The sessions of the Convention were secret; before the final adjournment the secretary was directed to deposit “the Journals and other papers of the Convention in the hands of the President”, and in answer to an inquiry of Washington’s, the Convention resolved “that he retain the Journal and other papers subject to the order of Congress, if ever formed under the Constitution.” Accordingly thesecretary, William Jackson, after destroying “all the loose scraps of paper”, which he evidently thought unimportant, formally delivered the papers to the president.3 Washington in turn deposited these papers with the Department of State in 1796,4 where they remained untouched until Congress by a joint resolution in 1818 ordered [xii] them to be printed.5 They are still in the keeping of the Bureau of Rolls and Library of that department.
President Monroe requested the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, to take charge of the publication of the Journal. The task proved to be a difficult one. The papers were, according to Adams, “no better than the daily minutes from which the regular journal ought to have been, but never was, made out.”6 Adams reports that at his request William Jackson, the secretary of the Convention, called upon him and “looked over the papers, but he had no recollection of them which could remove the difficulties arising from their disorderly state, nor any papers to supply the deficiency of the missing papers.” With the expenditure of considerable time and labor, and with the exercise of no little ingenuity, Adams was finally able to collate the whole to his satisfaction. General Bloomfield supplied him with several important documents from the papers of David Brearley; Charles Pinckney sent him a copy of the plan he “believed” to be one he presented to the Convention; Madison furnished the means of completing the records of the last four days; and Adams felt that “with all these papers suitably arranged, a correct and tolerably clear view of the proceedings of the Convention may be presented”.7
The results of his labor were printed at Boston in 1819 in an octavo volume of some 500 pages, entitled, Journal, Acts and Proceedings of the Convention, . . . which formed the Constitution of the United States.8 As Adams had nothing whatever to guide him in his work of compilation and editing, mistakes were inevitable, and not a few of these were important. [xiii] In the present edition the secretary’s minutes are printed exactly as he left them, except that the scattered notes are brought together for each day. They are grouped under the heading of Journal. Where occasion requires, Adams’ edition is cited as Journal (in italics), while the secretary’s minutes are referred to as “the Journal”.
The secretary’s minutes consist of the formal journal of the Convention, the journal of the Committee of the Whole House and, partly on loose sheets and partly in a bound blank book, a table giving the detail of ayes and noes on the various questions. The detail of ayes and noes offers the greatest difficulty, for no dates are given and to about one tenth of the votes no questions are attached. The photograph of the first loose sheet of this table9 reveals the difficulties at a glance; the later pages are not as bad as the first, for the secretary evidently profited by experience, but uncertainty and confusion are by no means eliminated. For convenience of reference, in the present edition a number in square brackets is prefixed to each vote, and the editor has taken the liberty of dividing the detail of ayes and noes into what are, according to his best judgment, the sections for each day’s records. The sections are retained intact, and a summary of each vote in square brackets is appended to that question in the Journal to which, in the light of all the evidence, it seems to belong.This method seems to promise the greatest usefulness combined with a presentation that permits of another interpretation if any one so desires. In the judgment of the editor, however, a word of warning seems necessary. With notes so carelessly kept, as were evidently those of the secretary, the Journal cannot be relied upon absolutely. The statement of questions is probably accurate in most cases, but the [xiv] determination of those questions and in particular the votes upon them should be accepted somewhat tentatively.