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Debating the Bill of Rights Amendments in 1789
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Mr. [Egbert] Benson [of New York] moved that the words ‘but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms,’ be struck out. He wished that this humane provision should be left to the wisdom and benevolence of government. It was improper to make it a fundamental in the constitution.”

This issue of the Pennsylvania Packet includes key debates in the House of Representatives on the developing set of amendments that were later ratified as the Bill of Rights. It also prints the Act establishing the War Department.

[BILL OF RIGHTS]. The Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser. Newspaper, August 22, 1789 (No. 3295). Philadelphia: John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole. 4 pp., 11⅜ x 18¼ in.

Inventory #24831       Price: $7,500

Excerpts

Sixth amendment—‘A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.’

Mr. [Egbert] Benson [of New York] moved that the words ‘but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms,’ be struck out. He wished that this humane provision should be left to the wisdom and benevolence of government. It was improper to make it a fundamental in the constitution.

The motion was negative, and the amendment agreed to.” (p2/c4)

[Proposed by Congress without last clause as fourth amendment; ratified as Second Amendment.]

Eleventh amendment—‘The enumeration in this constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.’

This was agreed to without amendment.” (p2/c4)

[Proposed by Congress as eleventh amendment; ratified as Ninth Amendment.]

Twelfth amendment—‘Art . 1, sec. 10, between the 1st and 2d par. Insert—‘No state shall infringe the equal rights of conscience, nor the freedom of speech, or of the press, nor of the right of trial by jury in criminal cases.’

This amendment was accepted.” (p2/c4)

[Not proposed by Congress; protections of Bill of Rights later applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (1868).]

Eighteenth amendment—‘The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively.’

Passed.” (p3/c1)

[Proposed by Congress as twelfth amendment; ratified as Tenth Amendment.]

Mr. Tucker moved that certain propositions for amendments to the constitution, which he had laid on the table on Monday, should be read. They being read, he moved that they be referred to the committee of the whole. The question on this motion was lost by a great majority.” (p3/c1)

Be it enacted...that there shall be an executive department, to be denominated the Department of War; and that there shall be a principal officer therein, to be called the Secretary for the Department of War, who shall perform and execute such duties as shall from time to time be enjoined on, or entrusted to him by the President of the United States, agreeable to the Constitution, relative to military commissions, or to the land or naval forces, ships, or warlike stores of the United States, or to such other matters respecting military or naval affairs, as the President of the United States shall assign to the said Department, or relative to the granting of lands to persons entitled thereto, for military services rendered to the United States, or relative to Indian affairs....” (p2/c1)

Historical Background

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, putting the new government in motion. In September the Confederation Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified by more than enough states for it to go into effect (Virginia and New York had ratified in the interim). Thus, the opening of the First Congress on March 4, 1789, signaled a new system of federal government. However, many believed that the system was incomplete. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, delegates George Mason and Elbridge Gerry proposed a bill of rights. When the convention failed to approve such a document, Gerry, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and other “Anti-Federalists” refused to support ratification.

James Madison, responding in The Federalist number 46, argued that a bill of rights was unnecessary, as state governments were sufficient guarantors of personal liberty. Virginia’s convention ratified the Constitution on June 25, 1788, but Patrick Henry and other Anti-Federalists who controlled the Virginia House of Delegates gerrymandered a hostile district for Madison and recruited James Monroe to run against him. Madison defeated Monroe after pledging that he would introduce a bill of rights at the First Congress.

On May 4, 1789, Madison announced that he would introduce a bill of rights in three weeks. When May 25 arrived, the legislators were locked in debate over import duties, so Madison agreed to demur. After the House again rebuffed his effort, citing more pressing business, Madison spoke again on June 8, justified his timing, apologized to the Congress, and proceeded to introduce his proposed amendments alone. Madison proposed nine amendments, and the House decided to forward them to a select committee of eleven members for consideration and revision. The committee, composed of a representative from each state, eliminated most of Madison’s preamble, added the phrase “freedom of speech, and of the press,” and rearranged the amendments.

The House began debate on the amendments on July 21. The House debated the amendments for eleven days, revising and condensing them from twenty to seventeen. Roger Sherman also convinced the House to place all amendments after the Constitution’s main text so that the document would remain “inviolate.” This issue of the Pennsylvania Packet covers the discussion of amendments six through nineteen on August 17 and 18. The House ultimately approved seventeen amendments and forwarded them to the Senate on August 24. The Senate made twenty-six changes of its own and condensed the seventeen amendments to twelve, approving them on September 9. From September 21 to 24, a conference committee resolved the differences, and Congress approved the resulting twelve amendments by a joint resolution on September 25, to be forwarded to the states on September 28.

Among the first tasks of the first United States Congress under the new U.S. Constitution was to organize the departments of the Executive branch, including the War Department. Representative Abraham Baldwin of Georgia reported a bill establishing the War Department from the committee to organize the executive departments on June 2, 1789, and the House passed the bill on June 27. The Senate passed the bill on August 4 with two amendments, which the House accepted the following day, and President George Washington signed it into law on August 7. This issue of the Pennsylvania Packet prints the act (p2/c1). Preferring continuity, President Washington nominated as Secretary of War Henry Knox, who had served in that position under the Articles of Confederation.

Additional Content

This issue also includes An Act for the establishment and support of Light-houses, Beacons, Buoys, and Public Piers (p2/c1); a report of the death of King Louis XVI of France’s son and heir at age eight (p2/c2); a notice of the death of George Washington Knox, youngest son of Secretary of War Henry Knox (p2/c4); poem entitled “Elegy on the Death of an only Son” (p3/c4); and many notices and advertisements.

The Pennsylvania Packet, or the General Advertiser (1771-1800) was founded by John Dunlap (1747-1812) in late 1771 as a weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, though it relocated to Lancaster during the British occupation of Philadelphia in 1777-1778. In 1776, Dunlap became the official printer for the Continental Congress, and he printed the first copies of the Declaration of Independence. On May 30, 1783, Benjamin Towne turned the Pennsylvania Evening Post into the first daily newspaper in the United States. However, with Towne branded a traitor and forced to hawk his own papers on the street, the newspaper collapsed the following year. John Dunlap and David Claypoole (1757-1849) then made their Pennsylvania Packet the first successful daily newspaper beginning on September 21, 1784. It was the first newspaper to print the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and the first to publish George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796. It underwent numerous name changes in the 1790s until sold in 1800 and renamed Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser.


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