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From Annapolis to Philadelphia (1786–1787)

FROM ANNAPOLIS TO PHILADELPHIA (1786–1787)


During the summer of 1786 representatives of five of the thirteen states united under the Articles of Confederation met at Annapolis, Maryland to discuss and remedy the "defects" of the Confederation. Congress had proposed the convention based on the inadequacy of the central government to meet the changing needs of a new nation still struggling to remedy the effects on the economy of an eight-year war. Commerce between the states and with other nations was hampered by the lack of a uniform trade policy. Each state issued its own currency of varying and fluctuating worth. Commerce was also seriously threatened by Spain's aggressive act of closing the port of New Orleans to American shipping. Spain controlled the region west of the Mississippi River and the traffic of the river itself. The Spanish realized that American settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains required the Mississippi to ship their goods to eastern ports. By closing the Mississippi to American trade, the Spanish intended to split the United States, creating independent republics in such territories as Kentucky, hence weakening the United States and allowing easy Spanish domination.

The commissioners at Annapolis knew that something had to be done, but they felt powerless to recommend significant revisions in the government. However, they did feel compelled to recommend to the Congress that another convention be formed in the following year that would have full representation from all of the states and the power to recommend significant changes in the Confederation government. Congress took up the issue in February 1787. Alexander Hamilton of New York took the lead in requesting from Congress the formation of a convention "for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the United States of America and reporting to the United States in Congress assembled and to the States respectively such alterations and amendments of the said Articles of Confederation as the representatives met in such convention shall judge proper and necessary to render them adequate to the preservation and support of the Union." But the Congress, particularly southern representatives, was hesitant to grant such power to such a convention. Supporters of a stronger government from Massachusetts submitted another resolution requesting that a convention meet for "the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation." This slight change of wording, limiting the power of the convention to simple revisions of the Confederation, gained the majority support of Congress. The convention would take place in Philadelphia in May 1787.

RussellLawson,
Bacone College

See also Annapolis Convention ; Articles of Confederation .

Proceedings of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government
(the Annapolis Convention Report)

Report of Proceedings in Congress, Wednesday February 21, 1787

Proceedings of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of The Federal Government

Annapolis in the State of Maryland

September 11th. 1786

At a meeting of Commissioners, from the States of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia—

Present

New York
Alexander Hamilton
Egbert Benson
New Jersey
Abraham Clarke
William C. Houston
James Schuarman
Tench Coxe
Pennsylvania
George Read
John Dickinson
Delaware
Richard Bassett
Edmund Randolph
James Madison, Junior
Virginia
Saint George Tucker

Mr. Dickinson was unanimously elected Chairman.

The Commissioners produced their Credentials from their respective States; which were read.

After a full communication of Sentiments, and deliberate consideration of what would be proper to be done by the Commissioners now assembled, it was unanimously agreed: that a Committee be appointed to prepare a draft of a Report to be made to the States having Commissioners attending at this meeting—Adjourned 'till Wednesday Morning.

Wednesday September 13th. 1786

Met agreeable to Adjournment.

The Committee, appointed for that purpose, reported the draft of the report; which being read, the meeting proceeded to the consideration thereof, and after some time spent therein, Adjourned 'till tomorrow Morning.

Thursday Septr. 14th. 1786

Met agreeable to Adjournment.

The meeting resumed the consideration of the draft of the Report, and after some time spent therein, and amendments made, the same was unanimously agreed to, and is as follows, to wit.

To the Honorable, the Legislatures of Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York—

The Commissioners from the said States, respectively assembled at Annapolis, humbly beg leave to report.

That, pursuant to their several appointments, they met, at Annapolis in the State of Maryland, on the eleventh day of September Instant, and having proceeded to a Communication of their powers; they found that the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, had, in substance, and nearly in the same terms, authorised their respective Commissioners "to meet such Commissioners as were, or might be, appointed by the other States in the Union, at such time and place, as should be agreed upon by the said Commissioners to take into consideration the trade and Commerce of the United States, to consider how far an uniform system in their commercial inter-course and regulations might be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony, and to report to the several States such an Act, relative to this great object, as when unanimously ratified by them would enable the United States in Congress assembled effectually to provide for the same."

That the State of Delaware, had given similar powers to their Commissioners, with this difference only, that the Act to be framed in virtue of those powers, is required to be reported "to the United States in Congress assembled, to be agreed to by them, and confirmed by the Legislatures of every State."

That the State of New Jersey had enlarged the object of their appointment, empowering their Commissioners, "to consider how far an uniform system in their commercial regulations and other important matters, might be necessary to the common interest and permanent harmony of the several States," and to report such an Act on the subject, as when ratified by them "would enable the United States in Congress assembled, effectually to provide for the exigencies of the Union."

That appointments of Commissioners have also been made by the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina, none of whom however have attended; but that no information has been received by your Commissioners, of any appointment having been made by the States of Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina or Georgia.

That the express terms of the powers to your Commissioners supposing a deputation from all the States, and having for object the Trade and Commerce of the United States, Your Commissioners did not conceive it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission, under the Circumstance of so partial and defective a representation.

Deeply impressed however with the magnitude and importance of the object confided to them on this occasion, your Commissioners cannot forbear to indulge an expression of their earnest and unanimous wish, that speedy measures may be taken, to effect a general meeting, of the States, in a future Convention, for the same, and such other purposes, as the situation of public affairs, may be found to require.

If in expressing this wish, or in intimating any other sentiment, your Commissioners should seem to exceed the strict bounds of their appointment, they entertain a full confidence, that a conduct, dictated by an anxiety for the welfare, of the United States, will not fail to receive an indulgent construction.

In this persuasion, your Commissioners submit an opinion, that the Idea of extending the powers of their Deputies, to other objects, than those of Commerce, which has been adopted by the State of New Jersey, was an improvement on the original plan, and will deserve to be incorporated into that of a future Convention; they are the more naturally led to this conclusion, as in the course of their reflections on the subject, they have been induced to think, that the power of regulating trade is of such comprehensive extent, and will enter so far into the general System of the federal government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other parts of the Federal System.

That there are important defects in the system of the Federal Government is acknowledged by the Acts of all those States, which have concurred in the present Meeting; That the defects, upon a closer examination, may be found greater and more numerous, than even these acts imply, is at least so far probable, from the embarrassments which characterise the present State of our national affairs, foreign and domestic, as may reasonably be supposed to merit a deliberate and candid discussion, in some mode, which will unite the Sentiments and Councils of all the States. In the choice of the mode, your Commissioners are of opinion, that a Convention of Deputies from the different States, for the special and sole purpose of entering into this investigation, and digesting a plan for supplying such defects as may be discovered to exist, will be entitled to a preference from considerations, which will occur, without being particularised.

Your Commissioners decline an enumeration of those national circumstances on which their opinion respecting the propriety of a future Convention, with more enlarged powers, is founded; as it would be an useless intrusion of facts and observations, most of which have been frequently the subject of public discussion, and none of which can have escaped the penetration of those to whom they would in this instance be addressed. They are however of a mature so serious, as, in the view of your Commissioners to render the situation of the United States delicate and critical, calling for an exertion of the united virtue and wisdom of all the members of the Confederacy.

Under this impression, Your Commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction, that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the union, if the States, by whom they have been respectively delegated, would themselves concur, and use their endeavours to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the appointment of Commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to, by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same.

Though your Commissioners could not with propriety address these observations and sentiments to any but the States they have the honor to Represent, they have nevertheless concluded from motives of respect, to transmit Copies of this Report to the United States in Congress assembled, and to the executives of the other States.

By order of the Commissioners.

Dated at Annapolis
September 14th, 1786

Resolved, that the Chairman sign the aforegoing Report in behalf of the Commissioners.

Then adjourned without day—
Egbt. Benson
Alexander Hamilton New York
Abra: Clark
Wm Ch.l.l. Houston New Jersey
Js. Schureman
Tench Coxe Pennsylvania
Geo: Read
John Dickinson Delaware
Richard Bassett
Edmund Randolph
Js. Madison Jr. Virginia
St. George Tucker

Report of Proceedings in Congress, Wednesday Feby. 21, 1787

Congress assembled as before.

The report of a grand comee. consisting of Mr. Dane Mr. Varnum Mr. S. M. Mitchell Mr. Smith Mr. Cadwallader Mr. Irwine Mr. N. Mitchell Mr. Forrest Mr. Grayson Mr. Blount Mr. Bull & Mr. Few, to whom was referred a letter of 14 Septr. 1786 from J. Dickinson written at the request of Commissioners from the States of Virginia Delaware Pensylvania New Jersey & New York assembled at the City of Annapolis together with a copy of the report of the said commissioners to the legislatures of the States by whom they were appointed, being an order of the day was called up & which is contained in the following resolution viz "Congress having had under consideration the letter of John Dickinson esqr. chairman of the Commissioners who assembled at Annapolis during the last year also the proceedings of the said commissioners and entirely coinciding with them as to the inefficiency of the federal government and the necessity of devising such farther provisions as shall render the same adequate to the exigencies of the Union do strongly recommend to the different legislatures to send forward delegates to meet the proposed convention on the second Monday in May next at the city of Philadelphia"

The delegates for the state of New York thereupon laid before Congress Instructions which they had received from their constituents, & in pursuance of the said instructions moved to postpone the farther consideration of the report in order to take up the following proposition to wit

"That it be recommended to the States composing the Union that a convention of representatives from the said States respectively be held at—on—for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the United States of America and reporting to the United States in Congress assembled and to the States respectively such alterations and amendments of the said Articles of Confederation as the representatives met in such convention shall judge proper and necessary to render them adequate to the preservation and support of the Union"

On the question to postpone for the purpose above mentioned the yeas & nays being required by the delegates for New York.

Massachusetts:
Mr. King ay
Mr. Dane ay
Connecticut:
Mr. Johnson ay
Mr. S. M. Mitchell no
New York:
Mr. Smith ay
Mr. Benson ay
New Jersey:
Mr. Cadwallader ay
Mr. Clarke no
Mr. Schurman no
Pensylvania:
Mr. Irwine no
Mr. Meredith ay
Mr. Bingham no
Delaware:
Mr. N. Mitchell no
Maryland:
Mr. Forest no
Virginia:
Mr. Grayson ay
Mr. Madison ay
North Carolina:
Mr. Blount no
Mr. Hawkins no
South Carolina:
Mr. Bull no
Mr. Kean no
Mr. Huger no
Mr. Parker no
Georgia:
Mr. Few ay
Mr. Pierce no

So the question was lost.

A motion was then made by the delegates for Massachusetts to postpone the farther consideration of the report in order to take into consideration a motion which they read in their place, this being agreed to, the motion of the delegates for Massachusetts was taken up and being amended was agreed to as follows

Whereas there is provision in the Articles of Confederation & perpetual Union for making alteration therein by the assent of a Congress of the United States and of the legislatures of the several States; And whereas experience hath evinced that there are defects in the present Confederation, as a mean to remedy which several of the States and particularly the State of New York by express instructions to their delegates in Congress have suggested a convention for the purposes expressed in the following resolution and such convention appearing to be the most probable mean of establishing in these states a firm national government.

Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union.

SOURCE: Elliot, Jonathan, ed. The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, etc., etc., second ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1861.

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