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Historical Commentary

Historical commentary explores the actual events surrounding a document, providing historic context.

Tocqueville would later make a similar observation about the superior bounty of Northern farms.  He pointed out that the land and growing conditions just north and south of the Ohio River were identical in all respects except that the latter is cultivated by slaves.  The farms in Ohio, he claimed, were far more productive than those of Kentucky.  He argued that the existence of slavery demolishes the work ethic and impoverishes the population as a whole.

Annotated by luzzell on December 08, 2014
This was not the first meeting to discuss the crisis of the Articles of Confederation.

From September 11-14, 1786, twelve delegates from five states gathered in Annapolis, Maryland. 

There were twin crises going on that led to Annapolis.  The first was the fact that the federal government was going broke.  It had war debts to pay to European countries, and the government could not bring in enough revenue to pay its debt or its interest on that debt. 

The second issue was the Jay-Gardoqui negotiations.  John Jay and the Spanish negotiated a deal to open up Spanish ports for the Northeast, but Spain refused American rights on the Mississippi River.  In August 1786, the Congress voted down the proposed treaty, which still left the trade situation in trouble.

Although the Continental Congress created this "Annapolis Convention," there were not enough delegates to make a quorum.

Some of the same delegates would come to Philadelphia: James Madison, Edmund Randolph, Alexander Hamilton, John Dickinson, George Read, Richard Bassett, and William Houston.

They recommended a new constitution convention to be held for May 1787.
Annotated by bacraig on November 20, 2014
In this passage, electors would vote for two people for president.  This proved to be problematic in the 1796 and 1800 elections, and it would need another amendment to the constitution to fix it (the Twelve Amendment).

In 1796, John Adams got the majority of the votes, but his party, the Federalists, also voted for a number of other people, which helped lead to Thomas Jefferson getting the second highest number.  Jefferson was from a different party, but yet, he became vice president.

In an effort to unify party voting, electors were encourage to vote the same party in 1800.  Voters expected Thomas Jefferson to be president and Aaron Burr as vice president, but in the end, the election was a tie.  It went to the House of Representatives, and Jefferson won the election.  When in office, Jefferson isolated Burr from any political discussion or policy decisions.
Annotated by bacraig on November 14, 2014
The residency rule was an attempt to block pro-British men who fled the country during the Revolutionary War.  Also, there were Europeans living in the country, like Baron Frederick von Steuben, who came to help the American military during the war.  However, if this one passed, some prominent delegates like Alexander Hamilton would not be eligible to be president right away.
Annotated by bacraig on November 13, 2014
Delegates felt that the president had to be a natural-born citizen or a citizen at the time of the constitution's adoption.

One possible reason to create this requirement was to stop any rumors that delegates were plotting to make a European monarch president of the U.S.  It was not unusual in Europe to have a foreign ruler, and one of these names being considered was Prince Henry of Prussia.

Another reason could be that delegates wanted to avoid a foreigner becoming a member of the cabinet or worse, commander-in-chief.  John Jay writes to George Washington on July 25, 1787: "Permit me to hint, whether it would not be wise & seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government, and to declare expressly that the Command in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolved on, any but a natural born Citizen."  Washington thanked Jay on September 2, 1787.

For the Prince Henry connection, see Richard Krauel. "Prince Henry of Prussia and the Regency of the United States, 1786". The American Historical Review, Vol. 17(October, 1911): 44-51.

George Washington's letter can be found in The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, ed. Theodore J. Crackel. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, Rotunda, 2008. Confederation Series (1 January 1784–23 September 1788), Volume 5 (1 February 1787–31 December 1787): 271-272.
Annotated by bacraig on November 12, 2014
Along with many delegates at the convention, Charles Pinckney's opposition to the motion for executive appointment of judges was most likely rooted in his colonial experience of King George III and the royal governors.  Both the king and the governors used the appointment power as a patronage system and as a way to influence the legislature.  
Annotated by bacraig on November 06, 2014
By opposing James Wilson's motion for a single executive, this was the first time Edmund Randolph opposed the majority of his own delegation and the convention.  Randolph's biographer, John J. Reardon, argues, "There was no mistaking his mood.  He was incensed by the stubbornness of most of the delegates in refusing to recognize the dangers he felt were so obviously inherent in a single executive."
Annotated by bacraig on November 03, 2014
In this statement, Nathaniel Gorham argued against Madison's motion for the Senate to conduct a peace treaty on its own during war by saying Congress would have the power of the purse to cut off funding for a war.

In practice, it is very hard for Congress to unilaterally end a war.  Even during one of America's most unpopular war in Vietnam, it was not until June 1973 that Congress passed a provision to cut off funds for combat activities in Indochina.  President Nixon signed this into law months after the Paris Peace Accords were signed.
Annotated by bacraig on October 31, 2014
This was Edmund Randolph's last chance to argue about the need for a second convention.  He would not sign the constitution.In a letter written on October 10, 1787, he argues:

"1. It is said in the resolutions which accompany the constitution, that it is to be submitted to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, for their assent and ratification. The meaning of these terms is allowed universally to be, that the convention must either adopt the constitution in the whole, or reject it in the whole, and is positively forbidden to amend, if therefore, I had signed, I should have felt myself bound to be silent as to amendments, and to endeavor to support the constitution without the correction of a letter. With this consequence before my eyes, and with a determination to attempt an amendment, I was taught by a regard for consistency not to sign.

2. My opinion always was, and still is, that every citizen of America, let the crisis be what it may, ought to have a full opportunity to propose, through his representatives, any amendment which in his apprehension, tends to the public welfare. By signing, I should have contradicted this sentiment.



3. A constitution ought to have the hearts of the people on its side. But if at a future day it should be burdensome after having been adopted in the whole, and they should insinuate that it was in some measure forced upon them, by being confined to the single alternative of taking or rejecting it altogether, under my impressions, and with my opinions, I should not be able to justify myself had I signed.



4. I was always satisfied, as I have now experienced, that this great subject would be placed in new lights and attitudes by the criticism of the world, and that no man can assure himself how a constitution will work for a course of years, until at least he shall have heard the observations of the people at large. I also fear more from inaccuracies in a constitution, than from gross errors in any other composition; because our dearest interests are to be regulated by it; and power, if loosely given, especially where it will be interpreted with great latitude, may bring sorrow in its execution. Had I signed with these ideas, I should have virtually shut my ears against the information which I ardently desired.



5. I was afraid that if the constitution was to be submitted to the people, to be wholly adopted or wholly rejected by them, they would not only reject it, but bid a lasting farewell to the union. This formidable event I wished to avert, by keeping myself free to propose amendments, and thus, if possible, to remove the obstacles to an effectual government. But it will be asked, whether all these arguments, were not . . . well weighed in convention. They were, sir, with great candor. Nay, when I called to mind the respectability of those, with whom I was associated, I almost lost confidence in these principles. On other occasions, I should cheerfully have yielded to a majority; on this the fate of thousands yet unborn, enjoined me not to yield until I was convinced.



Again, may I be asked, why the mode pointed out in the constitution for its amendment, may not be a sufficient security against its imperfections, without now arresting it in its progress? My answers are–1. That it is better to amend, while we have the constitution in our power, while the passions of designing men are not yet enlisted, and while a bare majority of the States may amend than to wait for the uncertain assent of three fourths of the States. 2. That a bad feature in government, becomes more and more fixed every day. 3. That frequent changes of a constitution, even if practicable, ought not to be wished, but avoided as much as possible. And 4. That in the present case, it may be questionable, whether, after the particular advantages of its operation shall be discerned, three fourths of the States can be induced to amend."

Annotated by bacraig on October 30, 2014