Business Of The Highest Magnitude


The Federalists began to cry, “Question! Question!” and a vote was taken on the resolution: Would the House agree to elect delegates and call a state convention? It was carried 43 to 19.

Whitehill then moved that the session adjourn until four o’clock that afternoon, at which time, he said, they might decide the lesser issues of time and place of the election of delegates and the holding of the convention.

Undoubtedly, congratulations were exchanged, and there was much joking at the Federalists’ luncheon tables at how smoothly everything had been managed and how clearly the victory had been won. But when the session resumed at four o’clock, the Federalists were astounded to find not one of the nineteen Democratic members in his seat. With forty-four members present, the House was two votes short of a quorum—which meant that no business could be conducted.

Mr. Wynkoop observed that the missing members were those who had given opposition that morning, and he suspected that they had conspired to absent themselves. He moved that the sergeant at arms be ordered to fetch them. The sergeant accordingly was dispatched. When he returned, he was examined at the bar of the House.

Speaker: “Well, Sergeant, have you seen the absent members?”

The sergeant replied that he had seen seventeen members at Major Boyd’s boarding house on Sixth Street.

Speaker: “What did you say to them?”

Sergeant: “I told the gentlemen that the Speaker and the House had sent for them, and says they, ‘There is no House.’ ”

Speaker: “Did you let them know they were desired to attend?”

Sergeant: “Yes, Sir, but they told me they could not attend this afternoon, for they had not made up their minds yet.”

Daniel Clymer: “How is that?”

Sergeant: “They had not made up their minds this afternoon to wait on you.”

Speaker: “Who told you this?”

Sergeant: “Mr. Whitehill told me first.”

Clymer: “Who told you afterward?”

Sergeant: “Mr. Clarke said they must go electioneering now.”

Clymer: “Was there no private citizens there?”

Sergeant: “No, Sir.”

Clymer: “There was none then, but men in public offices ?”

Sergeant: “No.”

Clymer: “Did you hear of any one willing to come?”

Sergeant: “No, Sir.”

The Federalists, outwitted, baffled, and angry at this breach of trust, debated what to do next. If no business could be conducted, the Assembly would be forced to adjourn the next day without naming a date for selecting delegates or for holding the convention. Mr. Wynkoop declared, “I would be glad to know, if there is no way to compel men, who deserted from the duty they owed their country, to a performance of it, when they were within reach of the House. If there is not, then God be merciful to us !!!”

A search of the books revealed no regulation compelling an absent member to attend, the only penalty being loss of one third of a day’s pay for each absence. The Speaker declared a recess until nine thirty the following morning.

Federalists discussed the affair in homes and taverns throughout the evening, with liberal abuse for the nineteen recalcitrant members and much speculation about what the minority would do when the Assembly reconvened. The Democratic leaders worked through the night behind locked doors at Major Boyd’s; they were preparing an address to their constituents in which they set forth their objections to the new plan of government.

When General MifBin took the chair on Saturday morning, the minority members were again absent and again no quorum could be declared.

George Clymer presented to the House a packet of documents he had received from New York in the early morning. It contained, he said, a resolution of Congress, passed unanimously, requesting the legislature of each state to put the proposed Constitution to a vote of a popularly elected convention. This had been signed the day before, and Mr. William Bingham had forwarded it to him by express rider, “having chosen this mode in preference to the ordinary conveyance by post.” The resolution was read aloud.