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THE JOURNALS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION. - James Madison, The Writings, vol. 3 (1787) 
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). Vol. 3.
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THE JOURNALS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION.
James Madison’s contemporaries generally conceded that he was the leading statesman in the convention which framed the Constitution of the United States; but in addition to this he kept a record of the proceedings of the convention which outranks in importance all the other writings of the founders of the American Republic. He is thus identified, as no other man is, with the making of the Constitution and the correct interpretation of the intentions of the makers. His is the only continuous record of the proceedings of the convention. He took a seat immediately in front of the presiding officer, facing the members, and took down every speech or motion as it was made, using abbreviations of his own and immediately afterwards transcribing his notes when he returned to his lodgings. A few motions only escaped him and of important speeches he omitted none. The proceedings were ordered to be kept secret, but his self-imposed task of reporter had the unofficial sanction of the convention. Alexander Hamilton corrected slightly Madison’s report of his great speech and handed him his plan of government to copy. The same thing was done with Benjamin Franklin’s speeches, which were written out by Franklin and read by his colleague Wilson, the fatigue of delivery being too great for the aged Franklin, and Madison also copied the Patterson plan. Edmund Randolph wrote out for him his opening speech from his notes two years after the convention adjourned.1
In the years after the convention Madison made a few alterations and additions in his journal, with the result that in parts there is much interlineation and erasure, but after patient study the meaning is always perfectly clear. Three different styles of Madison’s own penmanship at different periods of his life appear in the journal, one being that of his old age within five years of his death. In this hand appears the following note at the end of the journal: “The few alterations and corrections made in the debates which are not in my handwriting were dictated by me and made in my presence by John C. Payne.”2 The rare occasions where Payne’s penmanship is distinguishable are indicated in the notes to this edition.
The importance attached by Madison to his record is shown by the terms of his will, dated April 15, 1835, fourteen months before his death:
“I give all my personal estate ornamental as well as useful, except as herein after otherwise given, to my dear Wife; and I also give to her all my manuscript papers, having entire confidence in her discreet and proper use of them, but subject to the qualification in the succeeding clause. Considering the peculiarity and magnitude of the occasion which produced the Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, the Characters who composed it, the Constitution which resulted from their deliberations, its effects during a trial of so many years on the prosperity of the people living under it, and the interest it has inspired among the friends of free Government, it is not an unreasonable inference that a careful and extended report of the proceedings and discussions of that body, which were with closed doors, by a member who was constant in his attendance, will be particularly gratifying to the people of the United States, and to all who take an interest in the progress of political science and the course of true liberty. It is my desire that the Report as made by me should be published under her authority and direction.”1
This desire was never consummated, for Mrs. Madison’s friends advised her that she could not herself profitably undertake the publication of the work, and she accordingly offered it to the Government, by which it was bought for $30,000, by act of Congress, approved March 3, 1837. On July 9, 1838, an act was approved authorizing the Joint Committee on the Library to cause the papers thus purchased to be published, and the Committee intrusted the superintendence of the work to Henry D. Gilpin, Solicitor of the Treasury. The duplicate copy of the journal which Mrs. Madison had delivered was, under authority of Congress, withdrawn from the State Department and placed in Mr. Gilpin’s hands. In 1840 (Washington: Lantree & O’Sullivan), accordingly, appeared the three volumes, The Papers of James Madison Purchased by Order of Congress, edited by Henry D. Gilpin. Other issues of this edition, with changes of date, came out later in New York, Boston, and Mobile. This issue contained not only the journal of the Constitutional Convention, but Madison’s notes of the debates in the Continental Congress and in the Congress of the Confederation from February 19 to April 25, 1787, and a report Jefferson had written of the debates in 1776 on the Declaration of Independence, besides a number of letters of Madison’s. From the text of Gilpin a fifth volume was added to Elliot’s Debates in 1845, and it was printed in one volume in Chicago, 1893.
Mr. Gilpin’s reading of the duplicate copy of the Madison journal is thus the only one that has hitherto been published.1 His work was both painstaking and thorough, but many inaccuracies and omissions have been revealed by a second reading from the original manuscript journal written in Madison’s own hand, just as he himself left it; and this original manuscript has been followed with rigid accuracy in the text of the present edition.
The editor has compared carefully with Madison’s report, as the notes will show, the incomplete and less important records of the convention, kept by others. Of these, the best known is that of Robert Yates, a delegate in the convention from New York, who took notes from the time he entered the convention, May 25, to July 5, when he went home to oppose what he foresaw would be the result of the convention’s labors. These notes were published in 1821 (Albany), edited by Yates’s colleague in the convention, John Lansing, under the title, Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the Year 1787, for the Purpose of Forming the Constitution of the United States of America. This was afterwards reprinted in several editions and in the three editions of The Debates on the Federal Constitution, by Jonathan Elliot (Washington, 1827-1836). Madison pronounced Yates’s notes “Crude and broken.” “When I looked over them some years ago,” he wrote to J. C. Cabell, February 2, 1829, “I was struck with the number of instances in which he had totally mistaken what was said by me, or given it in scraps and terms which, taken without the developments or qualifications accompanying them, had an import essentially different from what was intended.” Yates’s notes were colored by his prejudices, which were strong against the leaders of the convention, but, making allowance for this and for their incompleteness, they are of high value and rank next to Madison’s in importance.
Rufus King, a delegate from Massachusetts, kept a number of notes, scattered and imperfect, which were not published till 1894, when they appeared in King’s Life and Correspondence of Rufus King (New York: Putnam’s).
William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia, made some memoranda of the proceedings of the convention, and brief and interesting sketches of all the delegates, which were first printed in The Savannah Georgian, April 18-28, 1828, and reprinted in The American Historical Review for January, 1898.
The notes of Yates, King, and Pierce are the only unofficial record of the convention extant, besides Madison’s, and their chief value is in connection with the Madison record, which in the main they support, and which occasionally they elucidate.
December 30, 1818, Charles Pinckney wrote to John Quincy Adams that he had made more notes of the convention than any other member except Madison, but they were never published and have been lost or destroyed.1
In 1819 (Boston) was published the Journal, Acts and Proceedings of the Convention, etc., under the supervision of John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State, by authority of a joint resolution of Congress of March 27, 1818. This was the official journal of the convention, which the Secretary, William Jackson, had turned over to the President, George Washington, when the convention adjourned, Jackson having previously burned all other papers of the convention in his possession. March 16, 1796, Washington deposited the papers Jackson had given him with the Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering. They consisted of three volumes,—the journal of the convention, the journal of the proceedings of the Committee of the Whole of the convention, and a list of yeas and nays, beside a printed draft of the Constitution as reported August 6th, showing erasures and amendments afterwards adopted, and the Virginia plan in different stages of development.
In preparing the matter for publication Secretary Adams found that for Friday, September 14, and Saturday, September 15, the journal was a mere fragment, and Madison was applied to and completed it from his minutes. From General B. Bloomfield, executor of the estate of David Brearley, a delegate in the convention from New Jersey, Adams obtained a few additional papers, and from Charles Pinckney a copy of what purported to be the plan of a constitution submitted by him to the convention. All of these papers, with some others, appeared in the edition of 1819, which was a singularly accurate publication, as comparison by the present editor of the printed page with the original papers has shown.
The Pinckney plan, as it appeared in this edition of the journal, was incorporated by Madison into his record, as he had not secured a copy of it when the convention was sitting. But the draft furnished to Secretary Adams in 1818, and the plan presented by Pinckney to the convention in 1787 were not identical, as Madison conclusively proved in his note to his journal, in his letter to Jared Sparks of November 25, 1831, and in several other letters, in all of which he showed that the draft did not agree in several important respects with Pinckney’s own votes and motions in the convention, and that there were important discrepancies between it and Pinckney’s Observations on the Plan of Government, a pamphlet printed shortly after the convention adjourned.1
It is, indeed, inconceivable that the convention should have incorporated into the constitution so many of the provisions of the Pinckney draft, and that at the same time so little reference should have been made to it in the course of the debates; and it is equally extraordinary that the contemporaries of Pinckney did not accord to him the chief paternity of the Constitution, which honor would have belonged to him if the draft he sent to Mr. Adams in 1818 had been the one he actually offered the convention in the first week of its session. The editor has made a careful examination of the original manuscripts in the case. They consist (1) of Mr. Pinckney’s letter to Mr. Adams of December 12, 1818, written from Wingaw, S. C., while Pinckney was temporarily absent from Charleston, acknowledging Mr. Adams’s request for the draft, (2) his letter of December 30, written from Charleston, transmitting the draft, and (3) the draft. The penmanship of all three papers is contemporaneous, and the letter of December 30 and the draft were written with the same pen and ink. This may possibly admit of a difference of opinion, because the draft is in a somewhat larger chirography than the letter, having been, as befitted its importance, written more carefully. But the letter and the draft are written upon the same paper, and this paper was not made when the convention sat in 1787. There are several sheets of the draft and one of the letter, and all bear the same water-mark—“Russell & Co. 1797.” The draft cannot, therefore, claim to be the original Pinckney plan, and was palpably made for the occasion, from Mr. Pinckney’s original notes doubtless, aided and modified by a copy of the Constitution itself. Thirty years had elapsed since the close of the Constitutional Convention when the draft was compiled, and its incorrectness is not a circumstance to occasion great wonder.1
Correspondence on the subject of the convention, written while it was in session, was not extensive, but some unpublished letters throwing light upon contemporaneous opinion have been found and are quoted in the notes.
The editor desires to record his obligation for assistance in preparing these volumes to his friend, Montgomery Blair, Esq., of Silver Spring, Md.
Cherry Hill Farm, Va.,
[1 ]Madison to Randolph, April 21, 1789.
[2 ]Mrs. Madison’s brother.
[1 ]Orange County, Va., MSS. records.
[1 ]Volume iii of The Documentary History of the United States (Department of State, 1894) is a presentation of a literal print of the original journal, indicating by the use of larger and smaller type and by explanatory words the portions which are interlined or stricken out.
[1 ]See p. 25, n.
[1 ]See P. L. Ford’s Pamphlets on the Constitution, 419.
[1 ]See p. 22, n.