Edmund Randolph laid before the Constitutional Convention of 1787 fifteen resolutions as Virginia’s—and James Madison’s—plan for a new national government. It envisaged political power shifting decisively from the state to the national level. What were the features of Randolph’s resolutions?
The resolutions proposed by Edmund Randolph began with the proposition that Congress be restructured to consist of two branches. He proposed that the representation in the National Legislature ought also to be proportioned to the number of free inhabitants in each state. He further stated that the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several states, and the members of the second branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the individual legislatures of the states.
This is a transcript from the video series America’s Founding Fathers. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
National Legislature to Legislate All Cases
Then, came the real sting: he proposed that the new Congress have clear and unquestioned authority over the states:
National Legislature be empowered to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.
National Executive and National Judiciary to be Instituted
Almost as radical was Randolph’s resolution that a national executive be instituted with a general authority to execute the national laws. This executive would represent a second, independent department of the government. It would in other words no longer be, like Thomas Mifflin, merely the presiding officer of the Congress.
And there was also to be a third department, a National Judiciary to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature to hear cases in which foreigners or citizens of other states applying to such jurisdictions may be interested, or which respect the collection of the national revenue. No more Rhode Island law by whim; no more state courts acting as though they had power over everyone else’s affairs.
Learn more about Edmund Randolph’s plan.
States Bound by Oath to Support the Union
In order to amplify that political power was now shifting decisively from the state to the national level, Randolph added a penultimate resolution: that the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers within the several states ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of union.
Randolph’s speech and the presentation of his resolutions took up most of day’s session, and while the hands in these resolutions may have been Randolph’s, the voice was clearly that of James Madison, which makes all the more surprising the proposal laid before the House by the next, and last, speaker of the day.
The Pinckneys’ of South Carolina
The South Carolina delegation was composed of two men with the name Pinckney, the first being the highly influential Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who had led South Carolina into the Revolution, fought under Washington’s command, and had even endured a spell as a prisoner of war after the surrender of Charleston to the British in 1780. His younger cousin, Charles Pinckney, had also fought in the Revolution and endured capture at the surrender of Charleston, but he was discounted by many as an empty-headed fop.
So it was entirely outside of Madison’s careful planning to have the younger Pinckney announce that he had his own “draught of a federal government which he had prepared, to be agreed upon between the free and independent States of America.” And what was even more galling was that Pinckney’s plan was not a bad one—in fact, it was not dissimilar to what Madison and the Virginia delegation had worked upon so carefully, and which Edmund Randolph had just introduced.
Madison, in what many have regarded as a fit of pique, declined to include anything of Pinckney’s proposal in his posthumous minutes of the Convention beyond the bare mention of its introduction on May 29.
Learn more about the new national executive.
Senate and the House of Delegates
“There should be,” Pinckney declared, “a bicameral national Congress.” He labeled one branch the Senate, borrowing the name from the ancient Roman council of elders, and the other the House of Delegates. The House of Delegates was to be elected by the citizens of the United States as a whole, with one member for every 1,000 inhabitants, while the Senate was to be elected from four districts, either by the House of Delegates or directly by the people at large.
Together, the House of Delegates and the Senate shall, by joint ballot, annually choose a president in whom the executive authority of the United States shall be vested. Every state would retain its rights, but like Randolph’s plan, state laws and legislation would be subject to review by the Congress, and no bill of the legislature of any state shall become a law till it shall have been laid before the Senate and House of Delegates in Congress assembled and received their approbation.
Pinckney Plan: A Viable Forerunner
This was actually a slightly more radical plan than Randolph’s, and it is peculiar that Madison’s otherwise exquisitely detailed notes make no mention at all of any of the Pinckney plan’s provisions. What is certain is that Madison loathed him. He denounced Pinckney in terms so scathing that Washington dryly remarked to Madison that “Mr. C. P. is unwilling, I perceive by the enclosures contained in your favor of the 13th, to lose any fame that can be acquired by the publication of his sentiments.”
So, whether Pinckney really drafted a viable forerunner of the Constitution on his own, or, as Madison believed or wanted everyone else to believe, Pinckney confected such a plan long after the fact in order to boost his own self-importance. That is one of the many mysteries that will always surround the Constitutional Convention.
Common Questions about Edmund Randolph’s Plan
Edmund Randolph proposed that the National Legislature be empowered to legislate in all cases to which the separate states are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual legislation.
Edmund Randolph added a penultimate resolution: that the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers within the several states ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of union.
Edmund Randolph proposed National Judiciary as the third department. It was to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature.