Business Of The Highest Magnitude


Thomas Fitzsimons (City of Philadelphia), one of the signers of the federal Constitution, declared that the business was of the highest consequence. The only object of consideration was not the merits of the new Constitution, but solely whether the election of delegates should be held. It was the general wish of the people that the House should go forward in the matter.

William Findley (Westmoreland County), Ulsterborn, former weaver and teacher, now a farmer and Democratic leader, agreed that the subject was important. It was so important, indeed, that the House should go into it with deliberation. It was so important that the members should not be surprised into it.

Daniel Clymer (Berks County), cousin of George, said (in extract): “I have heard, Sir, that only four or five leading party-men in this city are against it, whose names I should be glad to know, that their characters might be examined; for I am confident they will be hereafter ashamed to show their faces among the good people whose future prosperity they wish to blast in the bud. Let them be careful, lest they draw upon themselves the odium of that people who have long indulged their rioting upon public favor.”

Findley: “The gentleman from Berks has spoken warmly against opposing the present measure in a manner as if intended to prevent men from speaking their minds. He has charged some leading characters in this city with giving opposition; if he means me as one of them—”

Daniel Clymer (addressing the Speaker): “No, Sir, upon my honor, I did not mean him.”

Findley: “Well, then, I don’t consider that part of his speech as addressed to the House, but merely to the gallery.”

Daniel Clymer: “The measure will be adopted; for it is too generally agreeable, and too highly recommended, to be assassinated by the hand of intrigue and cabal.”

Whitehill: “The gentlemen that have brought forward this motion must have some design. Why not allow time to consider it? I believe if time is allowed, we shall be able to show that this is not the proper time for calling a convention; and I don’t know any reason there can be for driving it down our throats, without an hour’s preparation.”

George Clymer: “To hesitate upon this proposition will give a very unfavorable aspect to a measure on which our future happiness, nay, I may also say, our future existence, as a nation, depends.”

Hugh Henry Brackenridge of Westmoreland County, Princeton graduate, former schoolteacher and chaplain in the Revolutionary Army, now a lawyer, author, and wit, was the only member from the western counties and the only Democrat to support the Constitution actively. He rose to express the view that, “from its magnitude and importance,” the members surely must have reflected for some days on the matter. In his opinion they were as well prepared now to determine upon the principle as they would be after having eaten their dinner.

Whitehill: “Congress ought to send forward the plan before we do anything at all in this matter. For of what use was sending it forward to them, unless we meant to wait their determination? Now as these measures are not recommended by Congress, why should we take them up? Why should we take up a thing which does not exist? Is it not better to go safely on the business, and let it lie over till the next House? When we have adjourned, let our constituents think of it, and instruct their representatives to consider of the plan proper to be pursued. Will not the next House be able to determine as we are?”


Daniel Clymer: “The Constitution lately presented to you [was] framed by the collective wisdom of a continent, centered in a venerable band of patriots, worthies, heroes, legislators and philosophers—the admiration of a world. No longer shall thirty thousand [Philadelphians] engage all our attention—all our efforts to procure happiness. No!—The extended embrace of fraternal love shall enclose three millions, and ere fifty years are elapsed, thirty millions, as a band of brothers!

“As this subject is now before us, let us not hesitate, but eagerly embrace the glorious opportunity of being foremost in its adoption. Let us not hesitate, because it is damping the ardor with which it should be pursued. Sir, it is throwing cold water on the flame that warms the breast of every friend of liberty, and every patriot who wishes this country to acquire that respect to which she is justly entitled.”

The question was put : Would the House agree to postpone consideration of the matter? It was defeated.

George Clymer spoke to the real Federalist concern. “If this House order a convention,” he said, “it may be deliberated and decided some time in November, [1787], and the Constitution may be acted under by December. But if it is left over to the next House, it will inevitably be procrastinated until December, 1788.”