History of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as Presented in
1787 the Musical
We Wrote the Constitution
by Robert Picklesimer
CHAPTER 6, PART 3
The Smaller States
(continued from Chapter 6, Part 2)
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 3 Delaware and Maryland
The Delaware Delegation consisted of multiple delegates caught in a conundrum. They were all in favor of a newer, stronger federal government with a wider authority to protect the rights of their small state Delaware against the incursions, if only financial, of their much larger neighbors, but they still felt the need to protect the sovereignty of their state.
For the purposes of the musical we again had to decide who was indispensable for telling the story. The first two who came to mind were the returnees from the 1776 Convention – John Dickinson and George Read. That Convention was the one which approved the Declaration of Independence over the objections of John Dickinson and with the reluctant support of George Read. John Dickinson, known early on as the “penman of the Revolution” for his “Letters from a Farmer” and other tracts written in the late 1760s arguing the rights of citizens in the British empire who resided in America, was also, as is demonstrated in 1776, a pivotal character in that year’s Convention. By the 1787 Convention, Dickinson had written the Articles of Confederation, had become President of both Delaware and Pennsylvania (once, during a two month period, he served as both), and led the Delaware delegation to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, being part of that serious discussion about a more powerful central government. Dickinson was clearly an Older Patriot. But he was also, for the purposes of 1787 the Musical, a Grumbletonian. He wanted a new national government, but one that did not undercut the sovereignty of his Delaware, a hard line to walk. Likewise, his compatriot, George Read, was in 1776, and was very active in Delaware politics of 1786-1787. He also attended the Annapolis Convention as a federalist (at this stage federalist meant a stronger supporter of a central national government), and yet arranged for the Delaware legislature to give instructions to their 1787 Delegation not to accept any arrangement which denied Delaware an equal vote with the other states attending the 1787 Convention. For that reason the Rules Committee of the 1787 Convention was forced to give every state an equal vote in the deliberations of that assembly. However, because of limitations on stage space and cast size, George Read was one of the very last to be deleted from the cast list, and all his lines were given to Gunning Bedford, Jr. George Read was also an Old Patriot, and we missed him in the musical, but his positions mirrored Dickinson’s, and, based on George Read’s unassuming character in 1776, we let him remain unassuming and edited him out of 1787 the Musical.
We let go of George Read, regrettably, because for the dynamics of 1787 the Musical we felt we had to keep Gunning Bedford, Jr. The very centerpiece of the musical is the conflict between the large and small states, and the central conflict is nowhere demonstrated more forcefully than with the ironic near-fight between Gunning Bedford, Jr., a large man defending a small state, and Rufus King, a small man defending a large state, toward the end of Act I. This directly led to Benjamin Franklin’s temporizing motions to have a prayer given before their sessions, and Roger Sherman’s subsequent political maneuverings to arrive at the Great Compromise which saved this Convention and perhaps the country itself. That dynamic had to remain, so Bedford had to remain, and George Read, again treated callously by history, had to go.
The final two delegates from Delaware, Richard Bassett and Jacob Broom, were silent, inconspicuous attendees of little influence, who followed the lead of their more dynamic brethren from Delaware, and hence were not needed at all for 1787 the Musical.
Notes on characterization made by Lucinda Lawrence in an appendix to the script of the musical for Dickinson – “sings barbershop lead and baritone parts; old and frail, but persistently dedicated to creating a sound government,” and Bedford is described by his corpulent contrast to the much smaller Rufus King with whom he comes into conflict.
Maryland only sent five delegates to the Convention, two of which had served directly with General Washington during the War of Independence. Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer and Daniel Carroll were staunch federalists, willing to back the main plan for a central government, and both had worked with General Washington during the war and in the Confederation Congress afterward. Luther Martin and John Francis Mercer were just as staunch anti-federalists. Many suggest that Luther Martin, the long-term Attorney General of Delaware, helped Paterson write the New Jersey Resolves, and Martin is one of the most vocal of those opposed to the Virginia Resolves. The final member of the Maryland delegate was James McHenry, who had served with General Washington during the war, and undoubtedly would have sided with the federalists at the Convention. But McHenry was called from the Convention due to a severe illness of his brother in the first few days, and thereafter the Maryland delegation was perfectly divided, two for and two against. McHenry returned at the very end of the Convention but by then most of the critical issues had already been decided. So we needed only one representative for each faction to keep Maryland’s opposing sides.
The decisions to utilize Luther Martin and Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer to represent the two factions were actually easy ones. Due to the subtle dynamics in Maryland the state shifted multiple times during the Convention, based primarily on the attendance of St. Thomas Jenifer and his opposite, Luther Martin. Luther Martin was one of the most vocal opponents to the Virginia Plan. As noted above, he may have helped Paterson write the New Jersey Plan, and he was given an entire day to speak against the Virginia Plan at the Convention. He was the lead speaker for the anti-federalist faction, and he remained that way throughout the Convention, until he left the Convention in disgust when it appeared the new central government would pass. We had a marvelous actor, Craig Krukewitt, playing Luther Martin in the premiere production, and he played the drunken, disheveled nature of the great legalistic mind to good comic effect. Though the longest term Attorney General in the state of Maryland, they were even amused by him in Maryland, where the tale was told and retold that he was reading a book while walking in the street, bumped into a cow, and asked the cow’s pardon, as if he had bumped into a fellow citizen. We were able to use Martin’s comic outrage, with good effect at certain stages, and even the fact that his windy diatribes were ignored by most of the Convention delegates.
But the two points where Martin and his opposite, Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer, were most vital to the proceedings of the 1787 Assembly, were not because of their presence, but their absence. St. Thomas Jenifer was a sworn ally of the federalist cause, especially to Madison and James Wilson, but it was becoming increasingly clear by mid-Convention that the conflict between the large and small states was threatening to tear the Convention apart. The large states had a majority, but as the conflict, between Rufus King of Massachusetts and Gunning Bedford, Jr. just before the Act Break makes clear, the small states were willing to split off, taking New York with them, and jeopardizing the entire concept of a United States. Benjamin Franklin and Roger Sherman saw this: Franklin pleaded to add a system of prayer before their meetings to curb the flaring tempers, and Sherman took that as an opportunity to maneuver a political compromise. But Maryland’s perfectly balanced neutrality up until that time had prevented the small states from achieving a Senate which would provide them equal rights with the large states. When Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer is conspicuously absent on that crucial vote just after the Act Break, and just after meeting with Roger Sherman at the Indian Queen, it allows Maryland to vote “for” a Senate, a second house with equal votes for every state. This great compromise allowed the small states some vehicle for having some equal say to balance out the strong numerical advantage the larger states would enjoy in the larger House. In the play even Martin is surprised by Jenifer’s absence, surprised that he is able to vote with the small states, thus protecting Maryland. That helps lead to the tie vote that eventually leads to the Grand Committee which agrees to the Great Compromise (Sherman’s Compromise, the Connecticut Compromise), which leads to the two houses of Congress. The first house is based upon the numbers of citizens in each state giving the large states the large delegations, and the second house maintains an equal two votes for each state, affording some protection to the minority interests, usually commercial but not necessarily so, in those smaller states.
Then, ironically, after seemingly deliberately absenting himself during this crucial vote, Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer finds himself later without Martin at a critical juncture of the Convention and the play. Nearing the end of the Convention, when Benjamin Franklin makes the motion for the state delegations to unanimously support the new Constitution (without every individual delegate having to agree to the new document, the new country), Maryland’s most staunch opponent, Luther Martin, has already left the Assembly (“smelling a rat” as it were). Daniel St. Thomas Jenifer finds himself alone representing Maryland when that final crucial vote comes to approve the new federal government, and Jenifer is able to vote for the new government.
Notes on characterization made by Lucinda Lawrence in an appendix to the script of the musical for Martin – “a renowned lawyer, player must be able to capitalize on drunkenness, slovenly appearance, and establish himself as the ‘complainer’ among the delegates to elicit a laugh through his delivery from time to time,” and St. Thomas Jenifer is described in dress as an older gentlemen (and perhaps dressing in an older style) as “– old and dated (18th century) style; a pawn in Sherman’s 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, PART 2 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 5, PART 3 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 6, PART 1 Small States; “Grumbletonians”; New Jersey Plan; Great Compromise
CHAPTER 6, PART 2 Small States; “Grumbletonians”; New Jersey Plan; Great Compromise
to be released:
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