The Federal Constitution
The Articles of Confederation, under which the United States had been established, proved defective in many ways. The principal trouble came from an endeavor made by several states to raise revenue for governmental expenses and for the payments of debts and the interest thereon. The consensus of opinion among lawmakers was that the proper way to raise revenue was by means of a tariff on merchandise brought from other states. New Jersey for some time abstained from such a revenue-producing factor but when New York enacted a law requiring the payment of entrance and clearing fees on all but the smallest vessels New Jersey proceeded to retaliate. The land at Sandy Hook, where a lighthouse necessary to navigation had been erected, belonged to New Jersey, but New York owned the lighthouse. New Jersey then enacted a law assessing a tax of $150 per month on the lighthouse; in the event that New York declined to pay the tax New Jersey was ready to sell the property for unpaid taxes, the result of which would be the extinguishing of the beacon light so needful to navigation.
Also, a disposition was developed in New Jersey to abstain from purchasing goods coming from New York and a similar boycott was found in New York as far as New Jersey products were concerned. Import duties were also exacted in several nearby states to the injury of neighboring municipalities.
Questions relative to the states' rights in lands escheated to the federal government by due process following the prosperous issue of the revolutionary war, questions relative to slavery and just representation in the nation's lawmaking body-and numerous other questions to which no satisfactory answers had been found in the constitution, came cropping up with undesirable frequency.
Then there was the serious question of currency. Gold and silver were par, but obligations represented by paper money issued by municipalities presented a kaleidoscopic variety in value. Some states had good credit, some states had poor credit and still others had none. The following letter, dated July 17, 1787, written by William Paterson to his wife, while Paterson was attending the sessions of the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, will afford some insight to the trouble occasioned by the various and fluctuating value of paper money issued at the time:
"I shall be in want of some hard money in order to clear me of this town, and therefor request you to send me by the first good opportunity about twelve pounds. It is to no end to draw upon the New Jersey treasury, as it contains nothing but paper money, which few people will take; which tested by gold must pay from 20 to 25 per cent and the Pa. paper is at present as bad, if not worse."
In May, 1786, a numerously signed petition, prepared by Paterson, was presented to the New Jersey legislature, urging that no paper money be issued by the state, or, in the event that this request could not be complied with, that no paper money could be used as a legal tender. The legislature, instead of heeding the request, in the same year passed a law providing for the issue of £100,000 of paper money.
The first definite step in New Jersey towards amending the constitution was taken in May, 1780, while Paterson was Attorney-General, when Dr. John Witherspoon, a New Jersey representative, introduced a resolution in Congress calling attention to the necessity that had developed for Congress to take action for the supervision of commercial regulations and an import tariff; the resolution provided that any action which might be taken in Congress should depend for validity on the consent of at least nine states. The resolution indicated some amendment to the constitution as it then existed. Congress declined to take any action in the matter.
In 1783 the New Jersey legislature forwarded to Congress a memorial which set forth that:
".........sole and exclusive power of regulating the trade of the United States with foreign nations ought to be clearly vested in Congress, and that the revenue arising from all duties and customs imposed therein ought to be appropriated to the building, equipping and maintaining a navy for the protection of the trade and defense of the coasts and to such other general and public purposes as to the Congress shall seem proper and for the benefit of the state."
While President Washington in 1785 was taking a rest--rest was something Washington had very little of--at Mount Vernon he took up the matter of the efforts of Virginia and Maryland to connect their headquarters with the lands beyond the Appalachians. At a meeting of delegates of these two states it became apparent that the trade relations with other states should be considered. A trade conference, to which delegates selected by all the other states were invited to be present, was called to meet at Annapolis in the following year. Only five states, including New Jersey-William Paterson delegate-were represented at this conference and it was agreed that delegates from all the states should meet in conference in Philadelphia in May, 1787. Congress passed a resolution to the effect that such a convention should be held
"..... for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such provisions therein as shall, when agreed on in Congress and confirmed by the states, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."
The Legislature of New Jersey promptly approved the plan and sent as commissioners David Brearly, William G. Houston, William Paterson, Governor William Livingston, Abraham Clark, and Jonathan Dayton. These commissioners were authorized merely to amend the Articles of Confederation. Paterson strongly approved of this limitation of power, thus showing himself to be an adherent of Hamiltonian views, for the Secretary of the Treasury had expressed such limited approval of the project in Congress when that body took action on the proposed convention. Of the New Jersey commissioners Clark was prevented by ill health from attending; the others, with the exception of Houston, took part in the proceedings and eventually signed the constitution as agreed on.
As the convention was called to order on the date stipulated there were a number of vacant seats in the hall, for some of the delegates were tardy in putting in an appearance. Paterson, owing to his duties in the Burlington courts, was a few days late, but he was present faithfully from May 2 to July 23, returning in September in order to affix his signature to the constitution.
The convention, throughout its sessions, sat behind closed doors, all proceedings, even debate, being suspended as soon as a non-member, even an inferior officer, entered the hall. The main reason for this secrecy was to prevent outsiders from attempting to influence the decisions of the delegates. In the preliminary proceedings Paterson took little part, for he believed in following strictly the limitations fixed by the appointment of the New Jersey delegation.
The following letter, written by William Pierce, a delegate from Georgia, will give an idea of the impression made by William Paterson during the session of the convention:
"Paterson is one of those kind of men whose powers break in upon you and create wonder and astonishment. He is a man of great modesty, with looks that bespeak no great talents, but he is a classic, a lawyer and an orator-and of a disposition so favorable to his advancement that every one seemed ready to exalt him with their praises. He is very happy in the choice of time and manner in engaging in debate and never speaks but when he understands his subject well. This gentleman is about thirty-four years of age and very low in stature."
Alexander Johnston, in the Encyclopedia Brittanica (American Supplement) writes as follows concerning the convention:
"The peculiar difficulties of the convention can hardly be understood without reference to the division of the states into large and small states. There were at all times not more than eleven states represented in the convention, for Rhode Island sent no delegate and those of New Hampshire only attended after those of New York had retired. Five of the eleven, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, were the 'large states,' either on account of their present population or their expectations of future western expansion. Pennsylvania was at various times on the one side or the other, holding the balance of power."
The convention had laid before it two separate plans, which formed the basis for discussion.
Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, presented a plan, which had been agreed upon by the delegates of the larger states and which came to be known as the Virginia plan. It provided for a congress of two houses and introduced a germ of executive and judiciary. It provided that the representatives to Congress were to be elected by the voters of the states, the number to be chosen to be in proportion to the population. Senators were to be elected by the representatives from nominations made by the state legislatures. The president was to be elected by Congress and his tenure of office was to be limited to one term.
Those were Madison's ideas and he had incorporated them in the Virginia plan which was nearly all his creation.
William Paterson presented a plan which had the endorsement of the smaller states and was known as the New Jersey plan. According to his plan the federal lawmaking body was to consist of representatives from the states in proportion to population; there was to be but one body, no senate. From the representatives was to be elected a council, a body which was to have executive powers and be vested with authority to select the judiciary. The plan was restricted to making amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Paterson argued that the plan was in accordance with the sentiments and wishes of the voters. If the Articles of Confederation were so defective, as some people claimed they were, then the delegates should return to the states and obtain larger powers. Subsequently Paterson added another clause to his plan providing that the president should be elected by electors chosen by the various states. His yardstick for the number of electors to be chosen was that the largest state was to have three, the smaller ones one and each of the rest two.
The New Jersey plan did not evolve from the single mind of Paterson. It was the result of deliberations of a number of delegates, of which Paterson was the leading spirit. Delegates from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland took part in framing the plan. Papers found among the effects of the delegates to this preliminary conference and of other delegates to the parent body indicate the existence of five copies of the New Jersey plan-generally referred to as the Jersey plan-and used as such in the discussions as being authentic. Nevertheless no two plans are identical, even in the number of sections into which the plans are divided, and there is great diversity in the principles enunciated. In the interest of clarity Delegate Wilson submitted the following schedule, showing the differences between the Virginia and Jersey plans:
"The Virginia plan proposed two branches in the Legislature, whereas the Jersey plan proposed a single legislative body."
"In the Virginia plan the legislative powers were derived from the people, whereas in the Jersey plan the legislative powers were derived from the states."
"The Virginia plan provided for a single executive, whereas the Jersey plan provided for an executive committee."
"Under the Virginia plan a majority of the legislature could act, whereas under the Jersey plan a small minority could control."
"Under the Virginia plan the legislature might legislate on all national matters, whereas under the Jersey plan the legislature might act only on certain limited matters."
"tinder the Virginia plan the legislature could negative all state laws, whereas under the Jersey plan the executive was given the power to compel obedience by force."
"Under the Virginia plan the executive could be removed by impeachment, while under the Jersey plan the executive could be removed on the application of a majority of the states."
"The Virginia plan provided for the establishment of inferior judiciary tribunals, while the Jersey plan made no provisions for such tribunals."
On July 23, 1787, the number of senators from each state was definitely fixed at two and each senator was personally to have one vote. This arrangement was very satisfactory to Paterson.
Alexander Hamilton had taken little part in the preliminary discussion, saying that his diffidence was due to "respect for others whose superior abilities, age and experience, rendered him unwilling to bring forward ideas dissimilar to theirs." As a matter of fact he had prepared a plan of his own, but this plan had not met with the approval even of his colleagues from New York. Yet on June 18 he offered "to contribute his efforts for the public safety and happiness," and tendered his plan for consideration. According to this plan the president and senate were to hold office for life and the governors of the states were to be appointed by the president. He met with little encouragement, for Hamilton at that time had lost a great deal of his former prestige on account of his opposition to popular government, for which reason the members of the convention were suspicious of anything he might offer.
On June 19 the committee of the whole made a report practically in favor of the Virginia plan; it met with immediate approval of the convention. The New Jersey delegation at once returned home although all returned to sign the constitution as adopted.
There was little opposition in New Jersey to the adoption of the constitution. The legislature met at a special session, called for the election of delegates who were authorized to indicate the state's approval of the constitution, and on December 11 the constitution was finally adopted.
During the following week the delegates held another session and urged Congress to accept from New Jersey a tract of ten square miles and to establish there the official government of the United States.
On August 17, 1788, Hamilton requested Governor Livingston to urge the New Jersey congressmen to vote in favor of New York as the temporary capital of the United States. In the letter containing this request Hamilton suggested that the future home of the nation would be further South than New York and that the selection would be upon the Delaware river in New Jersey. Hamilton was strong in his objections to placing the nation's capital in Philadelphia, even temporarily, saying that if such should be done New Jersey would lose all prospect of the Federal city within her limits.
Later Paterson's worth to the convention was highly complimentary. Cortlandt Parker, of Newark, called Paterson one of "the chief architects of the constitution." John C. Calhoun, himself a strong States-Rights man, believed that we owed the existing form of government to the saga-city and coolness of Ellsworth, Roger Sherman and Paterson.