History of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as Presented in
1787 the Musical
We Wrote the Constitution
by Robert Picklesimer
CHAPTER 6, PART 2
The Smaller States
(continued from Chapter 6, Part 1)
Chapter 6, Part 1 The “Grumbletonians,” the New Jersey Plan, the term “Federalist”
Chapter 6, Part 2 The Great Compromise – Sherman’s Compromise – and the Political Wrangling to get it there
Chapter 6, Part 3 Delaware and Maryland
Chapter 6, Part 2 The Great Compromise – Sherman’s Compromise – and the Political Wrangling to get it there
Roger Sherman of Connecticut is one of the most interesting of all the delegates to this Convention, and to our musical. Not because his character is necessarily inherently interesting – though his character is interesting – but because of the very interesting function he performs at this Convention. Thomas Jefferson once pointed him out to a friend, saying, “This is Mr. Sherman of Connecticut, a man who never said a foolish thing in his life.” He is the only person to sign all of America’s founding documents – the Resolves of 1774; the Declaration of Independence (he was one of the men on the Committee to draft the Declaration along with Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Livingston of New York); the Articles of Confederation; and the Constitution – and he served in the first Congress as Representative and the second Congress as Senator. John Adams described him as “an old Puritan, as honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American independence as Mount Atlas,” but many called him ‘as cunning as the Devil.”
For the purposes of this musical, Roger Sherman is the ultimate politician, not a politician like Edmund Randolph, who blows whichever way the wind goes, but a politician who actually maneuvers, politicks, and gets things done. In our play he is the counter, both in his location on stage, and in his philosophy, to Benjamin Franklin. Just as Franklin is the congenial elder statesman for the federalists, so too is Roger Sherman the brusque elder statesman of the conditional anti-federalists, those who will not pass this Constitution as Madison first proposes it.
The very essence of the conflict in the Convention, and with our musical, lies with Roger Sherman. The larger states at that Convention contended that the smaller states would have to come into line if the large states proposed a Constitution based solely on proportional representation, but many, such as Roger Sherman, realized the United States could not survive without all the States being represented.
The very center of 1787 the Musical, the dramatic tension that makes it go forward, is the conflict between the large states and the small states at this Convention, and the Resolution of that tension is in the so-called “Great Compromise,” which is alternately called “the Connecticut Compromise,” and is quite rightfully called “Sherman’s Compromise.” He quite literally saved the Convention. We provide for this approaching the Act Break: when the entire assembly is reduced to quibbling with each other, Franklin proposes a prayer to calm everyone down (which motion Sherman seconds). The natural factions have broken out so: the “Big Three” (the most populous states – Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania) have a natural alliance with the three large Southern states (North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, which are expected to grow in population) to support proportional representation in both houses of the legislature that have already been agreed to; whereas the opposing faction, wanting equal representation of states, is made up primarily of the small states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, and incongruously the larger state of New York (whose majority of delegates – Lansing and Yates, opposed to and outnumbering Hamilton – vote against any submission of New York to any larger authority that New York cannot control). The factions stand six states to five in favor of strictly proportional representation for most of the early part of the Convention. The states of New Hampshire and Rhode Island are not represented during the early part of the Convention, and, in point of fact, Rhode Island is never represented.
Ironically, in the actual proceedings (which we do not belabor in the musical) the first vote for a proportional representation in the First House of the Legislature is seven to three, Maryland being divided, and Connecticut hoping to agree with the large states in the First House and thereby to get them to agree to equal representation in the second house. However, when this does not come to pass because the large states are still adamantly opposed to equal representation in the Second House, the States are reduced once again to a chaotic argument – the stage is set for a failure of this Constitutional Convention, and of the new United States of America. That is when Rufus King of Massachusetts, an ardent federalist who is a relatively small man, and Gunning Bedford, Jr., a very large man, of the small state of Delaware, nearly come to blows. But Ben Franklin proposes, as they are near the celebration of the 4th of July, that a prayer be given at the beginning of their sessions. He does this to break up the argument/fight between Bedford and King, between large and small states. Roger Sherman is quick to agree, and we near the Act Break with the major issue largely unresolved. But that is when Roger Sherman goes to work.
In the scene at the Indian Queen tavern, and in the very first scene when delegates return to the Convention, Roger Sherman maneuvers to achieve at least a tie. Then they must take into account the concerns of the “minority” (small states) faction. How does he do it? Of the eleven states present, Sherman needs five to vote his way, with five against, and one to abstain. He can get four: Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. But Maryland is split exactly down the middle between the delegates to the Convention, in the musical represented by two delegates, Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer and Luther Martin, who are diametrically opposed to each other. Maryland is naturally a small state and should side with that faction, but Jenifer is pledged to support Madison in his votes. Sherman avoids this conflict by encouraging Jenifer to “conveniently” not be present when it is time for Maryland’s vote, a fact that takes even Luther Martin comically off-guard in our play. And then the vote would still be six to five, except Sherman has one more trick in his pocket. He encourages Baldwin, from Georgia, who was originally from the small state of Connecticut, to abstain, surprising nearly everyone in the more populous states – and the game is on.
Sherman proposes a Committee to resolve the differences, and it is made up of small states’ compromisers: the Senate is born, having equal representation of each state, to join the already-agreed to House of Representatives. Small states’ concerns are alleviated, and we eventually have a Constitution and a United States of America. It should be observed, for historical accuracy, that Baldwin actually voted against the large states, but all that did was offset the only other Georgia delegate there at the time. We used the single delegate from Georgia as an abstention to arrive at the same result.
Many, including the Colliers in their book, Decision in Philadelphia, dismiss this concern for the minorities in the small states, and the reasons the minority rights for the small states were established. The same dismissal occurs toward the Electoral College which is an outgrowth of this allowance for the rights of the minority. This actually, probably more by accident than design, accounts for the success of the United States. The French Revolution, not twenty years later, devolved into the destruction of minorities by the majority: first it was the landed gentry, or commercial elitists, then it was political opponents and minorities. Though the attempt to mollify all the factions failed in many respects (slavery being the most classic example, which we address in the musical), this accounting for the rights of the minority while attempting to follow the will of the majority, has actually served as a cultural linchpin of this fledgling nation, and has continued to this day. Using the Electoral College as an example, it forces presidential campaigns to focus on winning across the country rather than in just a few select states. Acknowledging that that has led to some contemporary difficulties, it still has served well for more than two hundred years to help balance the factions in this country, rather than allowing the factions to destroy each other when one or the other is temporarily in charge. This allows the factions help hold the country together, rather than making it fall apart, as happened in France.
In Roger Sherman’s case, he does not aim at any grand design. He is merely attempting to practically support his small state from domination by the larger states. The result is a United States and its Constitution which has survived more than two hundred years. And Sherman was not without his thorny points. He opposed a Bill of Rights, not for the reasons others suggest, but for his insistence that any Bill of Rights in a national Constitution implied that the national government had authority over those rights, and if we once started listing any limitations on the national government, we would not be able to list all the limitations, and we would need to.
In 1787 the Musical, we have only one representative from Connecticut, and it had to be Roger Sherman. It is his Compromise that saves the Constitution. But as mentioned earlier, Oliver Ellsworth, as Sherman’s functionary, and William Samuel Johnson because of his status, both have aspects to recommend them, but they basically agree with Sherman, and Sherman was the one indispensable delegate from Connecticut.
Notes on characterization made by Lucinda Lawrence in an appendix to the script of the musical – “old, New England accent; presented the Great Compromise, respected, though he makes political moves among the delegates, playing them to his own purposes. His savvy political prowess is acknowledged by the other delegates. He should come across as good-natured, grandfatherly, gathering more favor ‘with honey than vinegar’, and that makes him very sneaky in his political maneuverings.”(to be continued)
CHAPTER 1, PART 1 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 2 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 3 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 2, PART 1 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 2, PART 2 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 3 Who Made the Cut
CHAPTER 4 Virginia Delegation
CHAPTER 5 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 5, PART 1 Benjamin Franklin’s Influence
CHAPTER 5, PART 2 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 5, PART 3 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 6 The Smaller States
CHAPTER 6, PART 1 The “Grumbletonians,” the New Jersey Plan, the term “Federalist”
CHAPTER 6, PART 2 The Great Compromise – Sherman’s Compromise – and the Political Wrangling to get it there
to be released:
CHAPTER 6, PART 3 Delaware and Maryland
CHAPTER 7 The Other Two States with Grumbletonians: Massachusetts and New York
CHAPTER 7, PART 1 The divided Massachusetts
CHAPTER 7, PART 2 The division of New York
CHAPTER 7, PART 3 Hamilton, before leaving the Convention
CHAPTER 7, PART 4 Hamilton returns
CHAPTER 7, PART 5 Robert Yates and John Lansing, Jr.
CHAPTER 8 Delegations from the South
1787 THE MUSICAL