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建国史话 (17):制定宪法之二

From VOA Learning English, welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in Special English. I’m Steve Ember. This week in our series, we continue the story of the United States Constitution.

In May of 1787, a group of America's early leaders met in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They planned to amend the Articles of Confederation. That document established a loose union of the 13 states. Instead, they wrote a completely new constitution. It created America's system of government and recognized the rights of its citizens.

That Constitution, with other amendments added over the years, is still the law of the land.

The delegates agreed to start the convention as soon as seven states were represented. On May 25th, they finally began. They gathered in the same room where America's Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776.

The first important decision was choosing a president for the convention. Several of the delegates urged the others to choose George Washington. Washington was the most famous man in America. He had led the forces that won the war for independence from Britain. The delegates agreed. Washington was their choice.
 

US Constitution - We The People

George Washington officially opened the convention with a short speech. He thanked the delegates for naming him president of the convention. But he said the honor was too great. He asked the delegates to forgive him if he made mistakes. After all, he said, he had never been chairman of a meeting before.

With those words, George Washington sat down. Here are two actors playing George Washington and James Madison. They discuss Washington’s role in writing the Constitution.

WASHINGTON: “As for that document, I merely stood back and let the learned gentlemen do their work. I believe I spoke only once in convention, and that to a minor point.”

MADISON: “I believe you do yourself an injustice, sir. As president of the convention, you led the way.”

Washington did lead the way, but it was not a straight path. From the beginning, the delegates agreed that they had the right to change their decisions. This was the rule.
The convention did not just discuss a proposal, vote on it, and move on to other issues. Any delegate could ask to again discuss any proposal or any decision. And they often did. The same speeches that were made the first time were made again. So days, even weeks, passed between discussions of the same proposal.

The delegates also agreed on a rule of secrecy. Guards were placed at the doors of the State House. Newspaper reporters were not allowed inside. And the delegates were not allowed to discuss convention business in public.

The secrecy rule led people to think all kinds of things about the convention. This was true especially in Europe. There, most people believed the convention was discussing how America could be ruled by a king. Europeans said a republican government worked in a small country, such as Switzerland. But it would not work, they said, in a land as large as America.

At the time of the convention, Thomas Jefferson was serving as America's representative to France. When he learned of the secrecy rule, he was angry. He believed strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
More than 40 years later, James Madison explained the decision behind the secrecy rule.

Madison said that if the convention had been open to the public, no delegate would ever have changed his mind after speaking on an issue. To do so would mean he was wrong the first time he spoke. And no delegate would be willing to admit to the public that he had made a mistake.

This was Madison's reasoning. If the meetings had been open, he said, the convention would have failed.

Another rule helped the delegates speak freely. They used a method of debate known as the committee of the whole. It was useful then and it is still used today in legislatures. Votes taken in the committee are not recorded as final votes. The committee of the whole provides a way for people to discuss ideas and vote, but also to change their minds.

To have the Philadelphia convention become a committee of the whole, the delegates needed to elect a chairman of the committee. They chose Nathaniel Gorham, a judge from Massachusetts.

Each morning at ten o'clock, the convention met and declared that it was sitting as a committee of the whole. George Washington then left the president's chair. Nathaniel Gorham took his place.

Just before four o'clock in the afternoon, the committee of the whole declared it was sitting again as a convention. Gorham would step down. Washington would take the chair and declare that the convention would meet again the next morning.
This process was repeated each day.

Because of these rules, the story of the Philadelphia convention would be difficult to understand if we told about events day-by-day. So, we will put the calendar and the clock away, and tell how each major issue was debated and settled.

On May 29th, the delegates heard what was called the Virginia Plan. This was the plan of government prepared by James Madison and other delegates from Virginia.
The Virginia Plan did more than suggest changes to the Articles of Confederation. It was, in fact, a plan for a completely new central government.

Immediately, the 33-year-old governor of Virginia, Edmund Randolph, proposed an amendment. The Virginia Plan, he noted, spoke of a federal union of states. But such a federation would not work, he said. Instead, Randolph suggested that the central government should be a national government. It should contain a supreme legislature, executive and judiciary.

For a few moments, there was complete silence. Many of the delegates seemed frozen in their chairs. Did they hear correctly?

Most of them did not question the idea of a government with three separate branches. Several states already had such a system. But to create a central government that was "national" and "supreme." What did these words mean exactly? What was the difference?

The delegates debated the meaning of the words -- federal, national and supreme -- for many days. Both James Madison and a Pennsylvania delegate, Governor Morris, tried to explain.

Madison said a federal government acts on states. A national government acts directly on the people.

Morris gave this explanation. A federal government is simply an agreement based on the good faith of those involved. A national government has a complete system of operation and its own powers.

Governor Morris pointed out that one day the delegates meeting in Philadelphia would be dead. Their children and grandchildren, he said, would stop thinking of themselves as citizens of Pennsylvania or New York or North Carolina. Instead, they would think of themselves as citizens of the United States.

Morris said the states had to take second place to a national government with supreme power.

Other delegates presented their own plans for discussion. Alexander Hamilton of New York suggested giving the national government almost unlimited powers.

Hamilton's ideas were not popular. After Hamilton's five-hour speech, one delegate said, "Hamilton is praised by everybody. He is supported by no one."

New Jersey also offered a plan. An actor playing James Madison at a museum in Washington, DC says that plan was not popular either.

MADISON: And William Patterson unveiled the New Jersey Plan, calling for one house of equal representation. I knew that Delaware, Rhode Island, and the other small states would never go along with that.”

Delegates voted to reject the New Jersey Plan. They did not even vote on Hamilton's plan. From that time, all their discussions were about the plan presented by Virginia.

For more than three months, delegates would debate each part, vote on it, then debate it again. The Virginia Plan formed the basis of discussion at the convention in Philadelphia. In the end, it formed the basis of the United States Constitution.

But there was still more to debate in writing the constitution, including the job of an executive branch to enforce the laws. That will be our story next week.

1787年5月,美国早期领袖在费城开会,他们原计划对确定了美国13个州松散体制的《邦联条例》进行修正,但最后却编纂了一部全新的宪法。这份政治文件创立了美国的政府体系,承认了公民享有的权利,至今依旧是美国的根本大法。

詹姆斯·麦迪逊是第一个来到费城的代表。他要求维吉尼亚州的其他代表也提前赶到,以便商讨有关建立强有力的中央政府的计划,在会议上提出来。麦迪逊相信,其他州是不会提出这种想法的。维吉尼亚的另外两个代表乔治·威思和约翰·布莱尔按照麦迪逊的要求,提前抵达费城。他们三个人一块儿对麦迪逊的计划进行斟酌。

会议定于5月14号召开,乔治·华盛顿提前一天来到费城。他领导美国打赢了独立战争,成为美国名望最高的人。他在费城城外受到了卫兵和礼炮的欢迎。华盛顿抵达费城后,首先去拜望本杰明·富兰克林。富兰克林是美国重要的政治领袖,也是参加费城会议的宾夕法尼亚州首席代表。当时,富兰克林已年过八旬,虽然身体虚弱,但头脑依旧十分灵活。凡是来到费城的重要人物,都要前去看望富兰克林,华盛顿也不例外。

制宪大会第一天,维吉尼亚的代表们来到州议会大楼1776年签署美国独立宣言的房间。除他们以外,当时在场的只有宾夕法尼亚州的代表:一个是罗伯特·莫里斯,他是独立战争最重要的筹款人;另一个是格瓦诺·莫里斯。他们两个虽然都姓莫里斯,但没有血缘关系。宾夕法尼亚的另一位代表是詹姆斯·威尔逊,他是美国最早的大陆会议代表,签署了独立宣言。威尔逊跟麦迪逊一样,也主张建立强有力的中央政府。

会议第一天,宾夕法尼亚州和维吉尼亚州的代表交换了看法,并决定第二天早上继续讨论。其他十一个州没有代表在场,似乎并没有引起他们的担忧,毕竟,从东北部的新罕布什尔州骑马到费城需要两个星期的时间,从南边的乔治亚州到费城,更是需要三个星期。没过多久,其他州的代表就开始三三两两陆续抵达了。大家一致同意,一旦凑足了七个州,就正式开会。

出人意料的是,纽约州也派来了三名代表。很多人本以为纽约会拒绝出席制宪大会,因为纽约州长反对建立强大的中央政府。然而,纽约代表亚历山大·汉密尔顿却坚持认为,美国需要一个强大的中央政府。汉密尔顿在独立战争期间是乔治·华盛顿的助手。有些人甚至说,他觉得美国应该由国王统治。

最后,13个州里面,除了罗德岛以外的12个州全都派了代表,其中宾夕法尼亚州的代表人数最多--八人。参加会议的55名代表有些已经十分年迈,但也有不少二、三十岁的青年,代表们的平均年龄是43岁。

两个重要人物缺席了这次会议,一个是约翰·亚当斯,另外一个是托马斯·杰斐逊。他们两人当时分别出任美国驻英国和法国的代表。他们非常关心费城制宪大会的进展,并通过书信的方式向朋友了解情况。

5月25号,已经有了七个州的代表,大家决定正式开始工作。代表们的第一个任务是任命一个人负责撰写会议报告,这个工作最后交给了威廉·杰克逊少校。不过,杰克逊少校并不是一个出色的记录员,他没有记下多少会议细节。幸运的是,麦迪逊从会议一开始,就手不停笔地详细记下了所有人的发言。其他代表也记了笔记,但都很简短,不够完整。如果不是麦迪逊的话,我们对1787年在费城召开的那次历史性会议上发生的一切,恐怕根本无从知晓。

麦迪逊后来解释了他是如何记录会议进程的。他说,“我坐在大会主席前面,所有代表都坐在我的左右。我能听见大会主席说的所有话,也能听见代表们发言的每一个字。我用只有我能看懂的符号记下所有内容,晚上回到房间,再把代表们的讲话和行动完整地整理记录下来。每天的会议我都要参加,只要有人开会和讨论,我一定在场。”麦迪逊在报告中自称 Mr. M. 他记下了制宪大会中每个人说的每一句话,攻击 Mr. M 的话也不例外。麦迪逊对制宪大会的完整记录直到30年后才发表。

与会代表们的第一个重要决定是推举大会主席。有人提名乔治·华盛顿,代表们欣然接受。乔治·华盛顿发表简短讲话,宣布大会正式开幕。他感谢与会代表推举他出任会议主席,说这是一个极大的荣誉,但华盛顿同时表示,他从没当过会议主席,所以如果犯什么错误,请代表们原谅。说完这番话,华盛顿就入座了,在接下来的四个月里,他只要在必要的时候才会起身发言。

会议第一天进展得十分顺利,代表们同意组成一个小组委员会,制定会议细则。他们很快决定,由维吉尼亚州的乔治·威思、纽约州的亚历山大·汉密尔顿和南卡罗来纳州的查尔斯·平克尼来担此重任。

会议进行到这一步,一切都风平浪静,气氛也十分友好,但是用不了多久,与会代表中间就出现了严重分歧。分歧重点是大州和小州的权力分享。人口多的州是不是应该比人口少的州享有更多的权力呢?这一争议是如何解决的?我们下次介绍。