, he had never found occasion to take much notice of anything that dropt from that quarter. He would observe, however, that the characteristic of the conduct of the honorable member in public bodies was to discourse without reason and to talk without argument. Here a considerable cry of order arose, and Mr. Findley said he would only add, that he always wished to avoid an investigation of characters, but at least, he would take care never to engage on that subject but with a competent judge. During some disturbance in the house, Mr. Chambers retorted that he had a perfect contempt both for Mr. Findley's arguments and person, and Mr. Findley closed the altercation with declaring that he saw no reason for dispute, since he and Mr. Chambers were in that respect so perfectly agreed. Mr. M'Pherson stated to the chair the impropriety of such proceedings, and observed that the member from Fayette had not satisfactorily shown in what manner the member from the city (Thomas McKean) had spoken indecent language to justify the retort that had been made. Mr. Findley then remarked that when a member undertook personally to dictate to the Convention, he was an object of personal animadversion, for, it was only by motion and resolve of the whole body that their proceedings were to be governed.
Mr. Smilie said, he had in his opinion satisfactorily shown the ground upon which he had spoken, for he had referred to the recollection of the Convention, that Mr. M'Kean treated the arguments of the opposition as trifling and contemptible, and this with a magisterial air which was all the retort he had made. To this Mr. Findley subjoined that he did not rise to argue upon the question, but to claim what was just and right; he therefore referred it to the President to determine, whether he or his coadjutors had transgressed any of the established rules of the Convention? Upon this the President said, it was true that no positive rule had been transgressed, but he could not avoid considering Mr. Smilie's language highly improper. On this there was a unanimous cry of adjourn, which at last, put a stop to the altercation.

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