Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Say What?: "Extensive private talks"

October 25, 2011 by Holly Munson


(Wikimedia Commons photo)

Editor's Note: For the past 200-plus years, we the people have had a lot to say about the Constitution. In each installment of “Say What?” we offer a quick quote--be it wise, quirky, or otherwise memorable--from past or present conversation related to our favorite founding document.


History reveals the importance of extensive private talks for members of a bipartisan group to get to know one another and pursue compromises.

Who said it

Jordan Tama, in an op-ed in The New York Times on Oct. 18

The story

Photo by Nathan Walls via Flickr

In his op-ed, Tama defended the role of political back-room deals, specifically in relation to the congressional supercommittee currently working on a deficit-reduction plan. Most of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention might agree. They upheld a vow of secrecy throughout the convention. They believed a closed-doors policy would allow them to speak freely without worrying about how their words would be construed by the papers and the public; it would allow delegates of diverse opinions to build consensus (rather than score political points) before presenting their ideas to the people.

Even after the convention concluded, James Madison, who took fastidious notes of the delegates' debates, did not allow for his notes to be published until after he and the other delegates had passed away. For more on how the delegates viewed the convention's secrecy, see the section on secrecy (p. 692-696) in "The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America's Founding," by John R. Vile.

Holly Munson works in Public Programs at the National Constitution Center.

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