Introduction to the Project
Wouldn’t it be exciting, perhaps even instructive, if we had an individual delegate attendance record at the Constitutional Convention of 1787? Scholars who have worked their way through the debates at the Constitutional Convention, especially Madison’s Notes, marvel at how much there is to learn on each reread of the debates as the delegates change their minds or dig in to support their initial decision; in fact Madison’s Notes perhaps might be better named Madison’s Republic worthy of comparison with Plato’s Republic, but with a robust democratic touch to the conversation. We are talking about 55 people selected by their fellow citizens to provide a framework that will last “into remote futurity” and to secure the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. And, borrowing from Tocqueville, they met for four months, five hours a day, six days a week, without a drop of blood being spilled. Unlike Plato’s Republic the outcome was not the creation of an “imaginary” best or perfect regime under the rule of a philosopher king; rather the Framers created a better regime, “a more perfect union,” where the rule of the Constitution and the consent of the governed became sovereign.
But we don’t have such an individual attendance record nor do we have an individual voting record. Unless that is, Madison is particularly pleased or displeased and then he identifies the heroes and culprits on certain critical days in the life of the Convention! The attendance records and voting decisions at the Convention are state based rather than individually based. This reflects a decision of the Convention to abide by the quorum requirements and voting methods under the Articles of Confederation: seven states had to be present for a quorum and each state was allocated one vote.
But is it possible, nevertheless, to recreate a fairly reliable record for individual delegates and one that might enhance our understanding of the work of the Convention? That is the purpose of this project: to recreate a reasonably coherent and sufficiently relevant attendance record. One that without claiming to be complete or perfect, nevertheless enhances our understanding of the twists and turns of the Convention. And one that some day might provide a coherent account of individual voting at the Convention.
Four Factors to Consider in Compiling the Attendance Record
I suggest that there are four factors we need to attend to in order to advance our project.
First, did the delegate speak that day? But what if they didn’t? This is particularly difficult in the case of the Pennsylvania delegation; they were all from Philadelphia and did not write home or travel long distances.
Second, what are the state quorum requirements? This second factor is vitally linked with the first. For example, if a state chose a quorum requirement of two and there was a split vote in the delegation on a given day, then certain consequences follow for the attendance project. The Convention did not establish, or impose, a quorum requirement for attendance or voting on each state; that was left up to each state delegation in accordance with instructions from its own state legislature.
Third, each state legislature in selecting the number of delegates to attend the Convention, followed, with a few exceptions, the rule operating under the Articles of Confederation: each state could send from two to seven delegates and then these delegates would convene to cast one vote on behalf of the state.
One exception was Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, as a courtesy to Benjamin Franklin and “the continental cause,” increased their number of delegates to eight on March 28, 1787. No one objected. They had an internal quorum requirement of four. Now it turns out that four members of the Pennsylvania delegation were also members of the Pennsylvania Assembly that met in September 1787. So did they attend one or the other and vote in one or the other? Or both?
Also, James McHenry was the sole delegate in attendance from Maryland from his arrival on May 28th until joined by Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer on June 2nd. He declined to cast a vote during the first week of the deliberations since he was under the impression that a two-delegate minimum was required. On being informed by Jenifer that Maryland had decided on an internal quorum requirement of one member only, McHenry promptly departed the Convention for Maryland.
Subsequently, two other states adopted a minimum of one delegate quorum requirement. No one objected.
Fourth, and related to internal state quorum requirements, what does it mean to meet a Convention quorum requirement? On May 14, only eight delegates from two states were present. Over the next week or so, delegates arrived in Philadelphia. And on May 25, twenty-four delegates — way less than a majority of the 74 selected — were present at Independence Hall. The quorum requirement for a “federal system of government,” however, meant that a majority of states, and not a majority of delegates, be present before the “revising the federal system of government” could begin.
Madison’s Notes, from May 25, shows that delegates from nine separate states were indeed present, and nine out of thirteen states amounted to more than a majority of the states in the union. But that still did not amount to a quorum of the whole because, as we noted above, each state had its own internal quorum requirements. On May 25th, there were twenty-four delegates indeed present from nine states, but Massachusetts and Georgia only had one delegate each. Nevertheless, on May 25th seven states met the minimum criteria of at least two delegates per state. And the Convention was ready to start its deliberations nearly two weeks after the announced date.
Although the quorum requirement for the Convention was 7 out of 13, we have already seen that a slip up here or there by a state internally could make the number 7 a lot more difficult to achieve. But there is another wrinkle to consider. The maximum number of states in attendance never exceeded 11. Rhode Island decided not to elect or send delegates. Two representatives from New York —Robert Yates and John Lansing — left just before the July 16th Connecticut Compromise. This effectively disenfranchised New York for the remainder of the Convention, because that state, although only sending three delegates, required two be in attendance in Philadelphia before New York could cast a vote. So although Alexander Hamilton was present on numerous occasions at the Convention he could not vote after Yates and Lansing departed. That did not stop him, however, from signing the Constitution on September 17th as an individual delegate from New York! The New Hampshire delegation didn’t arrive until after the Connecticut Compromise and after the official departure of the New York delegation. Thus the famous and vital Connecticut Compromise was decided by the votes of 10 states. What if New Hampshire and New York had been present at the 5-4-1 vote in favor of the Compromise?
The Six Sources of the Attendance Record
The Farrand Approach
The point of departure for any consideration of individual delegate attendance at the Constitutional Convention must begin with the monumental work of Max Farrand in the early twentieth century. Farrand is known mainly for his two-volume compilation of original sources surrounding the original debates. But volume three contains letters, both contemporary and subsequently, and an ambitious attempt to provide the reader with a four page individual attendance record, especially of the thirty nine delegates who signed the Constitution.
He compiled this provisional attendance record mainly by listing who were cited as speaking or voting or being absent or attending for the first time in the original sources he collected including, but not limited to Madison’s Notes. See also the various letters that Farrand has included in Volume III.
For Farrand’s record of attendance of the Founders, whom he lists alphabetically, see Farrand, Volume III, pp, 586-590 and below. Note the Arabic numerals identify the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. The 16 who left early and/or didn’t sign are listed without numerical identification.
Farrand, with the help of Madison’s Notes, can fairly easily identify the first day a delegate attended. Madison made a point of announcing the arrival of a delegate. And Farrand is also able to indicate whether a delegate was present to sign the Constitution on September 17. It is what happens in between and measuring its importance that is critical to this study. And here is where Farrand needs to be supplemented.
The Farrand Attendance Record with His Comments
- Baldwin, Abraham of Georgia. Attended on June 11 and probably regularly thereafter.
- Bassett, Richard of Delaware. Attended as early as May 21.
- Bedford, Gunning of Delaware. First Attendance, May 28.
- Blair, John of Virginia. Attended as early as May 15.
- Blount, William of North Carolina. Attended June 20-July 2; August 7 and thereafter. He was present in Congress in New York, July 4-August 3.
- Brearly, David of New Jersey. Attended as early as May 25.
- Broom, Jacob of Delaware. Attended as early as May 21.
- Butler, Pierce of South Carolina. Attended as early as May 25.
- Carroll, Daniel of Maryland. First attended on July 9.
- Clymer, George of Pennsylvania. Attended May 28, but probably before, although absent on May 25.
- Davie, William Richardson of North Carolina. Attended on May 22 or May 23; left on August 13. Approved the Constitution.
- Dayton, Jonathan of New Jersey. Appointed, June 5; first attended June 21.
- Dickinson, John of Delaware. Attended on May 29. His remarks on July 25 imply previous absence. Read signed Dickinson’s name to the Constitution.
- Ellsworth, Oliver of Connecticut. First attended on May 28. Was present in Convention August 23. Was in New Haven August 27. Approved the Constitution.
- Few, William of Georgia. Attended as early as May 19. Present in Congress in New York July 4-August 3. Probably returned to Convention after August 6.
- Fitzsimons, Thomas of Pennsylvania. Attended May 25, and probably earlier.
- Franklin, Benjamin of Pennsylvania. Attended on May 28, and probably earlier, although absent on May 25.
- Gerry, Elbridge of Massachusetts. First attended on May 29. Absent on August 8. Refused to sign Constitution.
- Gilman, Nicholas of New Hampshire. Appointed June 27; first attended on July 23.
- Gorham, Nathaniel of Massachusetts. Attended on May 28.
- Hamilton, Alexander of New York. Attended on May 28; left Convention June 29; was in NY after July 2; appears to have been in Philadelphia on July 13; attended Convention August 13; was in NY August 20-September 2.
- Houston, William Churchill of New Jersey. Attended as early as May 25; was absent on June 6.
- Houstoun, William of Georgia. Attended first on June 1, and probably thereafter until July 25. He probably left on July 26 or after Few’s return.
- Ingersoll, Jarred of Pennsylvania. Attended on May 28, and probably earlier, although absent on May 25.
- Jenifer, Daniel St. Thomas of Maryland. Commissioned on May 26; first attended on June 2.
- Johnson, William Samuel of Connecticut. Attended on June 2, and thereafter.
- King, Rufus of Massachusetts. Attended as early as May 21.
- Langdon, John of New Hampshire. Appointed June 27; first attended on July 23.
- Lansing, John of New York. First attended on June 2, though he may have been present before May 25; left on July 10. Opposed to the Constitution.
- Livingston, William of New Jersey. First attended on June 5; absent on June 28, and July 3-19.
- McClurg, James of Virginia. Attended as early as May 15; was present July 20 and absent after August 5. Favored the Constitution.
- McHenry, James of Maryland. Commissioned May 26; attended May 28-31; left on June 1; present August 6 and thereafter.
- Madison, James of Virginia. Attended on May 14 and thereafter.
- Martin, Alexander of North Carolina. Attended as early as May 25; left in the latter part of August.
- Martin, Luther of Maryland. Commissioned May 26; first attended June 9; absent August 7-12; left Convention September 4. Opposed to the Constitution.
- Mason, George of Virginia. Attended on May 17 and thereafter. Refused to sign the Constitution.
- Mercer, John Francis of Maryland. First attended August 6; last recorded attendance August 17. Opposed to the Constitution.
- Mifflin, Thomas of Pennsylvania. Attended on May 28, and probably before, although absent on May 25.
- Morris, Gouverneur of Pennsylvania. Attended on May 28, and probably before, although absent on May 25.
- Morris, Robert of Pennsylvania. Attended on May 25, and probably before.
- Paterson, William of New Jersey. Attended as early as May 25, and thereafter until July 23. There is no evidence of his attendance after that date. August 2, Brearly wrote urging him to return. He probably returned to sign the Constitution.
- Pierce, William of Georgia. Attended May 31; absent after July 1. He favored the Constitution.
- Pinckney, Charles of South Carolina. Attended May 7 and thereafter.
- Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth of South Carolina. Attended at least as early as May 25, and thereafter.
- Randolph, Edmund of Virginia. Attended May 15 and thereafter. He refused to sign the Constitution.
- Read, George of Delaware. Attended at least as early as May 19.
- Rutledge, John of South Carolina. Attended on May 17, and thereafter.
- Sherman, Roger of Connecticut. Appointed May 17; attended May 30 and thereafter.
- Spaight, Richard Dobbs of North Carolina. Attended as early as May 19, and thereafter.
- Strong, Caleb of Massachusetts. Attended on May 28; was present on August 15, but left before August 27. He favored the Constitution.
- Washington, George, of Virginia. Attended on May 14 and thereafter.
- Williamson, Hugh of North Carolina. Attended as early as May 25, and thereafter.
- Wilson, James of Pennsylvania. Attended as early as May 25 (probably before) and thereafter.
- Wythe, George of Virginia. Attended as early as May 15; left Convention June 4; resigned June 16. He approved the Constitution.
- Yates, Robert of New York. Attended May 18; left Convention July 10. Opposed the Constitution.
What Does Farrand Yield Beyond Madison’s Notes?
Most people rely on Madison’s Notes as their constitutional text. But Farrand collected everything available in 1911. I have consulted the following eleven additional delegate notes in Farrand:
- McHenry’s Notes. May 28, 29, 30, 31, June 1, August 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31; September 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17.
- Paterson’s Notes. May 29, June 9, 11, 16, 27, 28, 29, 30; July 5, 7, 9, 10, 23.
- King’s Notes. May 31, June 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30; July 5, 7, 14; August 7, 8, 9; September 15.
- Pierce’s Notes. May 31, June 1, 2, 4, 5, 6.
- Hamilton’s Notes. June 1, 6, 7, 8, 16, 18, 19, 20, 26.
- Mason’s Notes. June 4, 7, 26; August 27.
- Wilson’s Notes. June 16, July 2.
- Brearley’s Notes. July 10.
- Yates’s Notes, May 25 until July 5.
In addition to the correspondence compiled by Farrand, used below in the Building on Farrand etc Section, Farrand has some useful footnotes in his two volume compilation of the Records of the Convention concerning the Committee of Detail Report.
Farrand has assembled several copies with comments of the August 6 Committee of Detail Report that forms the substance of Act III. Wilson’s version is reproduced along with a copy from George Mason’s Papers “in the handwriting of Edmund Randolph with emanations from John Rutlidge.” (Volume II, p. 137.) Wilson, Randolph and Rutledge were three delegates on the five member Committee of Detail. Gorham and Ellsworth were the two other members. The Farrand footnotes enable us to validate the presence at the Convention during August days for Mason, Wilson, Randolph, and Rutledge.
(1) MCHENRY NOTES
MAY 29 – RANDOLPH, HAMILTON
MAY 30 – RANDOLPH, PINKNEY, WYTHE, BUTLER, DICKINSON, GERRY, MORRIS*, READ, KING, MADISON
MAY 31 – RANDOLPH, FRANKLIN, GERRY
(2) PATERSON NOTES
MAY 29 – RANDOLPH
JUNE 9 – RANDOLPH, MORRIS, WILSON, MADISON, KING, BREARLY, WILLIAMSON
JUNE 11 – RUTLEDGE, DICKINSON, WILLIAMSON, KING, BUTLER, WILSON, GERRY, MADISON
JUNE 16 – LANSING, PATERSON, WILSON, PINCKNEY, ELLSWORTH, RANDOLPH
JUNE 28 – MARTIN, MADISON, WILLIAMSON
JUNE 29 – JOHNSON, GORHAM, MADISON, HAMILTON, PIERCE, GERRY
JUNE 30 – WILSON, ELLSWORTH, MADISON, SHERMAN, DAVIE, FRANKLIN, KING, DAYTON, MADISON, BEDFORD
JULY 5 – MADISON, BUTLER, MORRIS
JULY 7 – GERRY, SHERMAN, WILSON, MADISON, G. MORRIS
JULY 9 – GORHAM
(3) KING NOTES
MAY 31 – MASON, WILSON, MADISON,
JUNE 1 – WILSON, PINCKNEY, RUTLEDGE, SHERMAN, GERRY, RANDOLPH, WILLIAMSON, MASON
JUNE 2 – DICKINSON
JUNE 4 – GERRY, KING, BUTLER, FRANKLIN, MADISON, MASON, DICKINSON
JUNE 5 – WILSON, RUTLEDGE, FRANKLIN, MADISON, DICKERSON, WILSON
JUNE 6 – PINCKNEY, GERRY, WILSON, MASON, SHERMAN, DICKERSON, READ, MADISON, BUTLER
JUNE 7 – DICKINSON, WILSON, MADISON, MASON
JUNE 8 – PINCKNEY, WILLIAMSON, MADISON, GERRY, WILSON, DICKERSON
JUNE 9 – BREARLY, PATERSON, WILSON
JUNE 16 – LANSING, PATERSON, WILSON
JUNE 19 – MADISON, WILSON
JUNE 20 – MASON, MARTIN, WILSON, SHERMAN
JUNE 21 – JOHNSON, WILSON, MADISON, WILSON, DICKINSON, ELLSWORTH, WILSON, MASON, HAMILTON
JUNE 25 – WILSON, ELLSWORTH, JOHNSON, MASON
JUNE 27 – MARTIN
JUNE 28 – MADISON, PINCKNEY
JUNE 29 – JOHNSON, MADISON, HAMILTON, ELLSWORTH, MADISON
JULY 5 – MORRIS, RUTLEDGE, RANDOLPH
JULY 7 – GERRY, WILSON, MADISON, GOV. MORRIS
(4) PIERCE NOTES
MAY 31 – RANDOLPH, SHERMAN, GERRY, MASON, WILSON, MADISON, STRONG, BUTLER, SPAIGHT, KING, PINCKNEY, WYTHE
JUNE 1 – WILSON, MADDISON, GERRY, RANDOLPH, DICKINSON, BEDFORD
JUNE 2 – PINCKNEY, WILSON, GERRY, WILLIAMSON, DICKINSON, MADISON, RANDOLPH, BUTLER
JUNE 4 – WILSON, KING, FRANKLIN, MADISON, BUTLER, BEDFORD, MASON, DICKINSON
JUNE 5 – RUTLEDGE, MADISON, HAMILTON, BUTLER, KING
JUNE 6 – PINCKNEY, WILSON, COTESWORTH PINKNEY, MADISON
(5) HAMILTON NOTES
JUNE 1 – MADISON, RANDOLPH, WILSON, BEDFORD
JUNE 6 – PINCKNEY, MASON, MADISON
JUNE 8 – PINCKNEY, GERRY, WILSON, BEDFORD, BUTLER
JUNE 16 – LANSING, PATERSON, WILSON, PINKNEY, ELLSWORTH, RANDOLPH
JUNE 20 – LANSING, MASON, MARTIN, SHERMAN
(6) MASON NOTES
JUNE 4 – MASON SUMMARIZES THE DAY. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
JUNE 7 – MASON SUMMARIZES THE DAY. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
JUNE 26 – MASON ASKS FOR A CORRECTION IN A RESOLUTION. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
AUGUST 27 – MASON SUMMARIZES THE DAY. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
(7) WILSON NOTES
JUNE 16 – WILSON COMPARES THE VIRGINIA AND NEW JERSEY PLANS. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
JULY 2 – LISTS THREE RESOLUTIONS. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED
(8) BREARLY NOTES
JULY 10 – LISTS RACIAL COMPOSITION OF THE STATES. NO DELEGATE IS MENTIONED.
(9) YATES NOTES
MAY 25 – ALEXANDER HAMILTON, ROBERT YATES, DAVID BREARLY, WILLIAM CHURCHILL HOUSTON, WILLIAM PATERSON, ROBERT MORRIS, THOMAS FITZSIMONS, JAMES WILSON, GOUVERNEUR MORRIS, GEORGE READ, RICHARD BASSETT, JACOB BROOM, GEORGE WASHINGTON, EDMUND RANDOLPH, GEORGE WYTHE, GEORGE MASON, JAMES MADISON, JOHN BLAIR, JAMES MCCLURG, ALEXANDER MARTIN, WILLIAM DAVIE, RICHARD DOBBS SPAIGHT, HUGH WILLIAMSON, JOHN RUTLEDGE, CHARLES COTESWORTH PINCKNEY, CHARLES PINCKNEY, PIERCE BUTLER
MAY 29 – RANDOLPH, PINKNEY
MAY 30 – GORHAM, RANDOLPH, MORRIS*, PINCKNEY
MAY 31 – GORHAM
JUNE 2 – PINCKNEY (?), WILSON, FRANKLIN, DICKINSON, BUTLER, RANDOLPH
JUNE 4 – PINCKNEY (?), WILSON, SHERMAN, GERRY, KING, FRANKLIN, MADISON, BEDFORD, MASON, BUTLER
JUNE 5 – WILSON, MADISON, KING, (Mentions that Lansing from NY was not present that day)
JUNE 6 – PINCKNEY, GERRY, WILSON, MASON, DICKINSON, READ, MADISON,
JUNE 7 – RUTLEDGE, DICKINSON, WILSON, SHERMAN, GERRY, MASON
JUNE 8 – PINKNEY (?), WILLIAMSON, MADISON, GERRY, WILSON, BEDFORD
JUNE 9 – GERRY, RANDOLPH, Paterson, BREARLY, WILSON
JUNE 11 – SHERMAN, RUTLEDGE, BUTLER, KING, WILSON, DICKINSON, GERRY, MADISON, READ, RANDOLPH, WILLIAMSON
JUNE 12 – SHERMAN, RUTLEDGE, JENIFER, MADISON, GERRY, PINKNEY, PIERCE, BUTLER
JUNE 14 – RANDOLPH, PINCKNEY(?), MADISON, GERRY, BUTLER*
JUNE 15 – PATERSON, MADISON, LANSING, HAMILTON
JUNE 16 – LANSING, Paterson, WILSON, CC PINKNEY, ELLSWORTH, RANDOLPH
JUNE 18 – HAMILTON
JUNE 19 – MADISON, KING, DICKINSON, WILSON, HAMILTON, MARTIN
JUNE 20 – ELLSWORTH, LANSING, MASON, MARTIN, SHERMAN, WILSON
JUNE 21 – JOHNSON, WILSON, MADISON, PINCKNEY, HAMILTON, MASON, SHERMAN, RUTLEDGE, RANDOLPH, DICKINSON
JUNE 22 – ELLSWORTH, GORHAM, RANDOLPH, SHERMAN, WILSON, MADISON, HAMILTON, MASON, RUTLEDGE, KING, BUTLER
JUNE 23 – GORHAM, PINCKNEY, WILSON, SHERMAN, MADISON, BUTLER, RUTLEDGE, MASON, KING, GERRY, JENIFER, HAMILTON
JUNE 25 – PINCKNEY, RANDOLPH, GORHAM, READ, WILSON, ELLSWORTH, JOHNSON, MADISON, MASON, WILLIAMSON
JUNE 26 – GORHAM, PINCKNEY, READ, MADISON, SHERMAN, HAMILTON, GERRY, WILSON, ELLSWORTH, DAYTON, MASON, BUTLER
JUNE 27 – MARTIN
JUNE 28 – MARTIN, LANSING, MADISON, DAYTON, WILLIAMSON, WILSON, SHERMAN, FRANKLIN
JUNE 29 – JOHNSON, GORHAM, ELLSWORTH, READ, MADISON, HAMILTON, PIERCE, GERRY, BALDWIN, MADISON
JUNE 30 – BREARLY, WILSON, ELLSWORTH, MADISON, SHERMAN, DAVIE, FRANKLIN, MARTIN, KING, DAYTON, BEDFORD
JULY 2 – ELLSWORTH, PINKNEY, MARTIN, SHERMAN, MORRIS, RANDOLPH, STRONG, WILSON, LANSING, MADISON, GERRY
JULY 3 – GERRY, FRANKLIN
JULY 5 – GORHAM, GERRY, MARTIN, WILSON, MADISON
What is the yield over and above Madison’s Notes from this additional evidence? Yates indicates that Gerry was present on June 14 and that G. Morris was present on May 30. McHenry’s Notes confirm Morris’s attendance on May 30. King’s Notes identifies Charles Pinckney and Butler as present on June 14 and Yates shows Pinckney being at the Convention on May 29, June 21, 23, 26. and 28.
Hutson’s Addition to the Farrand Record
James Hutson, in 1987, published the so-called definitive fourth volume of Farrand. Its more official title is Supplement to Max Farrand’s Records. Hutson includes newly discovered notes, letters, and documents by, from, about, and to such delegates as Gunning Bedford, Pierce Butler, John Dickinson, Elbridge Gerry, John Lansing, George Mason, and James Wilson. In the process, Hutson has reintroduced, and addressed, what we might call the Crosskey claim that Madison doctored his notes and is thus an unreliable source. Instead, Hutson suggests that it is Robert Yates’s Notes that are unreliable; especially since citizen Genet later doctored them for political purposes. But what is important for our project is that he has provided new material that will help us to modify the Farrand Approach and fill in several blanks of the story.
Hutson discovered what he calls “marginalia of convention documents,” including draft resolutions and motions. Included is the identification of a draft speech to be written by Jared Ingersoll rather than originally presumed to be by Luther Martin or Roger Sherman. The main benefit of Hutson’s work is not so much in providing a companion narrative to match Madison’s Notes. Rather his discoveries are helpful precisely in the area of filling in the gaps concerning attendance.
Hutson cites Gunning Bedford’s Notes of May 29 thus placing him at the Convention on that date. He also discovered Pierce Butler’s Notes confirming his presence at the Convention on May 30: June 4, 7, 8, 11, 16, 18, 25, 26, 28, and 29; July 5; and September 5. Butler suggests that Wilson was present on June 8. Hutson discovered John Dickinson material placing him at the Convention more often than indicated by Farrand: June 15, 29, 30 and July 5, 9, and 10.
Among Hutson’s most important contributions has been the discovery of Lansing’s Notes. The days covered by Lansing’s Notes, according to Hutson, are June 6-July 9. Prior to June 6, claims Hutson, Lansing relies on Yates’s Notes. He departed the Convention, with Yates, on or around July 10.
Lansing’s Notes identifies the following to be in attendance over and above the Farrand record: C.C. Pinckney on June 15; Butler, Randolph, Williamson, and Wilson on June 19; Ellsworth on June 26; Strong on July 2; Rutledge on July 2 and 6, and Sherman on July 5.
Hutson indicates that about 69 copies of the August 6 Committee of Detail Report were printed and 18 have survived: Randolph, Johnson, Madison, Jackson, CC Pinckney, Williamson, Washington, Brearly, Mason, Gerry, Gorham, Baldwin, Dickinson, King, Butler, Wilson.
It is clear from Hutson’s work that Williamson commented on Article III, IV in his Committee of Detail copy. These were discussed on August 7, 8, and 9. Madison’s Notes has him speaking on the 9th. It seems reasonable to assume he was there also on the 7th and 8th. Dickinson made comments on his copy concerning Article IV, Section IV, and Article VII, Section 1, and 3, and 4.and on Article IX, Section 3. Dickinson also commented on Article X, Section 2, Article XI, Section 3, 4, and wrote in the margins next to Article XII, XIII, XIV, XXII, and XXIII. That would place him at the Convention on August 8, 16, 17, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, and 31. This yields two more days than Farrand’s record — August 16 and 28 — when he is there but didn’t speak.
Kimball’s Modification of the Farrand Approach
The second contribution that should be recognized has a personal touch. It is the result of many years of a labor of love and dedication, as far as I know unpublished, by David Kimball in the 1970s and 1980s done at the Independence Historical Park in Philadelphia. Kimball introduced me to the whole idea of quorum requirements and voting outcomes and expense reports as a way of assembling an individual delegate record. He made available to me numerous boxes of material, much of which is now available in the Hutson edition, as well as a draft diagram of what an individual attendance record might look like. As far as I know, Kimball’s pioneering work has never seen the light of day.
Kimball dropped the alphabetical listing of the Founders and he relocated the delegates within their state delegations. And then, in turn, he wanted to avoid listing the state delegations in alphabetical order. The order of voting at the Convention was from North to South and this order is important in grasping the drama of the Convention, especially at the end of June.
In viewing the delegates as individuals located in the context of their state, we recognize the paradox at the heart of the dynamics of the Convention: the relationship between a nation of states, where state boundaries are critical, and a nation of people where state boundaries can be ignored. The delegates were BOTH representatives of their state and of a still to become America. This modification is actually vital for an understanding of the attendance record because delegates would come and go in accordance with the wishes and responsibilities of the other delegates from their state.
So Kimball’s contribution is really fourfold: focus on the quorum requirements, pay attention to the reimbursement checks, list the states geographically rather than alphabetically, and record the comings and goings of the delegates. I assume that the Convention opened on May 25 and closed on September 17. If we exclude Sundays, July 4, and the Intermission, we have a convention that met for 116 days. Delegates may have billed their home state for the travel time before and after the Convention.
Building on Farrand, Hutson, and Kimball
NEW HAMPSHIRE: 2/2
Four delegates were elected, but only two attended. The quorum requirement was 2.
So both delegates had to be present for New Hampshire to vote. This makes it pretty simple to figure out attendance and voting records. The delegation was not present for the vital first Two Acts of the Convention.
Nicholas Gilman wrote to Joseph Gilman on July 31, 1787. He indicated that he and John Langdon arrived separately on the 21st. Other evidence suggests that Langdon and Gilman attended the Convention on July 23, just in time for the “Intermission,” and stayed to the end.
Both were present in August and September. And not always in agreement. They were divided on September 5, 7, 10, 12, and 15.
John Langdon billed New Hampshire for 93 days: July 9-October 9 at 30 shillings a day. We need to be careful not to simply turn billing records into an accurate representation of attendance records. He was at the Convention for less than 60 days.
Gilman and Langdon were absent for all of Act I and the crucial days of Act II. They were present every day, however, during Act III and Act IV.
Four delegates were elected and all four attended, but Caleb Strong left early. The quorum requirement was 3.
Elbridge Gerry was present on May 29, but absent from August 6 to 9 during which time he was visiting his wife in New York. He left during the Intermission and didn’t return in time for the start of Act III. He was clearly present, or probably present, for all but two days in Act I. Gerry was clearly present, or probably present, for the thirty days of Act II. With the exception of August 24, when he was probably present, Gerry was clearly present for the remainder of Act III and all of Act IV.
Gerry’s letters to his wife during Act III help us to locate the presence of other delegates. We certainly know where Gerry spent his time. On August 21, he wrote to his wife: “Most of the time I am at home or in convention. I do not think in a week I am TEN HOURS ANY WHERE ELSE.” And the letters to his wife in Act IV indicate that he is remaining in Philadelphia out of a sense of duty. He is inclined not to sign the Constitution, but without his presence Massachusetts will not meet their internal quorum requirement.
Nathaniel Gorham was still in New York on May 22 trying to establish a quorum for Massachusetts in the Confederation Congress. Although not present on May 25, Gorham was present in Philadelphia from May 28 and probably present every day onwards. There is one exception. He was absent on July 14. Because he was the Chair of the Committee of the Whole, we are presuming that unless otherwise specified, he was present on each day during Acts I and II. He was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act III and Act IV.
He billed Massachusetts for 139 days from May 5-September 20. But this information is very difficult to translate into days of attendance at the Convention.
Rufus King was present in Philadelphia from May 21, and he was there at the signing. The records suggest he was in New York from August 13-August 16 during Act III. On August 17, Gerry wrote to his wife in New York: “I was at the City Tavern the last evening, at the time of Mr. King’s arrival.” Abraham Yates, in New York, wrote to J. Van Rensselaer and Henry Acthandt, on 29 August 29: “Mr. King was here the beginning of the week before last; (he) told me the Convention would be supposed report by the first of September.” He has recently been told, however, that the Convention “were now so far from agreeing” that they might not get it to the Congress before Adjournment. This “may be good information to Yates and Lansing.”
King was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act I, Act II, and Act IV.
Caleb Strong was present from May 28. Upon King’s return from New York on August 16, Strong entertained leaving knowing that the three-person quorum requirement could still be met. He left Philadelphia by August 27 and maybe earlier. Gorham, still in Philadelphia, wrote to Strong, at his Massachusetts address on August 29: “I am in hope that we shall be done in about 20 days.”
With the exception of May 25, Strong was clearly present, or probably present, for Act I and Act II. He was clearly absent for all of Act IV. The attendance question concerning Strong is his Act III attendance between August 17 and August 26.
Three delegates were elected and all three attended. The quorum requirement was 1. Although this was a deviation from the Articles of Confederation, no one objected. Among other things, this one delegate quorum requirement enabled Sherman and Johnson to go home for a “family visit” in late July. Ellsworth writes to his wife on July 21: “I believe the older men grow the more uneasy they are from their wives. Mr. Sherman and Dr. Johnson are both run home for a short family visit.” It also permitted Ellsworth to leave the Convention for good in late August without disenfranchising the Connecticut vote!
Oliver Ellsworth was not present on May 25, but he was present on May 28. He was clearly present, or probably present, for the remainder of Act I, all of Act II and for Act III until August 23. The question is when did he leave Philadelphia. In the First Draft, I had Ellsworth probably absent on August 24 and 25. I have changed this to clearly absent.
He was in New Haven on August 27. Thus Ellsworth probably left Philadelphia as early as the 24th. Ezra Styles, in his Diary, 27 August 1787, indicates that Ellsworth had left Philadelphia and told him the Convention “will not rise in under three weeks.”
There is a letter from Paterson in New Jersey to Ellsworth in Philadelphia dated 23 August indicating his disinclination to return, so Paterson at least thought Ellsworth was in Philadelphia on August 23.
Ellsworth later billed Connecticut from May 18-August 31 for a total of 106 days worth £159. But it is very difficult to translate this billing record into actual attendance.
He was clearly absent for all of Act IV.
William Johnson was first present at the convention on June 2 and attended every day he was in Philadelphia until the end. At least that is what his diary indicates. Johnson and Sherman left on a temporary visit home on July 20, just before the Intermission, and didn’t return until August 7. Johnson also later billed Connecticut for 147 days from May 22-Oct 17 for a total of £220 10sh. So it is virtually impossible to translate his billing statement into an accurate reflection of his attendance record.
Roger Sherman first arrived at the Convention on May 30. Sherman left, with Johnson, on a temporary visit home on July 20, just before the Intermission, and didn’t return until August 7. Sherman later billed Connecticut for 121 days for a total of £181 10sh. Again, it is impossible to translate this billing statement into an accurate reflection of his daily attendance. But the records suggest that, except for the first three days of the Convention, he was clearly present, or probably present, for the remainder of Act I and Act II until July 19. Johnson and Sherman did not return in time for the start of Act III on August 6, but they were present at the Convention on August 7. The evidence suggests that he was clearly present for the remainder of Act III and for all of Act IV.
NEW YORK: 2/3
Three delegates were elected and all three attended and all three left at various stages of the proceedings. The quorum requirement was 2.
Alexander Hamilton was present on May 25, and left on June 29. He was clearly present, or probably present, for all the days of Act I. He was present for the first nine days of Act II, but absent for the remaining 22 days. (There is a possible Hamilton sighting in Philadelphia, however, on July 13!) On July 2 he was seen in New York. Washington, in Philadelphia, wrote to Hamilton, presumably in New York, on July 10: “I am sorry you went away.” Rufus King wrote to Knox, from Philadelphia on July 11: had he left Philadelphia with “our able Friend Hamilton, I should have escaped much vexation, enjoyed much pleasure and have gratified the wishes & desires of Mrs. King.”
Hamilton’s whereabouts during Act III is equally mysterious. He was clearly absent from the Convention from August 6-9. Elbridge Gerry wrote to his wife (in New York) from Philadelphia on August 9 indicating that he and Hamilton had just returned from New York “about an hour ago.” (There was also a Hamilton sighting in Philadelphia at the Indian Queen on August 13. Or was that July 13?) On August 14, Gerry tells his wife: “Colonel Hamilton returns to New York tomorrow morning.” Why travel from New York to Philadelphia and back within such a short period of time? Madison records him speaking at the Convention on August 13.
We know that Hamilton was back in New York again from August 20-September 2, perhaps even from August 14-September 3. Hamilton, in New York, wrote to King, on August 20. He had invited Yates and Lansing to join him and return together to Philadelphia. “So much for the sake of propriety and public opinion.” He wrote another letter to King on August 28. “It is whispered here that some late changes in your scheme have taken place which give it a higher tone. Is this the case?” This is good news to Hamilton. He wants to be there at the signing.
In summary, Hamilton was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act I. He was clearly present, or probably present, for the first nine days of Act II. And then, with the exception of the possible “Hamilton sighting” on July 13, absent for the remainder of Act II. Similarly, with the exception of his attendance at the Convention on August 13, Hamilton was absent for all of Act III. He missed the first four days of Act Iv, bit was clearly present, or probably present, for the remainder of Act IV. On September 17, he “signed” the Constitution even though New York lacked a quorum! He was clearly present, or probably present, for 40/88 of the days the Convention met.
John Lansing was present at the Convention on June 2. Robert Yates informs Abraham Yates, on June 1, from Philadelphia that Lansing “this day arrived here.” He also says “I keep an exact journal of all its proceedings.” According to James Hutson, Lansing copied Yates’s Notes of the Convention proceedings from May 25-June 1. He also copied Yates’s Notes for June 5 when he was ill. Hutson argues that Lansing, from June 2, kept a journal during his presence that is sufficiently different from Yates. The days covered by Lansing’s Notes, according to Hutson, are June 6-July 9. He left the Convention, with Yates, around July 10.
In summary, Lansing was clearly present for 13/21 attendance days and clearly absent for 8/21 attendance days for Act I. With the exception of June 22, when he was clearly absent, Lansing was clearly in attendance at the Convention in Act II until July 10. He was clearly absent for the remainder of Act II and for all of Act III and Act IV.
Robert Yates was present on May 25 with Hamilton, and left around July 10 for New York with Lansing. Yates was clearly present for all of Act I. He was also clearly present in Act II until July 10. He was clearly absent for the remainder of Act II and for all of Act III and Act IV.
Abraham Lansing writes to Abraham Yates on August 26 that he finds little inclination in either John Lansing or Robert Yates “TO REPAIR again to Philadelphia and from their general observations I BELIEVE THEY WILL NOT GO.” On August 29, Abraham Yates writes to Jeremiah Van Rensselaer from New York: “Mr. King was here the beginning of the week before last” and told him about difficulties in the Massachusetts delegation since “one of the four (I suppose a high flier) is gone home, the others refusing to agree to what was intended to be reported.… It may be good information to Yates and Lansing.” The “high flier” was Caleb Strong.
NEW JERSEY: 3/5
Six delegates were elected and three had to be present for a quorum. The delegates were involved in a shuttle service to accommodate the individual obligations of the delegates and still meet their duty to New Jersey at the Convention. But the shuttle service was less than perfectly smooth. The first recorded vote for New Jersey was June 5 with the arrival of Livingston; his arrival secured the quorum of 3/6. See also Farrand and Madison’s Notes July 18-23, Aug 6-7, 17, 25, 27, 28, and September 1; New Jersey failed to meet their internal quorum requirement on these days.
William Churchill Houston was present on May 25, but he is officially absent from June 6 onward because of ill health. He was only clearly present on May 31 and June 1. His absence for most of Act I and all of Act II, Act III, and Act IV made what seemed a fairly easy quorum task — 3/6 — a bit more difficult. The “true math” was 3/5.
William Livingston arrived on June 5 to replace Houston. He missed the first eight days of the Convention, but was clearly present for the last thirteen days of Act I.
He was absent on June 28, and the records also indicate that Livingston was absent from the Convention from July 3-19. On July 2, Paterson wrote to his wife he wrote to his wife that Livingston “will set out tomorrow” for New Jersey. So he misses most of Act II. In fact he was clearly present, or probably present, for only 13/30 days in Act II. My hunch is that he does not return to Philadelphia before July 23. Livingston wrote to John Jay, his father in law, on the 19th from Elizabethtown. New Jersey. It takes at least a day to get to Philadelphia from Elizabethtown and Livingston seemed in no rush to return to Philadelphia. He is recorded as being present at the Convention on July 24.
He was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act III except for August 27 and clearly present for all of Act IV except for September 1.
Jonathan Dayton was appointed on June 4 but didn’t arrive at the Convention until June 21. He had received news that Livingston and Paterson needed to return home shortly. Brearly wrote to Dayton on June 8. “My colleagues, as well as myself, are very desirous that you should join us immediately. The importance of the business really demands it.” The impression one gets is that he was chosen as a substitute who could be called on in case of an emergency. He was clearly absent for all of Act I.
He was clearly present, or probably present, for 21/30 days in Act II. On July 12, Dayton wrote to Livingston: “Although we have been daily in attendance” little progress has been made. He indicates that Paterson must leave on August 1, so, in order to meet the quorum requirement, Livingston must return to Philadelphia by July 31.
Dayton went home during the Intermission. Livingston made it back to Philadelphia on time, and now it was Dayton’s turn to return to Philadelphia! He was supposed to return by August 6 to provide a quorum, but he wasn’t present at the Convention until August 8.
Except for August 6 and 7, Dayton was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act III. And he was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act IV.
William Paterson was present on May 25 and was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act I and for Act II. But he was “plotting” to leave the Convention toward the end of Act II. He wrote to his wife on July 17 indicating that he expects to be home around August 1.
He was still in Philadelphia, however, during the early part of the Intermission. Paterson wrote to Lansing on July 27 from Philadelphia hoping “that Mr. Yates and yourself will not fail to attend on the very day (August 6)” that starts Act III. There is a certain irony to Paterson’s request to Lansing that he and Yates return to the Convention. Over the Intermission break, probably right around July 27, Paterson left for home and stayed home. He only returned on the very last day to sign. Paterson missed all of Act III and all of Act Iv except for September 17. (There is a letter from Paterson in New Jersey to Ellsworth in Philadelphia dated August 23 indicating his disinclination to return. Ellsworth himself left around August 23 and did not return.)
David Brearly was present on May 25 and clearly present, or probably present, through all of Act I.
He lived the closest to Philadelphia and could do a day trip to home and back. He was probably the person who caused the no quorum situation for New Jersey on July 18 by slipping out and coming back on July 19. And probably he left on July 21, a Saturday, and returned on the Monday. Except for these two days, and the July 4th break, Brearly was clearly present, or probably present, for all of Act II.
He was certainly in Philadelphia on July 27. Brearly wrote to Dayton, from Philadelphia, on that day. The Convention was in the Intermission. But he informs Dayton, that “the most exact punctuality” is expected about meeting again on August 6. “Mr. Paterson expects that you will attend at that time, as he is under the necessity of being absent.” He invites Dayton to travel back with him and the other members of the delegation to Philadelphia on Saturday August 4. But Dayton didn’t make it back to Philadelphia until August 8. It seems that Brearly returned by himself and was probably present for the start of Act III and remained for the remainder of the Convention. (Brearly also wrote from Philadelphia to Paterson on August 21 urging him to return.) He was clearly present for all of Act IV.
Seven delegates plus Benjamin Franklin were elected and four had to present to form a quorum. No pay per day — that was the official policy — no letters back home — they all lived in Philadelphia — so we can’t infer attendance from pay records or from correspondence because there aren’t any such records.
Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson spoke regularly at the Convention. When there is no record of them speaking, can we infer that they were absent? Four of the members of the delegation were serving upstairs, or perhaps it was downstairs, in the Pennsylvania Assembly. Did they do double duty? How often did Robert Morris attend? And there is the issue of Franklin’s health. There are all kinds of questions then concerning the attendance of the Pennsylvania delegation most of which require an educated guess. And there are times when the Pennsylvania delegation is divided!
Robert Morris was present on May 14 and spoke on May 25, when he nominated Washington as President, but he is not recorded as saying anything for the remainder of the Convention. He did, however, second a motion by Read on June 25. The contemporaneous correspondence and diaries suggest that he was politically active that summer. Is it reasonable to assume that if George Washington stayed at Morris’s town house and went to the Convention every day that Morris must also have attended daily?
George Clymer, signer of the Declaration of Independence, attended on May 28, but was absent on May 14 and 25. But did he attend most, or all, or very few, days of the Convention? We don’t have a record of him speaking until late August. And then he appears as a regular participant! He is appointed to a Committee on August 18, proposed a motion on August 21, appointed to another Committee on August 22, and recorded as speaking on August 28, 29, 31, and September 6 and 10. He was present at the signing.
(It was Clymer who received word from an express rider, arriving in Philadelphia between 3 am and 4 am in late September that Congress had sent on the Constitution.)
Thomas Fitzsimons was absent on May 14, but appeared on May 25. But what about after? There is no record of him speaking in June or July. We hear about him on August 7 where he seconds a motion, on August 21, when he comments on taxation, on August 26, when he is appointed to a committee, and then he comments during an exchange on August 31. He is also fairly active in September and is there for the signing.
Benjamin Franklin was there on May 28, but absent on May 25. Word has it that he attended every day, but how reliable is that word?
Jared Ingersoll was present on May 25. But what about after? There is no account of his contributing to the conversation even if he were there. Other than May 25, we know he was there on September 17 at the signing.
Thomas Mifflin was present on May 25. According to Pierce Butler’s diary, Mifflin was the delegate who found a copy of the revised Virginia plan on the floor and presented it to Washington, so we know he was present that day. But what about after? Mifflin’s situation is very similar to Ingersoll’s. But we do know he was present on August 14; he seconded a motion. And he was there at the signing. Jacob Hilzheimer in his diary, and historian David Kimball, in his extensive notes, suggest that Mifflin was very active in the Pennsylvania Assembly during September.
Gouverneur Morris was present May 25, left a few days later, perhaps as early as May 31, and returned on July 2. According to a compilation based on Madison’s Notes, he spoke 173 times at the Convention, which is the most of anyone. That is certainly one way to know when he was there! Can we assume that if there were a day that he didn’t speak, then he wasn’t there?
James Wilson, according to a compilation based on Madison’s Notes, spoke 168 times at the Convention, second only to Morris. What, if anything, can we infer about his attendance, or lack of attendance, on those days that he did not speak?
If we use the strict criterion standard that a delegate is present only if their name is mentioned by one or more of the delegates in their notes, then amassing an authoritative attendance record for the Pennsylvania delegates is very difficult indeed.
1) Let’s take July 12. “ON MR. PINCKNEY’S MOTION FOR RATING BLACKS AS EQUAL TO WHITES INSTEAD OF AS 3/5-MASS. NO. CONN. NO (DR JOHNSON AY) NJ. NO. PA NO [3 AGAINST 2] DEL. NO. MA. NO. VA. NO. NC. NO. SC. AY. GEO. AY.” This is Madison’s account of the last minute attempts by South Carolina and Georgia to boost their representation numbers in the first branch.
According to Madison, Pennsylvania had only 5/8 members present. But in this anti-slavery state, apparently two delegates were willing to compromise. It would have been delicious had Madison mentioned names here! Who was absent? We know that Gouverneur Morris and Wilson spoke that day, so who are the other three delegates? And who were the two of these three who were willing to go along with Pinckney?
2) Or take the strange cases of George Clymer and Thomas Fitzsimons. What are we to make of the fact that Clymer and Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania spoke on August 21? Prior today, there are only two days of the Convention on which Clymer was clearly present. Over the remaining 22 days of the Convention, however, he was clearly present on eight of those days. Fitzsimons’s situation is just as curious. Prior today, there were only two days on which Fitzsimons was clearly present. Over the last 22 days of the Convention, he was clearly present on seven of those days. In other words he spoke or indicated as present. This coincides with the meeting of the Pennsylvania Assembly of which both Clymer and Fitzsimons were members. Or, take Robert Morris. There are only three days on which Robert Morris is clearly present: May 25 (the first day of the Convention), June 25, and September 17 (the last day of the Convention and the day of the signing of the Constitution.) How about the fact that there were only three clear days that Jared Ingersoll was present: May 26, June 25, and September 17. Thomas Mifflin is also difficult to track. He was clearly present on May 25, August 14, and September 17.
3) Benjamin Franklin, Gouverneur Morris, and James Wilson are easier to track, but even they are not straight forward. Franklin is clearly present on 26 days of the 88 days that the Convention met. That amounts to a 30% guaranteed attendance record. But it could be more. Wilson can be clearly indentified as present on 69/88 days. Gouverneur Morris can be clearly indentified as present on 56/88 days. But it could be more. And how should we interpret the 19 days that Wilson is not clearly identified as being there? He was there, but kept unusually quiet? Similarly, what about the 32 days when Gouverneur Morris is not clearly identified as being present? The person who is recorded as speaking the most during the Convention cannot be identified as being clearly present on 32/88 days. We know that he was absent for 18/ days in June. But what about the other 14 days?
4) Both Jackson and Madison confirm that there were times that the Pennsylvania delegation were evenly divided. That means there were either 4 or 6 or 8 delegates present because of the quorum requirement of 4. There are other times that they were unevenly divided. Which means that either 5 or 7 of the delegates were present. And there other times, when Pennsylvania is recorded as not voting. That means that fewer than four delegates were present.
5) Take, for example, August 24. On the first three votes of the day, Pennsylvania did not vote because they lacked a quorum. That means that there were three or fewer delegates during the early morning session. We don’t know which five delegates were absent or whether one or more showed up in time for the fourth vote. No one from Pennsylvania speaks until after the second vote when a quorum is still lacking. Wilson speaks before the third vote and after the fourth vote. Gouverneur Morris speaks after the seventh vote. So if we presume that Wilson and Gouverneur Morris were there all day, which maximum of one other delegate was there during the early session and which fourth delegate showed up to secure the quorum?
6) Or how about September 1. This is the start of Act IV and the Brearly Committee, created at the end of Act III, is the center of attention. So the opening of Act IV portrays the delegates waiting for the Brearly Report. There is not much they can do to bring the Convention to and end without the Report. There was one recorded vote today, namely, a vote to adjourn! Only eight states present for the vote. New Hampshire was divided and thus both delegates were present. New Jersey was absent. More disturbing for our project of compiling an attendance record that helps understand the dynamics of the Convention, is the absence of Pennsylvania. This means that 5/8 of the Pennsylvania delegates were absent. We can presume that Gouverneur Morris is present because he is on the Brearly Committee and maybe Wilson and someone else are there. But that means that the other five delegates are clearly absent.
Delaware elected five members and three had to be present to meet the quorum requirement. David Kimball secured the billing records for the delegates, which I have reproduced below. But we can’t precisely translate billing per day into attendance at the Convention on a certain day. Apparently, the delegates billed Delaware if, in their opinion, they were still in the service of the state with respect to the Convention even though they might not have been physically present at the Convention. I have given these billing records a presumptive status concerning probable attendance, but have excluded them when it is clear the delegate has NOT been in attendance.
George Read was present on May 25. He billed Delaware for 136 days, not all of which were attendance at the Convention days:
May 3-May 18: 15 days
May 19-June 25: 38 days
June 26-July 27: 32 days
July 29-September 18: 51 days
No evidence exists that Read ever left the Convention. So the presumption is that he was there every day. He was recorded as being present on 30/88 days that the Convention met. And we can verify his presence with certainty except for: May 28-29, May 31-June 5, June 12, June 14, June 16-23, June 27-28, June 30-July 7, July 12, July 14, July 17-July 26, August 6, August 14-15, August 20, August 23, August 28, September 3, September 4-5, September 8-13. Other than possibly September 3, Read was probably present on the above mentioned days. Based on his expense report, the fact that he anchored the delegation, also there is no indication that he ever was absent from the Convention, and, finally the fact that these probable days are surrounded by definite attendance days, I have decided to declare Read present for every day of the Convention.
John Dickinson first attended the Convention on May 29. He was paid by Delaware at 20 shillings a day according to Kimball’s records. He billed Delaware for 74 days.
May 28-June 19: 24 days.
June 20- June 21: 2 days; July 24-July 27: 4 days.
August 6-September 15: 41 days.
Mary Norris wrote on July 4 that she was sorry to hear “Cousin Dickinson continues so very poorly, such constant daily attendance at the Convention was too fatueging for his Constitution at this Season of the Year, but Rest and quiet hope will soon restore his health.” This would confirm his early regular attendance during Act I and then his intermittent presence during Act II of the Convention. Apparently, he suffered from migraines and left the first two parts of the Convention from time to time.
Dickinson’s bill lists expenses for 24 days, including Sundays, from his arrival on May 28 until June 19. That means he is billing for 20 attendance days in Act I. So he is billing Delaware for May 28 which is a travel day for him. There are only 5/21 “suspect” days concerning Dickinson’s attendance in Act I. He is clearly absent for 2/21 and clearly present for 14/21 of those days. In the First Draft, I listed him as probably present on June 12-14 and June 16, and probably absent on May 31. The expense report confirms these probabilities which I have left stand as is.
Dickinson is billing for the first 2 days in Act II and 4 days near the end of Act II. He billed Delaware for July 24-27. There are a total of a possible 35 billing days including Sundays and the Independence Day holiday in Act II. But Dickinson limits his billing to six days! We can identify his presence on eight days from other sources: June 21, 29, 30 and July 5, 9, 10, 25 and 26. Thus it seems reasonable to alter the probably absent entries in the First Draft. I find some support indicating that Dickinson was at the Convention from either July 11-13 or July 20-23. James Hutson suggests that Dickinson was at the Convention from June 28-July 2 and from July 11-14! Thus there is some disagreement over these “other days.” I have altered Dickinson from probably absent to actually absent on June 22-26, 28; July 2, 6, 7, 11-20.
It is a lot easier to identify the attendance of Dickinson during Act III and Act IV. There are 43 days, including Sundays, between the start of Act III on August 6 and the end of Act IV on September 17. And he billed Delaware for 41/43 days because he was clearly absent on September 16 and 17. We know from other records that he was actually absent from September 15 onwards. Dickinson wrote to Read on September 15: He hopes that “Mr. Read will be so good as to subscribe Mr. Dickinson’s name” to the Constitution, “his indisposition and some particular circumstances requiring him to return home.” So he billed for September 15 as a “travel day” from Pennsylvania back to Delaware.
There are 23 meeting days in Act III. In the First Draft, I listed him as probably present on August 16 and 28, and probably absent on August 6. And present on the remaining 20 days. Additional records confirm his presence on August 16 and 28. So what are we to make of August 6? Delaware lacked a quorum. We know that Read was present and Bassett and Bedford were absent. That means that either and/or both Dickinson and Broom were absent that day. I have let the first Draft stand as is and marked Dickinson as probably absent on August 6. He more than likely went home during the Intermission and travelled back to Philadelphia on August 6.
Of the 14 days in Act IV, there is a question about clearly confirming his presence on September 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 11. In the First Draft, I listed him as “probably present” on September 4, 6, 8, and 10. I have changed that to being present on these days. No one knows what took place on September 11 except that the delegates met and quickly adjourned because the Committee of Style had not delivered their Report. September 3 is more difficult to determine. Delaware did not vote that day because of a failure to meet the internal quorum requirement of 3/5 delegates. The Records indicate that Read and Broom were present and Bedford was absent. Either Dickinson or Bassett, or both, were absent. I have let the “?” in the First Draft stand as is for September 3.
Jacob Broom‘s situation is even less clear because he was not reported by Madison and other note takers as being an articulate contributor to the conversation. He first attended the Convention on May 21 and he was present at the signing on September 17. He was paid for 110 days.
May 8-June 16: 38 days
June 17-July 28: 43 days
July 28-September 18: 29 days
But we can’t automatically translate the 110 billing days into the 88 Convention day because his billing days include the Intermission and the five days we know that he was absent in June.
The first entry in Broom’s expense report was for 38 days from May 8-June 16. The actual Convention days are 21. The first quorum day of the Convention was May 25.
He is recorded as being present on May 25. The problem days for the identification of Broom’s attendance at the Convention begin with the May 28-June 5 period during Act I. He is not recorded as voting or speaking. In the First Draft, I listed him as probably present during this early period. And I have decided to let the first Draft stand as is.
We know that he was absent from June 6-11. Yet, he still charged Delaware for this time away from the deliberations of the Convention. So, once again, we can’t simply infer from his expense report that he was present from May 28-June 5.
Nor can we infer that he was present every day from June 17-September 18. We have entered him as probably present for these days unless it is clear that he is actively present.
Richard Bassett was paid for 107 days. But he is only recorded as being clearly there by voting, speaking, or via the quorum rules on 9/88 days of the Convention. Here are his billing days:
May 24-June 14: 29 days
June 15-July 27: 42 days
July 28-August 31: 18 days
September 1-18: 18 days
Note that he includes the Intermission in his billing days as well as Sundays. He probably went home to Delaware during the Intermission.
Bassett arrived on May 21, but did not charge Delaware until May 24. He left the Convention during the Intermission, but did not return for the start of Act III on August 6. He returned from Delaware on August 14, one week after the end of the Intermission. He charged Delaware, however, during his absence in early August from the Convention. I have followed the First Draft and have entered him as probably present at the Convention unless it is clear that he is actively present or clearly absent.
Gunning Bedford‘s billing days are a lot closer than either those of Broom or Bassett to the actual days of attendance at the Convention.
He was paid for 78 days:
May 26-July 27: 62 days
Sept 3-18: 16 days
Bedford’s expense report of 62 billing days for May -July closely matches the actual attendance of the Convention I and Act II plus Sundays. (There were 51 attendance days starting on May 25 and ending on July 28.)
He left during the Intermission and was absent for the whole of Act III in August. But he did not submit an expense report during this period of non-attendance.
He was certainly back in Philadelphia by September 14, when his attendance is explicitly noted, in time to sign the Constitution. Given the accuracy of his expense report, he was probably present at the Convention as early as September 4. We know that he was absent for 26/88 days of the Convention. We also know that he was clearly present for 16/88 days. What are to do with the remaining 46/88 days? I think we can with considerable confidence declare him present for these 46 days.
Here is a Delaware oddity. On September 3, Delaware did not vote. And no one is recorded as speaking from Delaware today. Since the quorum requirement is 3/5, we can assume that Delaware had fewer than 3 delegates there all day. Bedford was absent from the Convention from July 26 to September 6. So that meant that at least two of the remaining four were absent on September 3. Who were they? My choices are Bassett and Dickinson.
Five delegates were elected but only one had to present to form a quorum. That led the Maryland delegates to negotiate extended absences with each other.
James McHenry was present May 28-31, but didn’t vote because he was under the impression that Maryland had a two-person quorum rule. He left on June 1 to take care of his dying brother. Accordingly, McHenry was clearly absent for most of Act I and all of Act II. He was present from August 6, after the Intermission, and was present at the signing on September 17. He was clearly present for every day the Convention met in Act III and Act IV.
Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was present from June 2 and remained until the end. He brought news to McHenry that Maryland had adopted a quorum requirement of one. McHenry promptly departed. George Washington noted in his diary, June 1: “Major Jenifer, coming in with powers from the state of Maryland authorizing one member to represent it, added another State, now eleven, to the convention.”
Although Jenifer missed the first six days of the Convention, he was clearly present, or probably present, for the rest of Act I. With the exception of July when he was clearly absent, Jenifer was clearly present, or probably present for Act II. Similarly, Jenifer was either clearly present or probably present for all of Act III and Act IV.
Luther Martin was first present on June 9, right in time for the battle over the Virginia Plan and the creation of the New Jersey Coalition. Although Martin missed the first twelve days of the Convention, he was clearly present, or probably present, for the rest of Act I and all of Act II. He was absent from August 7-12, but was clearly present, or probably present, for the remainder of Act III. On August 14, Gerry wrote to his wife: “Mr Martin I saw at convention: he rode from Trenton in the forenoon and had nearly fainted when he dismounted, on account of the heat .” This confirms Martin’s brief absence from the Convention in early August. He left for good on September 4, thus missing virtually all of Act IV.
Daniel Carroll missed all of Act I and the bulk of Act II. He was not present until July 9, but the evidence suggests that he then stayed to the end. He was clearly present for all but seven days in Act III and Act IV. He was probably present on those days.
Apparently, he was in no hurry to make his first appearance. He wrote to Michael Morgan O’Brien on May 25. He had just learned of his appointment. “It will be some time before I can enter on the execution of this trust. I dare not think of residing in Philadelphia during the summer months.”
John Francis Mercer missed all of Act I and Act II and it showed. The conversation had passed him by and issues he wanted to raise had already been settled. He was first present on August 6 for the start of Act III and his last recorded attendance was on August 17.
August 6, the first day of Act III, was the only day that all five elected members of the Maryland delegation were present. And it lasted less than two weeks.
Virginia elected seven members and three had to be present to meet the quorum requirement. The seven listed below, were not the original seven chosen. Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee declined their commissions. The former “smelled a rat,” and the latter said he had a conflict of interest; Lee was the President of the Confederation Congress.
John Blair was present on May 14 and attended the first full session on May 25. Madison’s Notes records him as in attendance on June 4 and 8, July 26, August 13 and 21, and September 12. He signed the Constitution on September 17. That amounts to 8/88 days clearly present. But there is no evidence of his absence at any time even though he rarely spoke and he must have been there during August when the Virginia delegation was divided. The First Draft lists Blair as probably present on 82/88 days. I have let the First Draft stand.
James McClurg was present on May 14 and attended the first full session on May 25. Madison’s Notes records him as certainly present on June 4 and 8, July 17, 18, and 20. That amounts to 6/88 attendance days. He was also certainly absent after August 5 and may have even been probably absent during the Intermission. He was probably present for Act I and most of Act II and clearly absent for all of Act III and Act IV.
James Madison attended from May 14 to the end and signed the Constitution. We know he was there every day because of his notes.
George Mason attended from May 17 and probably every day to the end. He declined to sign the Constitution even though he was present on September 17. In the First Draft of the attendance record, I have Mason clearly present on 64/88 days. And probably present on the remaining days. I have subsequently learned that Mason was clearly present on August 6, the start of Act III.
Mason wrote to Beverley Randolph on June 30. He says that the next two or three days should decide “whether any sound and effectual system can be established or not.” If yes, and that is dubious, although at this time he favors such an establishment, then they will be in Philadelphia until September. If no, then see you soon, because the Convention will have been hopelessly divided and collapsed. He feels “disagreeably circumstanced” since he is the only member of the Virginia delegation who is also a member of the Virginia Assembly and if something should happen to him, then the Assembly won’t have the necessary information. Thus he urges that a replacement for Wythe be chosen soon and chosen from the Assembly. This letter substantiates what we pretty much already know: Mason was an integral part of the conversation and the mood of delegates. And this could only occur because of regular daily attendance.
Edmund Randolph arrived on May 15 and probably attended every day to the end. He declined to sign the Constitution, but was present on September 17.
Randolph wrote to Beverley Randolph on June 6. He sends an accounting of expenditures: “By attending from the 6th of May to this day (both inclusive), 32 days, at 6 dols per day, which amount to 192 d’s, and are equal to £57.12.” He asks for £30 for bringing his wife, and reports that Wythe left £50 to be distributed among the Virginia delegates. Randolph wrote again to Beverley Randolph on July 12 requesting more money. He requests a further £100 for the delegation. “By attendance on the Convention, together with travelling Expenses from the 6th of May inclusive, to 19th July inclusive, being 74 days, at $6 a day, which are equal to $444; which are equal to £133.4.” So Randolph is charging Virginia for travel to Philadelphia and for Sundays.
It is difficult to translate this billing report into an attendance record. And anyway, the billing requests do not include Act III and Act IV and we know that Randolph was a major player in these two Acts. According to the First Draft of the attendance record, I have Randolph clearly present on 14/21 days in Act I. I have subsequently increased that to 15/21 with the other days probably present. In Act II, I have him clearly attending 27/30 days with the other days probably present.
In Act III, in light of subsequent information, I altered his clear attendance from 18/23 to 21/23 days. The remainder are probably present. He is clearly present on 11/14 days in Act IV. The remainder are probably present. Like Mason, I list Randolph as clearly present or probably present for all the sessions.
George Washington was present from May 14 to the end and signed the Constitution. He was President of the Convention and kept a diary that indicates he attended the Convention every day.
George Wythe was present on May 14, left on June 4 and resigned on June 15. He never returned.
NORTH CAROLINA: 3/5
North Carolina elected five members; three had to be present to meet the quorum requirement. Governor Caswell wrote to the delegation on July 1. He has just approved adding 2 more months allowance for the 4 delegates to the 4 months already approved so that they can “attend to the completing of this business.” The North Carolina delegates, in turn, wrote to Governor Caswell on August 7. The point to this letter is to move things along. We will soon be sending the final version to Congress “and as they are only to consider whether the System shall or shall not be recommended to the States, the business cannot remain long before them.” So they sought permission to send part of the delegation at the Convention in Philadelphia to the Confederation Congress in New York to await the document, give assent and then try to persuade the North Carolina legislature to call a ratifying convention.
William Davie wrote to James Iredell on May 30, He says he arrived in Philadelphia on “the 22nd.” That would be in sufficient time for the quorum-opening day of May 25. Davie informed Iredell on July 17, “As soon as the general principles are established I shall set out.” Davie wrote again to Iredell on August 6. He is going to leave on Monday next “since the great outlines are now marked, and detailed by a committee: the residue of the work will rather be tedious than difficult.” He wrote to Governor Caswell on 23 August: he left on the 13th of August since “all the other Gentlemen were attending and agreed to stay,” and the principles had been agreed to.
David Kimball’s records show that Davie requested 3 months reimbursement for attendance at the Convention for £192 and travel £128. That surely includes travel from North Carolina to Philadelphia in mid-May and a return trip from Philadelphia to North Carolina in mid-August. But, it seems, Davie is also charging for Sundays and the Intermission. So it is difficult to translate his expense report into actual days of attendance. What is clear from the non-billing records is that he left Philadelphia on August 13 and never returned.
In the First Draft, I have Davie clearly in attendance for 15/88 days, probably in attendance for 42/88, and absent for 31/88. I have let the First Draft stand.
William Blount, representing North Carolina in the Confederation Congress in New York, wrote to Governor Caswell on May 28. He said that the Confederation Congress was struggling for a quorum and it is unlikely to do much business until the Convention rises. Since North Carolina was “well represented” in Philadelphia, Blount decided that he would stay to see what transpired in New York. Besides, he was still too indisposed to make the journey.
Blount admitted to Joseph Clay on June 11, that there were not enough states represented for a quorum at the Confederation Congress. Accordingly, he will leave “in a few days” for Philadelphia. In other words, what is the point of staying in New York and doing nothing!
He is recorded as being present at the Convention from June 20-July 2. He returned to represent North Carolina in the Confederation Congress from July 4-August 3.
Spaight wrote to John Gray Blount on July 3 that “your brother left this yesterday morning for New York, from whence he will return in eight or nine days.” Williamson informs Iredell on July 8 that Blount seeing a quorum and a united delegation, decided to return to NewYork. Blount wrote to Governor Caswell on July 10. Since the North Carolina Convention delegates are “generally unanimous and competent to the purposes of their mission,” he thinks the state is better off if he returned to New York. Blount confirms this opinion in a letter to his brother on July 19 also.
Blount returned to Philadelphia over the Intermission, and was present in Philadelphia, but probably not at the Convention, on August 7. He wrote to Caswell on August 20. He explains how he returned to Philadelphia from New York on the 7th and will remain until the end, which, he anticipates, will be about a month away.
I have decided to leave the First Draft concerning Blount’s attendance as is.
Alexander Martin was present on May 25; he left in late August. Precisely when is the question. He wrote to Governor Caswell from Philadelphia on 20 August 1787. The delegates will be here, he said, until mid September because the going is a slow paragraph by paragraph process. He had to leave, but the Governor should not be concerned: “the deputation from the state of North Carolina have generally been unanimous on all great questions.” So we know he was in Philadelphia on the 20th of August and we also know from the record that he was permanently gone after August 31. The days that are up in the air are August 27-30.
Richard Dobbs Spaight attended the Convention from May 19 to the end. That, at least, is what Farrand tells us. He was clearly present for 10/23 of Act III and clearly present for all 14 days of Act IV. I have less confidence in his clear attendance during Act I and Act II. The letter below to Governor Caswell suggests that he was at the Convention daily up through mid-June. But the records also show he was absent for five days from July 10-14 toward the end of Act II.
Spaight wrote independently to Governor Caswell on June 12. He asks for a “further advance of two months’ Salary.” He joins his colleagues in writing to Caswell on June 14. “We are near the middle of June and though we sit from day to day, Saturdays included, it is not possible for us to determine when the business before us can be finished.” (Italics added.) Please send money. Spaight writes to Iredell on August 12. We should be done by the 1st to the 15th of Sept, he says. It is unlikely, he concludes, that we will be able to duplicate these favorable circumstances at another convention. Thus, in other words, he intends to see this one through to its conclusion. This validates what the records actually show: he was clearly present through all of Act IV.
Hugh Williamson arrived on May 25. He wrote to James Iredell on July 8. “The diverse and almost opposite interests that are to be reconciled, occasion us to progress very slowly.” The delegation will miss Davie, especially since Alexander Martin is “exhausted.” He wrote to John Gray Blount on July 19: Col Davie needs to return home at the start of August to attend circuit court. So too must Martin. Williamson wrote to Governor Caswell on 20 August 1787. He informed him that Davie left on August 13 to go to the North Carolina Superior Court and Martin leaves on the 27th for the same purpose. He indicated that they were now at their minimum quorum requirement. Later he shall explain, “how difficult a part has fallen to the share of our state in the course of this business.” We will stay, he concludes, until all is over.
Spaight and Williamson were the “permanent members” of the North Carolina, but they needed one more member to secure the internal quorum. Davie and Martin performed that role during Act I and Act II. The Intermission, however, led to a change in the character of the delegation. Both Davie and Martin announced their intention to return home, which they did during Act III. Thus Blount, who seemed more interested in representing North Carolina in the Confederation Congress in New York, had to return to Philadelphia to secure the internal quorum. Spaight, Williamson, and Blount were together during a substantial part of Act III and all of Act IV.
SOUTH CAROLINA: 2/4
South Carolina elected four members and two had to be present to meet the quorum requirement. After intense scrutiny over several years, I am prepared to say that all four delegates were present for every day of the Convention.
Pierce Butler attended from May 25, and to the end, says Farrand. He is correct.
Butler wrote to Weedon Butler on August 1. He is in New York visiting his family during the Intermission break from the task “to form a stronger Constitution on strict federal principles.” He adds “we have sat every day since the 25th of May till last Saturday, when we adjourned for one week.” (Italics added.) He returns to Philadelphia, he says, on Sunday, just in time for the re-convening of the Convention on August 6. He signed the Constitution.
Charles Pinckney attended from May 25 to the end, says Farrand. He is correct.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney attended from May 25 to the end, says Farrand. He is correct.
John Rutledge attended from May 25 to the end, says Farrand. He is correct.
There is no indication in any of the records that any of the delegates left at any time during the sitting of the Convention. Not once did South Carolina have a quorum problem. No one wrote home that someone had left temporarily.
In the First Draft, I indicate there is not one definite, or even probable, absence for any of the delegates on any of the attendance days. All the entries in the First Draft indicate actual or probable attendance for each of the delegates on each and every day. Subsequent research has turned a number of the probable attendance into actual attendance occurrences. Even though all this is reasonable conjecture, I have decided, however, NOT to turn the probable attendances in the First Draft into actual attendances and thus present a full attendance for all the South Carolina delegates in the final version. Nevertheless, South Carolina is the only state in which every elected delegate was present or probably present from the start to the finish of the Convention.
Georgia elected four members and two had to be present to meet the quorum requirement.
Henry Knox wrote to Washington on May 29: William Pierce and Houston left New York yesterday. (They were in New York representing Georgia in the Confederation Congress.) George Washington, in his diary, May 30, 31, June 1, 1787 notes the arrival of Pierce and Houston from New York.
William Pierce left Philadelphia and returned to New York some time in June. William Blount, still in New York, writes to John Gray Blount on June 15: Pierce returned to New York from Philadelphia, but Pierce doesn’t say much beyond general terms and that the delegates could be there until mid October. Nathan Dane, however, wrote to Rufus King from New York on June 19 that Pierce divulged more than he should have concerning the workings of the Convention. He says that he doubts that “Mr. P., who two or three days since came to this city, fully understood the true meaning, full and just extent of the order not to communicate &c.” Pierce writes to William Short on July 25: “After continuing in that Council until all the first principles of the new Constitution were established, I came on again to New York, and am now in Congress.”
Abraham Baldwin is marked present for the first time on June 11 and probably remained thereafter. So he wasn’t present for most of Act I. The record indicates that he was present every day in Act III and Act IV.
He writes to Joel Barlow on July 26 that he wished that he had joined Johnson and Sherman during the impending Intermission, “but dared not leave the state unrepresented.” This confirms that only Baldwin and Houston were present from Georgia at this time and both had to be at the Convention in order for Georgia to cast a vote. It is a bit odd that he didn’t feel “safe enough” to leave during the Intermission.
William Few was present in Philadelphia on May 19 and attended the first full session on May 28. He left Philadelphia in early July in order to represent Georgia in the Confederation Congress. He was in New York from July 4 — until early August and back in Philadelphia from August 7 to the end. Thus Georgia lacked a quorum at the Convention in Philadelphia on August 6.
William Houstoun was present on June 1 and probably present until the Intermission. He joined Pierce and travelled to New York to represent Georgia in the Confederation Congress during August and September and did not return to Philadelphia.
Baldwin and Houston anchored the Georgia delegation in Act I and Act II with help, especially in Act II, from Few. Baldwin and Few anchored the Georgia delegation during Act III and Act IV and attended every day of the Convention during this period. Houston and Pierce were absent and thus played no part in Act III and Act IV. In fact, Pierce attended a maximum of twenty-one days during the entire Convention.