I am reading a speech delivered by Sir Edmund Pendleton who was a public servant of Virginia, US.

I would like to know what he means when he used the following words in boldface.

But the power of the Convention is doubted. What is the power? To propose, not to determine. This power of proposing was very broad; it extended to remove all defects in a government: the members of that Convention, who were to consider all the defects in our general government, were not confined to any particular plan. Were they deceived? This is the proper question here. Suppose the paper on your table dropped from one of the planets; the people found it, and sent us here to consider whether it was proper for their adoption.

I am clueless as to what the word "planets" is referring to.

Who but the people have a right to form government? The expression is a common one, and a favorite one with me. The representatives of the people, by their authority, is a mode wholly inessential.

Does the word "mode" here refer to a medium or vessel (representative) through which authority is exercised?

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    This is just badly worded allegory. He's saying if a paper randomly appeared from nowhere (outer space, aliens, etc).
    – David M
    Oct 18, 2019 at 18:42
  • I read it that "mode" means "form of goverment" i.e. a democracy although I don't understand why he says it is inessential. Oct 18, 2019 at 19:11
  • 1
    "...from out of the clear blue sky" Oct 18, 2019 at 20:25
  • 1
    David M comment would be a really good answer.
    – Quidam
    Oct 19, 2019 at 3:20
  • 1
    you have posed 2 questions ... best to ake one at a time
    – lbf
    Oct 21, 2019 at 19:09

2 Answers 2


To summarize what he is saying:

We have been given a paper by a convention of men who were sent to draft it. People are now doubting the ability of the same people they sent to write their proposal.

They were charged with making a proposal on how to shape the government that would then be brought to a general assembly for consideration as to its merit. And, if it has such merit, it will be voted upon and adopted.

The convention was given wide latitude to propose anything they felt fit. So, stop questioning whether or not they did what they were supposed to do. It was only their job to propose an idea, not to enact it into law.

Instead, let's vote upon this as if it fell from the skies and wasn't written by people you may or may not have respect for. Let's just consider it on its face value alone.

He's saying in effect, shut up and vote. And, more importantly, vote as if you don't know who wrote this, but only rely upon the words that are written. Pretend it dropped from the planets, fell from the skies, appeared out of nowhere, etc. Just judge it on its own merits, not those of the convention that wrote it.

The second half of your question:

The people have the right to form the government. Their representatives are not necessary for that process.

Mode here means model. The mode of government is the model of government. Out of context, he appears to favor a true democracy over a republic. But, this may just be rhetoric.


The image, that of something dropping from a planet, used by Pendleton is perhaps better understood in the context of Ptolemaic, geocentric astronomy in which the Earth was fixed and everything else revolved around it. In that context planets were wandering stars, referred to by Greek astronomers as ἀστέρες πλανῆται or stellae errantes. The word was not confined to the planets of our solar system. In such a model, the Sun or the Moon were also considered as planets.

In Pendelton's time, Ptolemaic astronomy had long been replaced by the Copernician heliocentric model. But it is probable that, in the late 18th century, the image of something strange falling from the sky from a moving celestial body, a planet, passing above us was still easily and readily understood.

  • 1
    I'm sorry, this is a very nice answer that's completely unrelated to the question. Your facts are beautiful, but the question has nothing to do with his model of the universe. Rather, he's just saying consider as if it appeared without context.
    – David M
    Oct 21, 2019 at 20:25
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    @DavidM, with all due respect for the interpretation of the question on which your answer is based, it seems to me that this is a response to another reasonable interpretation of the question. The OP could be puzzled about about what is dropping from a planet a metaphor for (your interpretation), or by what would it be for things to, literally, drop from planets (petitrien's interpretation). (Even though it is obvious that the phrase is used here metaphorically, one may want to understand its literal meaning, in order to fully appreciate how it functions as a metaphor).
    – jsw29
    Oct 21, 2019 at 20:51
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    @DavidM I was simply pointing out that "planet" did not have quite the same meaning in the 18th C as it does now and suggesting a reason why. The metaphor would seem dated now and quite likely be replaced by "fall from the skies", which you use in your answer. In any event, I think I have provided a clue as to what the word "planets" is referring to .
    – grandtout
    Oct 22, 2019 at 5:47

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