Sunday, August 3, 2008

Delegates with asterisks

The original United States Constitution, without amendments, was ratified at a convention: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 held in Philadelphia. At the time there was significant controversy over the very idea of a Constitution that would robustly unify the states by granting a national government serious powers. The version of the Constitution that was voted upon contained all sorts of compromises so it would get enough votes to pass. As the list below indicates, even with the compromises not every delegate voted in favor of the U.S. Constitution, a document that has become a model for modern democracies all over the world.

I can understand why for reasons either of principle or pragmatism, some delegates voted against the 1787 Constitution. But the delegates who voted against the Constitution held views that I do not think I would have agreed with at the time. Regardless, every delegate explained his (and of course the delegates to the 1787 Convention were all men) reasons for voting as he did, in the days leading up to the vote and as the final language of the Constitution was being debated. The group assembled chose to use democratic procedures to govern their convention, and they stuck to those procedures. Because of that, I respect the vote of each delegate to the 1887 Constitutional Convention, even those delegates with asterisks.

Today, of course, delegates to the Democratic National Convention face a situation that is, in its own way, as charged as the the situation that confronted the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention had to decide whether to cater to short term pressures or whether to think of the the bigger picture; they had to respect the will and interests of their constituencies and use their consciences to analyze what would seriously count as showing such respect.

As the delegates today wrestle with these questions, I would encourage them to picture a list like the one below but with their names on it, indicating who voted how when the chips were down.

* indicates delegates who did not sign the Constitution


William Samuel Johnson
Roger Sherman
Oliver Ellsworth (Elsworth)*


George Read
Gunning Bedford, Jr.
John Dickinson
Richard Bassett
Jacob Broom


William Few
Abraham Baldwin
William Houstoun*
William L. Pierce*


James McHenry
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer
Daniel Carroll
Luther Martin*
John F. Mercer*


Nathaniel Gorham
Rufus King
Elbridge Gerry*
Caleb Strong*

New Hampshire

John Langdon
Nicholas Gilman

New Jersey

William Livingston
David Brearly (Brearley)
William Paterson (Patterson)
Jonathan Dayton
William C. Houston*

New York

Alexander Hamilton
John Lansing, Jr.*
Robert Yates*

North Carolina

William Blount
Richard Dobbs Spaight
Hugh Williamson
William R. Davie*
Alexander Martin*


Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Mifflin
Robert Morris
George Clymer
Thomas Fitzsimons (FitzSimons; Fitzsimmons)
Jared Ingersoll
James Wilson
Gouverneur Morris

South Carolina

John Rutledge
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
Charles Pinckney
Pierce Butler

Rhode Island

Rhode Island did not send delegates
to the Constitutional Convention.


John Blair
James Madison Jr.
George Washington
George Mason*
James McClurg*
Edmund J. Randolph*
George Wythe*


Anonymous untilthelastdogdies said...

Perfect history lesson Heidi-Li Feldman!

In the end, it always comes down to History...she is a fickle mistress and, more often times than not, will find a way to hold those betraying her accountable.

I sincerely hope this message isn't lost on each and every delegate at the Democratic National Convention, not just those pledged to Senator Clinton!

August 3, 2008 at 1:31 PM  

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