University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Controversy Surrounding the Calling of the Pennsylvania Convention

On 28 September 1787 in the Pennsylvania Assembly, George Clymer presented resolutions calling a convention to consider the Constitution, establishing the procedures for electing delegates, and setting the time and place for its meeting. After several hours of debate, the Assembly passed only the resolution to call a convention and then adjourned until 4:00 pm.

When the members reassembled, they discovered that enough opponents of the Constitution had stayed away to prevent the necessary two-thirds quorum. The members present then adjourned until Saturday morning. Early the next morning, Clymer received an unofficial copy of the congressional resolution of the previous day, which transmitted the Constitution to the states. Congress, meeting in New York, had sent the resolution by an express rider who arrived in Philadelphia sometime between 3 and 7 o’clock Saturday morning. When the Pennsylvania Assembly convened at 9:30 am, they still lacked a quorum. The members present then ordered the sergeant at arms and the assistant clerk to locate and bring the absent members to the Assembly chambers. With the assistance of a mob, the officials forcibly returned James M’Calmont and Jacob Miley to the Assembly, and a quorum was then declared. Before the Assembly adjourned sine die that afternoon, it had voted for the election of delegates to be held on 6 November and for the Convention to meet in Philadelphia on 20 November 1787.

After the adjournment, sixteen of the nineteen seceding assemblymen signed an address, printed as a broadside and dated 29 September 1787. In this broadside they gave their version of the events of 28–29 September stating their objections to the treatment they had received as well as their objections to the Constitution. Six assemblymen answered the address of the seceding assemblymen in the Pennsylvania Packet on 8 October 1787. Supporters of the seceding members were few. The Assembly, however, was attacked for having acted without official word from Congress and for resorting to violence to secure a quorum.

Public and Private Commentaries on the Proceedings of the Assembly on 28–29 September 1787