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Join the conversation! There are now 14 comments on “What were they thinking? Pg. 11
  1. Where are those gods among men today? We certainly need some… Although George Will was 180 degrees politically to Senator Moynihan, he praised his as being the “last statesman.” His prediction seems to be too true.

    • In some sense, the colonies were much more united then than America is today, in that they largely had a similar idea of the world they were going for even if everyone had a different idea of how to get it. There was much less difference between rebels and loyalists in worldview than there is between the progressive left and the right wing – that division is largely rooted in post-Constitutional politics (not just slavery, though that’s a large part of what originally unified the spiritual ancestors of our modern American neofascists).

      In modern America, anyone who would be a god to the left would be a baby-murdering sociopath to the right, and vice versa. There is no way that we could get a constitutional convention with the consent of both groups.

      • I think you’re massively overstating the political divide. Regardless of political ideology, we still consider ourselves Americans, and are at the very least united in that respect – hell, one of the defining aspects of American political history and culture is the right to disagree politically. A political divide has always been at work in this country, and it hasn’t always been pleasant.

        Also keep in mind that at this time, people didn’t consider themselves “Americans”, they were “Pennsylvanians” or “Georgians” or “New Yorkers” and the like. In addition to the political issues, the parties were still considering themselves to be sovereign nations. That attitude doesn’t really exist today (well, not mainstream, anyways)

        • I think you’ve swung too far the other way. We all consider ourselves Americans (for the most part), but that means different and often diametrically opposed things to different people. We might all extol “American” values, but we really mean our own personal values, which we project onto the nation. No matter what side someone’s on, they tend to see half the country as the awfulness that’s holding us all back. It’s probably a large part of why copying our style of government hasn’t worked out for countries that have tried.

          • Nobody copies our style of government. Generally, they use a parliament and a prime minister. The electoral college is so bad, we don’t even want to install it in other countries.

            As far as national unity goes, I think most of the differences are either superficial or the result of loud minorities. Like I said, vast differences in opinion have always been part of American culture. In the Constitution’s history, we’ve had 43 changes of power, all of them peaceful transfers, and only one civil war which not only took about 100 years to finally boil over, but was over a far more serious issue than any we experience today (and at a time when nationalism wasn’t that strong). No country on earth can match that record.

            • Hey now, we totally tried to install it in Mexico once! Of course, that version of the Mexican government didn’t last very long. . .

              • And a lot of other Latin American and quite a few African countries have set up Presidential systems. It’s just often devolved into dictatorships, as politicians vested with perceived responsibility but not the power to match it have decided to seize power from other institutions.

  2. OrneryOstrich says

    I don’t think we’ve seen the statesman in the red before. Who is that?

    • He is a bit of artistic license. If I detailed every opposing argument, it would literally take pages of the comic, without really moving the lesson along. Better for the reader if I summarize them all with a single, invented character. Filmmakers do it all the time, right?

      I did strongly consider using Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, though.

      The history books say Pinckney submitted his own draft version of a federal constitution, and it required Congressional assent for any amendment. However, that’s not quite what happened.

      Pinckney was the youngest delegate, 24 years old, and was very well educated and thoughtful. He saw that the Confederation was a disaster, and wanted to go even further than Madison in creating a single nation. He thought the states should give up all sovereignty, that the federal government be the sole sovereign, and that the states should be more like counties under its administration.

      When he and the other delegates started to arrive in Philadelphia, while they crammed into the few inns and waited for everyone else to show up they shared thoughts as well as meals. Madison’s plan was probably getting kicked around informally. And Pinckney drew one up as well. We know this because one of the Delaware delegates, in writing to another to urge him to hurry up and get here, described a proposal he’d gotten a copy of, and it matches some very unique terms of Pinckney’s later description of his plan. There is no mention of any amendment process, however.

      And there’s reason to doubt Pinckney ever actually submitted his plan.

      On May 29th, the convention finally got going: the rules were adopted and Randolph opened the main business by laying Madison’s “Virginia Plan” before the convention, explaining why the Articles had to go, and why this new federal republic was the solution. Why we had to be one nation. Why there had to be a system of checks and balances. Why there had to be a House elected by the people, and a Senate to represent the states. What powers the various branches needed, and why there should be limited powers. And so forth. It was a good speech, and a long one, and it got everyone’s attention.

      At this point, Madison and Yates’s notes say that Pinckney now got up, said very briefly that he’d drafted his own version of a federal constitution, on much the same principles, and would also submit it for consideration. Nobody else seemed to notice, however. Later, Pinckney would later admit that he was more than a bit shy in the presence of so many great men on so solemn an occasion.

      The details of Pinckney’s plan were never described in the record, and it was never brought up for discussion again. There is no record that he ever submitted anything. Eventually, on July 24, as a housekeeping matter, Pinckney’s plan was taken off the table.

      After the convention was over, Pinckney privately published a pamphlet, purporting to be the speech he’d made when proposing his plan… a day before the Virginia Plan, on the 28th. It may have been the speech he had MEANT to give, had he not been so diffident. But I am convinced that, at least with respect to amendments, he composed it much later.

      In the pamphlet version, Pinckney said an amendment process would be necessary, because “it is difficult to form a government so perfect as to render alterations unnecessary.” This conflicts, however, with his assertion at the Convention on June 5 that putting such a provision in the Constitution was neither necessary nor wise.

      Also, the process he recommended in the pamphlet was not at all one that came up early on in the convention. On the contrary, other stuff was getting batted around until late July before someone would come up with that idea, and it wasn’t Pinckney. I won’t go into detail because no spoilers.

      (You know, I haven’t seen any other scholar making my last two points. I should take all my notes on this and publish a little monograph that can collect dust in some small library somewhere.)

      Then there are the Wilson papers. James Wilson was on the Committee of Detail that took all the resolutions that had passed, and assembled them into a working draft of the Constitution for the delegates to consider. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, and so he never told anyone what they did. But he died in 1798, bankrupt, and when his library was sold off to pay debts, his son kept Wilson’s private papers. He had no clue what a trove he possessed, including the original drafts of the Constitution. Those papers and others went to the son’s niece, who also had no idea what they were, and in the Centennial year of 1876 she donated them to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (who thought the donation “a bit thin” and also did not realize what they’d just been given). Not until 1903 would anyone discover that (among a bunch of crap) these papers contained not just A draft of the Constitution, but SUCCESSIVE drafts, allowing us to see the thought process unfold, to see “We the People” scribbled upside down a few times, as if someone across the table was trying to make a point, and also to see (among other things) James Wilson’s outline of the Pinckney Plan. And then a second version of notes on that, as well.

      Going by Wilson’s outline, Pinckney did provide for amendments, but did not specify any process. All he said was that “the assent of [Pinckney’s very original conception of Congress] shall be sufficient to invest additional powers in” the federal government, and that Congress’s assent was enough for that to be binding on everyone.

      This fits Pinckney’s perspective. He wanted a strong federal government. He wanted that government to have sovereignty, like Parliament. He had no concept of the People taking BACK powers from the feds, only of the feds taking ON more powers. His fear wasn’t that we might be giving the feds too much authority, but that we might not be giving them enough!

      But it’s not a copy of Pinckney’s plan. It’s just Wilson’s notes about it. Madison later (much later) wrote that the plan never really got transcribed.

      And none of this comports at all with what historians used to consider gospel when it comes to the Pinckney Plan. In 1819, John Quincy Adams published a journal of the Convention of 1787, and gathered papers from as many participants as he could. In 1818, he reached out to Pinckney, asking for a copy of his Plan. Pinckney said he had a few different drafts lying around, and couldn’t remember which was the one he’d submitted, but he was enclosing the most likely one. Given that it was written on the same kind of paper, with the same ink, same watermark, and same handwriting as its accompanying letter, it’s safe to assume it hadn’t been lying around, but was reconstructed on the spot from memory. (32 years later.)

      This 1819 version is very close to what the final version of the Constitution says, if awkwardly worded, and isn’t remotely related to anything Pinckney ever said. Nevertheless, for years it was the official version. (When Madison got around to reading it at the age of 80, he immediately called bullshit. But in a way that is just so… Madison.)

      So in the end I figured it’s impossible to ascribe anything directly to Pinckney here. And apart from him there were so many other people with opposing views… Artistic License Guy was definitely the way to go.

      And that’s just the thought process for one character, in one panel, on one page. It’s astonishing how much research DOESN’T make it into this comic.

      (Feel free to quote that last line out of context.)

      • That should be the jacket quote for the dead tree edition of this section. “It’s astonishing how much research DOESN’T make it into this comic.”

  3. Gregory T. Bogosian says

    “Rev… Resolution.” He was going to say revolution but then corrected to resolution. Nice Freudian slip.

    • I think he started to say *revision*, and then corrected himself so as to maintain the pretense that his document was just an early draft, open to changes. A lot of the delegates weren’t, at least at first, sold on the project of completely rewriting the Articles of Confederation, and he didn’t want to spook them by admitting, too early in the game, that that was the real goal.

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