1787: Constitution Crafted in Secret. What Would a Similar Rule Produce at a Modern-Day Con-Con?

442478ff86b39af7b8217fcca1b5a4cd_XLThe New American – Two hundred and twenty-nine years ago last week, the representatives of the states who had gathered in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17 of 1787 got down to the business of deliberating on core issues of statecraft.

As was their habit, the 50 or so men attending the convention did not meet on the Sabbath. In fact, many of them attended church together in Philadelphia, worshiping at churches of any denomination whatsoever, so long as the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached.

June 3 was one such Sunday. Although there was no business carried on at the State House, newspapers reported on the first few days of the convention, several of them highlighting a controversial control imposed on the individual members: absolute secrecy.

The secrecy provision mandated “That no copy be taken of any entry on the journal during the sitting of the House, without leave of the House. That nothing spoken in the House be printed, or otherwise published or communicated without leave.”

Several newspapers throughout the United States carried the following dispatch sent from Philadelphia regarding the secrecy rule:

Such circumspection and secrecy mark the proceedings of the Federal Convention that the members find it difficult to acquire the habits of communication even among themselves; and are so cautious in defeating the curiosity of the public that all debate is suspended on the entrance of their own inferior officers. Though we readily admit the propriety of excluding an indiscriminate attendance on the discussion of this deliberative council, it is hoped that the privacy of this transaction will be an additional motive for despatch, as the anxiety of the people must be necessarily increased by every appearance of mystery in conducting this important business.

At least four major newspapers: the New York Journal, the Boston Gazette, the Salem Mercury, and the Virginia Independent Chronicle, published this report verbatim during the month of June 1787.

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