Difficulty with Two-Thirds Clause

Elbridge Gerry, delegate from Massachusetts
James Bogle, after John Vanderlyn, 1861

Independence National Historical Park

Difficulty with Two-Thirds Clause

"I am as sick of being here as you can conceive, most of the Time I am at home or in convention ...We meet now at ten and sit till four but entre nous I do not expect to give my voice to the measure."

-Elbridge Gerry to his wife Ann

Governor Livingston (NJ) reported from the Committee on State Debts and the Militia, recommending giving the National Legislature power to pay the debts incurred by Congress and by the States during the late war, and the power to make laws for organizing - arming and disciplining the militia - reserving to the states the appointment of officers. Gerry (MA) opposed just giving the power to pay debts - he wanted the obligation to pay them recognized. Ellsworth (CT) moved to table the report - the motion carried.

After discussion on apportioning direct taxes, the Convention took up Article VII, Section 4: "No tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall such migration or importation be prohibited."

Langdon wished to give the Federal Government the power to tax exports. He was supported by Morris (PA), Dickinson (DE), Madison (VA), Wilson (PA), Fitzsimmons (PA) and Clymer, and opposed by Ellsworth, Williamson (NC), Butler (SC), Sherman (CT), Gerry (MA) and Mason (VA). The opponents won.

L. Martin (MD) now moved to permit a tax on importation of slaves because the 2/3 provision was an encouragement to such imports, because slaves weakened a part of the Union which the remainder was bound to defend, and because "it was inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character to have such a feature in the Constitution."

Rutledge (SC) and Charles Pinckney (SC) defended the clause as it stood; Ellsworth was for leaving it alone, and the Convention adjourned.

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Wednesday, August 22, 1787
Arguing Around the Slave Trade

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