Deciphering Original Pages From the Voting Record of the Constitutional Convention

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
July 3 2014 11:51 AM

Deciphering Original Pages From the Voting Record of the Constitutional Convention

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William Jackson, secretary to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, recorded the convention delegates’ votes in neat columns, alongside the “questions” (or resolutions) that prompted their votes. Here’s one page; the National Archives has digitized six other pages. (While it’s not part of this record, you can see the page that records the final vote for ratification elsewhere on the NARA site.) 

The Philadelphia convention met to revise the Articles of Confederation, which had been in effect since the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Over three months of the summer and fall of 1787, 55 delegates from the 13 states hashed out the structure of a new Constitution, voting on matters both grand and seemingly minute.

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This page represents votes made on Wednesday, August 8 through Friday, August 10, when the convention discussed qualifications for voting and office-holding. (Historian Gordon Lloyd compiled a list of resolutions made during the convention on the website Teaching American History. Search “August 8” on this page to reach his transcribed list, which is also annotated to give context to each resolution within the larger discussion.)

Looking at these voting records, you can see how tedious many of the arguments must have been. (On June 28, Lloyd writes, the not-overly-religious Benjamin Franklin, noting “the small progress we have made after 4 or 5 weeks,” called for “prayers imploring the assistance of heaven.”)

On August 9, the delegations voted on the question of how many years’ citizenship a person would be required to have before being allowed to become a Senator. Agreement on this matter took four different votes: 14 years, failed (4-7); 13 years, failed (again, 4-7); 10 years, failed (still at 4-7). The resolution finally passed (6-4) with a requirement of nine years.

Click on the image to reach a zoomable version, or visit the voting record's page on the National Archives' website. 

FinalVotingRecord

National Archives.