edmund-randolph

This is the fourth post in our series leading up to the 225th anniversary of the Constitution.

By the time everyone else showed up in Philadelphia, the Virginia delegation, at the urging of James Madison, had a series of proposals for the new government. On May 29, Edmund Randolph presented 15 resolutions known as the Virginia Plan.

 The Convention immediately considered each resolution, and, in a matter of days, the delegates agreed on the following points:

  • The government should be divided into legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
  • The legislative branch should consist of two houses.
  • The first house of the legislature should be elected by the people of each state.
  • The second house of the legislature should be elected by members of the first house.

Wait.

What?

The Virginia Plan included many fundamental concepts of U.S. government and provided a great starting point for discussion of the new government. It was not, however, a perfect plan. It also included ideas that seem strange in contrast to the familiar framework spelled out in the final Constitution.

Some of the more jarring proposals in the Virginia Plan include:

  • Members elected to the first house should serve for three years.
  • The executive branch should be elected by the legislature and serve a term of seven years.
  • The number of representatives each state has in the legislature should be based on how much money that state contributes to the national government.

The debates that wrought Randolph’s initial proposals in to the finished document were, by turns, coolly rational and hotly contested, but the Virginia Plan defined the scope of the discussion from the very beginning.

(Image: Assembly Room in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, PA.)

A people who mean to be free must be prepared to meet danger in person, and not rely upon the fallacious protection of armies.
—  Edmund Randolph (1753-1813)
Virginia delegate at the US Constitutional Convention, 1787

Earlier in the Convention, the body had declared that representation would be based on “wealth.” [Edmund] Randolph now proposed substituting the wording of the three-fifths clause for the word “wealth.” This led to yet one more debate over the three-fifths clause. This debate revealed the deep animosities that had developed between some northern and southern delegates.

Gouverneur Morris mocked the attempt to replace the word “wealth” with the three-fifths clause. If slaves were “property,” then “the word wealth was right, and striking it out would produce the very inconsistency which it was meant to get rid of.” Morris then launched into a full-scale attack of southern demands. In the process he suggested that a peaceful end to the Convention, and the Union itself, might be in order. Morris asserted that, until this point in the Convention, he had believed that the distinction between northern and southern states was “heretical.” Somewhat disingenuously, he declared that he “still thought the [sectional] distinction groundless.” But he saw that it was “persisted in; and that the Southern Gentlemen will not be satisfied unless they see the way open to their gaining a majority in the public Councils.” The North naturally demanded “some defence” against this. Morris thus concluded:

“Either this distinction is fictitious or real: if fictitious let it be dismissed and let us proceed with due confidence. If it be real, instead of attempting to blend incompatible things, let us at once take a friendly leave of each other. There can be no end of demands for security if every particular interest is to be entitled to it.”

Morris argued that the North had as much to fear from the South as the South had to fear from the North.

South Carolina’s Pierce Butler responded with equal candor: “The security the Southn. States want is that their negroes may not be taken from them which some gentlemen within or without doors, have a very good mind to do.” For the rest of the Convention, Butler and his southern colleagues would remain vigilant in protecting this interest.

—  Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the Founders
We're reenacting the Constitutional Convention in History today.

Heck yeah! Except I don’t get to sign the Constitution since I’m Edmund Randolph. But I was aide-de-camp to George Washington during the American Revolution. And I was Governor of Virginia. And I proposed the Virginia Plan. And I came up with the idea of the Supreme Court. So I kick ass and am going to talk a lot. Whoop whoop!

George Washington 03/18/1784

Under this information and what follows, you will be so good as to do what shall appear necessary & proper in my behalf—The Lands, by the Proclamation and Patents, are exempted from the payment of quitrent, ’till the expiration of fifteen years from & after the date of the latter: but my ignorance of the existing Laws of this State, since the change of its constitution, does not enable me to determine whether the old Act requiring cultivation & improvement, is yet in force, or not; consequently I can give no opinion upon the proper line of conduct to be pursued.

Source: George Washington to Edmund Randolph

"Williamsburg, which has hitherto been proverbial for general Health, is now notorious for the Contrary"

“Our Soldiery are in a Situation, truly distressing to themselves, and the Country. To themselves, as they are now labouring under severe Autumnal Disorders, many of which prove Mortal, and to the Country, as we are apprehensive, that the upland People, on whom we chiefly depend for the Recruits, should be disgusted with the Service in the lower Parts which engender such Maladies. From what Cause the present general Sickness proceeds, I know not: but Wmsbrg, which has hitherto been proverbial for general Health, is now notorious for the Contrary. The Assembly talk out of Doors upon the Subject of new Levies: but for God’s Sake from whence are they to be obtained? I hear, that our second Regiment, whose Term of Inlistment expired in September last, has little Prospect of Renewal: An ungenerous Neglect prevails in the upper Counties concerning the Defence of the lower. To be ingenuous, I am afraid, we can get neither Clothing or Arms for any more Troops.” [1776 October 11, Edmund Randolph to George Washington] 

En defensa del jurado popular: Edmund Randolph.

Intervención de Edmund Randolph, delegado de Virginia en la Convención Constitucional de Filadelfia, el 6 de julio de 1788. Randolph más tarde promovería el Plan de Virginia, elaborado principalmente por James Madison, el cual entre sus propuesta se señala la necesaria adición de los juicios por jurado.

El delegado en su intervención apela por la necesaria introducción de los jurados en la propuesta de Constitución, incluso en los asuntos civiles.

El juicio por jurados en las causas criminales está asegurado; en los asuntos civiles no está expresamente garantizados como desearía, aunque no se sigue señalando que el Congreso tiene el poder de quitar este privilegio que está garantizado por la Constitución de cada estado, y no otorgado por esta constitución. No temo en este tema que el Congreso deba regular con el fin de adaptarse a cada estado. Arriesgaría lo que tengo con la certeza de que van a instituir el juicio por jurado en la forma que se adaptará a las conveniencias de los habitantes en cada estado: la dificultad de determinar estas conveniencias fue la causa principal de que no estuviera previsto.

Lo anterior es una traducción del capítulo CCVI. Edmund Randolph In The Virginia Convention del libro The records of the Federal Convention of 1787, vol. 3 (1911), de Max Farland, el cual es dedominio público como se indica en su licencia de publicación.

Such is the constitution of things that an act of public devotion will receive no opposition from those who believe in its effect to appease offended heaven and is registered in the cabinet of the politician as an allowable trick of political warfare.
—  Edmund Randolph commenting on the plan of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Lee to use a day of fasting and prayer as a political tool, History of Virginia (UVA Press, 1970), 203.