Constitutional Crisis: Week 3
This week the convention discovered its first error in the procedures. They realized that asking the chair to also be the scribe (secretary) was asking too much, so they split those tasks, as I expected they would eventually do. Now the chair appoints the scribe, who becomes the chair in the succeeding session and appoints a scribe who becomes the next chair and so on. There was considerable concern about preventing the passing back and forth of the chair between the same people, so a rule was added that the chair could not appoint the previous chair as scribe. I had thought–and hinted to a couple of delegates–that they’d find rotating the chair to be inefficient, but they seem far more concerned about someone dominating the convention. I find that interesting and legitimate, and it reminds me that George Washington spoke almost not at all during the American constitutional convention, making no effort to dominate or direct the outcome, but just keeping the meeting in order by force of his very presence.
Huron appeared for the first time in the second session of the week. I dealt with this as just an issue of political delays in Huron politics. In reality the student’s father died unexpectedly during the first week of classes, which is a tough situation.
Resolution of Inter-State Disputes
I learned that in the session conducted during my absence, several states had made an informal agreement for a Midwest Trade Association, for the purpose of free trade and economic assistance among their states. They have not formalized it because they are waiting to see where the convention goes on trade issues. They also began using it as a political tool. Ulsterland desperately wanted in, but the other states were keeping her out until she helped resolve the civil war in neighboring Champlain.
Ulsterland was also locked in a ferocious territorial dispute with Queenland over land with access to iron ore. Despite Ulsterland’s attempts at creating a fair division of the territory Queenland was refusing to budge, almost bringing Ulsterland to tears. She mastered herself, consulted with me, and shifted tactics, bringing in issues with other states, and tying them all together in one mega-agreement involving, I think, 5 states. This included:
- Ulsterland and three other states providing assistance to Champlain in its civil war,
- Ulsterland and Queenland agreeing to a 45/55 split of the disputed territory;
- Queenland allowing Hanover access to Chesapeake Bay ports,
- Multiple-state assistance to Ulsterland for rebuilding New York harbor,
- Ulsterland’s entry into the Midwest Trade Agreement.
Notably, one of the states providing military assistance—Allegheny—is not immediately adjacent to either Champlain or Ulsterland, but strongly wants a union and was willing to provide assistance to settle this dispute in order to move forward. They haven’t produced a final written agreement on this yet, so I don’t have all the details, and it may still be tentative.
With Huron’s appearance at the convention, one territorial dispute remains, the isthmus near Niagara Falls, taken by Allegheny for power generation when the governments of Ontario and Canada collapsed, and which Huron wants returned. Otherwise, all inter-state conflicts have, I think, been resolved, and so the convention began to move onto government formation.
Meeting of the Whole
As they convened into a meeting of the whole, instead of the small caucuses, it was proposed that they create a central government. Discussion ensued about whether it should be federal or unitary, with one state advocating for a confederacy without a true central government. The convention resolved 9-1 to have a central government, but without at this time specifying its federal v. unitary nature.
In the second session of the week the convention heard a motion for a bicameral legislature, which was immediately countered with a proposal for a unicameral legislature, which was followed by a call for an asymmetric bicameral legislature (UK/Canadian style, upper house with little power). The delegates are playing their roles well, pursuing the preferences of their states as I defined them.
The legislative discussion was temporarily sidetracked by a confused and confusing discussion of the executive, with a proposal for an executive council, but that was dropped and they returned to discussing the legislature. Unsurprisingly they almost immediately began gravitating toward a Connecticut Compromise, as they realized the disparity in population between the states (the most populous has 55 times the population as the least populous).
There was discussion of what to name the legislative chambers, and a delegate who’s proud of her Celtic heritage proposed one be named the Seanad (pronounced seh nahd’); this was approved unanimously. The other chamber was named the House, after a moment of silliness in which two students proposed something like “Operation Red” and I hoped my glaring around the classroom was noticed.
Representation in the House was set at 3 representatives per state up to 300,000 population, and 1 per each additional 100,000. The phrasing was initially unclear, leaving open the possibility that it meant a minimum of 3, but also only 1 per 100,000 (so that a state with <100,000 might have 3, but upon growing to 100,000 in size might drop to 1 representative). That confusing wording was caught, and the language was clarified. The length of terms in the House was set to 6 years, with half to be elected every 3 years. It was also motioned and approved that in the first session members would draw lots to see who got an initial 3 year term and who began with a full 6 year term. This is what was done in the U.S., where in the first session of Congress, Senate members drew lots to see who got 2 year, 4 year, or a full 6 year term to start. It’s a fairly obvious solution, but I’m pleased they immediately recognized the need and moved to resolve it. Issues left unfinished were how to replace members who die in office, how to select members of the Seanad and how many each state will have (one proposal was that a state’s senior members of the House would move to the Seanad) and the briefly raised issue of the nature of the executive.