Constitutional Convention (United States)

Constitutional Convention (United States)

The Constitutional Convention[1] (also known as the Philadelphia Convention,[1] the Federal Convention,[1] or the Grand Convention at Philadelphia) took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to address problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain. Although the Convention was intended to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The result of the Convention was the United States Constitution, placing the Convention among the most significant events in the history of the United States.

The most contentious disputes revolved around the apportionment of the senate (by state or population), method of election for senators, how "proportional representation" was to be defined (whether to include slaves or other property), whether to divide the executive power between three persons or divest the power into a single president, how to elect the president, how long his term was to be and whether he could stand for reelection, what offenses should be impeachable, the nature of a fugitive slave clause, whether to allow the abolition of the slave trade, and whether judges should be chosen by the legislature or executive. Most of the time during the convention was spent on deciding these issues, while the powers of legislature, executive, and judiciary were not heavily disputed. Once the convention began, the delegates first agreed on the principles of the convention, then they agreed on Madison's Virginia plan and began to modify it. A Committee of Detail assembled during the July 4 recess and produced a rough draft. Most of this rough draft remained in place, and can be found in the final version of the constitution. After the final issues were resolved, the Committee on Style produced the final version, and it was voted on and sent to the states.


Historical context

Before the Constitution was drafted, the 13 colonies operated under the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress. The national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states.[2] These divides included a dispute between Maryland and Virginia over the Potomac River and Rhode Island's imposing taxes on all traffic passing through it on the post road that linked all the states. As the Articles of Confederation could only be amended by unanimous vote of the states, any state had effective veto power over any proposed change.[3] In addition, the Articles gave the weak federal government no taxing power: it was wholly dependent on the states for its money, and had no power to force delinquent states to pay.[4]

On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following James Madison's recommendation, invited all the states to send delegates to Annapolis, Maryland to discuss ways to reduce these interstate conflicts.[2] At what came to be known as the Annapolis Convention, the few state delegates in attendance endorsed a motion that called for all states to meet in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787 to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a "Grand Convention."[2] Rhode Island, fearing that the Convention would work to its disadvantage, boycotted the Convention entirely in hopes of preventing any change to the Articles. When the Constitution was presented to the United States of America, Rhode Island refused to ratify it.

The Convention

Due to the difficulty of travel in the late 18th century, very few of the selected delegates were present on the designated day of May 14, 1787, and it was not until May 25 that a quorum of seven states was secured. James Madison arrived first, and soon most of the Virginia delegation arrived. While waiting for the other delegates, the Virginia delegation produced the Virginia Plan, which was designed and written by James Madison. When the other delegates arrived, the convention convened in the Pennsylvania State House, and George Washington was unanimously elected as president of the convention.[5] Although William Jackson was elected as secretary, his records were brief and included very little detail. Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 remain the most complete record of the convention.[2] Throughout the debate, they constantly referred to precedents from history in support of their position. Most commonly, they referred to the history of England, in particular the Glorious Revolution (often simply called "The Revolution"), classical history (mainly the Roman Republic and the leagues of Greek city-states), and recent precedents from Holland and Germany.

James Madison, the author of the Virginia Plan

In a few areas, Madison's plan included provisions that had little support among the delegates. Few agreed with Madison that the legislature should be able to invalidate state laws, so the idea was dropped. While most thought there should be some mechanism to invalidate bad laws by congress, few agreed with Madison that a board of the executive and judges should decide on this. Instead, the power was given solely to the executive in the form of the veto. Many also thought this would be useful to protect the executive, whom many worried might become beholden to an imperial legislature.[6] Also, during the deliberations, the New Jersey Plan was introduced, although it was more of a protest to the excessive national character of the Virginia plan, and was not seriously considered.[7] The office of Vice President was also included later in the deliberations, mainly to provide the president a successor if he was unable to complete his term.

James Madison's blueprint

James Madison was one of the first delegates to arrive at the site of the convention, and quickly summoned the other Virginia delegates to arrive as soon as possible. While waiting, he sketched out his plan, known as the Virginia Plan, which reflected his views as a strong nationalist.[8] By the time the rest of the Virginia delegation arrived, most of the Pennsylvania delegation had arrived as well. They agreed on Madison's plan, and formed what came to be the predominant coalition. By the time the convention started, the only blueprints that had been assembled were Madison's Virginia Plan, and Charles Pinckney's plan. As Pinckney didn't have a coalition behind his plan, Madison's plan was the starting point for deliberations.[9] The convention agreed on several principles. Most importantly, they agreed that the convention should go beyond its mandate to merely amend the Articles of Confederation, and instead produce a new constitution outright. While some delegates thought this illegal, the Articles of Confederation were closer to a treaty between sovereign states than they were to a national constitution, so the genuine legal problems were limited.[10] Another principle they agreed on was that the new government would have all the powers of the Confederation Congress, plus additional powers over the states.[11] Once agreeing on these principles, the convention voted on the Virginia plan and signaled their approval for it. Once this was done, they began modifying it.

Madison's plan operated on several assumptions that were not seriously challenged. During the deliberations, few raised serious objections to the planned bicameral congress, nor the separate executive function, nor the separate judicial function.[12] As English law had typically recognized government as having two separate functions, law making embodied in the legislature, and law executing embodied in the king and his courts, the division of the legislature from the executive and judiciary was a natural and uncontested point.[13] The division of the legislature into an upper and lower house wasn't questioned either, despite the obscure origins of the English House of Lords and its role as the representative of the hereditary nobility.[14] Americans had never known anything but bicameral legislatures, both in England and in most state governments. The main exceptions to this were the dysfunctional Confederation Congress and the unicameral Pennsylvania legislature, which was seen as quickly vacillating between partisan extremes after each election.[15] Experience had convinced the delegates that an upper house was necessary to tame the passions of the people. However, since America had no native hereditary aristocracy, the character of this upper house was uncertain, other than the belief that it should represent the "betters" of society.[16] The delegates also agreed with Madison that the executive function had to be independent of the legislature. In their aversion to kingly power, American legislatures had created state governments where the executive was beholden to the legislature, and by the late 1780s this was widely seen as being a source of paralysis.[17] The Confederation government was the ultimate example of this. Furthermore, in the English tradition, judges were seen as being the agents of the King and his court, who represented him throughout his realm.[18] Madison believed that in the American states, this direct link between state executives and judges was a source of corruption through patronage, and thought the link had to be severed between the two, thus creating the "third branch" of the judiciary which had been without any direct precedent before this point.[19] Madison, however, did not believe that the judiciary should be truly independent, but rather beholden to the legislature rather than the executive. At the convention, some sided with Madison that the legislature should choose judges, while others believed the president should choose judges. A compromise was eventually reached that the president should choose judges and the senate confirm them.[20]

The early debate

The first area of major dispute was the manner by which the lower house would be apportioned. A minority wanted it to be apportioned so that all states would have equal weight, though this was never seriously considered. Most wanted it apportioned in accordance with some mixture of property and population.[21] Though there was discussion on how to calculate property for this purpose, the issue of property was later dropped because of its difficulty, and an assumption that property would closely correlate to population. Most accepted the desire among the slave states to count slaves as part of the population, although their servile status was raised as a major objection against this. Assessing population by adding the number of free persons to three-fifths of "all other persons" (slaves) was agreed to without serious dispute.[22] Years earlier, when attempting to assess a national taxation system, the Confederation Congress had concluded that a slave was three-fifths as productive as a free person. As such, the ratio had been floating around for several years with wide acceptance.[23] This compromise resulted in a large coalition of states, including the small slave states of South Carolina and Georgia, backing the Virginia plan and thus expanding the power of the primary coalition. That the lower house was to be elected directly by the voters was also accepted without major dispute.[24]

Front side of the Virginia Plan

More contentious than the lower house was the question of the upper house. Few agreed with Madison that its members should be elected by the lower house. Opinion was divided between election by popular vote versus election by state legislature.[25] Most delegates didn't question the intelligence of the voters, rather what concerned them was the slowness by which information spread in the late 18th century.[26] At the time of the convention, they noted that local newspapers said little of current events, and what little they had was sketchy and dated. Local papers even said little about the meeting of the convention. Besides the problems of direct election, the new constitution was seen as such a radical break with the old system, by which delegates were elected to the Confederation Congress by state legislatures, that the convention agreed to retain this method of electing senators to make the constitutional change less radical.[27] The more difficult problem was the issue of apportionment. The Connecticut delegation offered a compromise, where the lower house would be apportioned by population, and the upper house would be apportioned equally between the states. Though this was probably the only method that could ever work, the big states didn't like it, and delegates decided to leave the issue to the Committee of Detail and deal with other matters.

The delegates couldn't agree on whether the executive should be a single person, or a board of three. Many supported the division of executive power between three persons, because this seen as a way to limit the executive power, and because there was widespread concern that a single executive would only represent the interests of his region. Some wanted a board of three, whereby each member would represent the interests of a separate region.[28] The possible problems of this system, in addition to the knowledge that George Washington would probably be the first president, calmed the fears of enough people so that the proponents of a singular executive could accumulate a large coalition.[29] This issue came up occasionally after the matter was settled, but was never again seriously doubted. Another issue concerned the election of the president. Few agreed with Madison that the executive should be elected by the legislature. There was widespread concern with direct election, because information diffused so slowly in the late 18th century, and because of concerns that people would only vote for candidates from their state or region. A vocal minority wanted the national executive to be chosen by the governors of the states.[30] The issue was one of the last major issues to be resolved, and was done so in the electoral college. At the time, before the formation of modern political parties, there was widespread concern that candidates would routinely fail to secure a majority of electors in the electoral college. The method of resolving this problem therefore a contested issue. Most thought that the house should then choose the president, since it most closely reflected the will of the people. This caused dissension among delegates from smaller states, who realized that this would put their states at a disadvantage. To resolve this dispute, the convention agreed that the house would elect the president if no candidate had an electoral college majority, but that each state delegation would vote as a block, rather than individually.[31]

The first draft

The Convention adjourned from July 26 to August 6 to await the report of the Committee of Detail, which was to produce a first draft of the constitution. It was chaired by John Rutledge, and other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham. Though the committee did not record its minutes, it is known that the committee used the original Virginia Plan, the decisions of the convention on modifications to that plan, and other sources, to produce the first full draft. Much of what was included in this draft consisted of details, such as powers given to congress, that hadn't been debated nor been included in any other plan before the convention. Most of these were uncontroversial and unchallenged, and as such much of what Rutledge's committee included in this first draft made it into the final version of the constitution without debate.[32] They decided mostly on issues that hadn't been deliberated but weren't likely to be contested.

Historian David Stewart calls the committee's work "the most important single undertaking of the summer" and that it required "precision where agreement was clear, equivocation where it had been elusive." He also notes that "missing parts would have to be drafted, ambiguities dispelled, the whole thing knitted into a coherent document," and that "from one perspective, their draft was a remarkable cut-and-paste job" because it copied provisions from the Articles of Confederation, the convention resolutions, and even Charles Pinckney's plan.[33] However, Stewart argues that "they did much more, they added provisions that the convention never discussed, they changed critical agreements that the delegates had already approved. Spurred by Rutledge, they reconvened the powers of the national government, redefined the powers of the states, and adopted fresh concessions on that most explosive issue, slavery. It is not too much to say that Rutledge and his committee hijacked the constitution. Then they remade it." He notes that, other than Gorham, the committee members had all been lawyers of distinction, and would be leading legal figures in the new government (Randolph would be the first attorney general, while Rutledge, Ellsworth and Wilson would all be Supreme Court justices). They had all known each other as delegates to the Confederation Congress, and had seen its weaknesses first hand. Other than Randolph, they had all been in the congress when its fiscal problems became acute. They had already played important roles in the convention: Randolph presented the Virginia Plan, Rutledge and Wilson had been key to crafting the compromise on representation, Ellsworth had led the small states during the battle over per-state voting in the senate, and Gorham had chaired the Committee of the Whole where he called for compromise during the bitter debate over representation. Stewart states, "they had been more than merely active, they had been constructive."[34] Stewart argues, "Rutledge knew what he wanted: a weaker central government," and that the draft produced by the committee reflected his goals. Since the committee didn't leave a record of its proceedings, its story has to be pieced together from three documents: an outline by Randolph with edits by Rutledge, extensive notes and a second draft by Wilson with edits by Rutledge, and the final report presented to the convention. Stewart argues "this evidence places the drafting pen in the hands of those three men". The outline began with two rules for drafting: that the constitution should only include essential principles, avoiding minor provisions that would change over time, and that it should be stated in simple and precise language. Wilson's draft included the first attempt at what would become the preamble in the final document.[35]

Beginning with Randolph's outline, the committee added numerous provisions that the convention had never discussed, but which were not likely to be controversial. Examples include the speech and debate clause and provisions organizing the house and senate. Three of the committee's changes fundamentally reconstituted the national government. The first change replaced the open-ended grant of powers to congress with a list of enumerated powers. This was due to Rutledge, who wanted a strong national government but not one with indefinite powers.[36] Many of these eighteen enumerated powers came from the Articles of Confederation. By this, the committee made the new national government one of limited powers, despite opposition among most delegates. Rutledge was not able to completely convince Wilson, who was hostile to states rights and wanted a stronger national government. Wilson thus modified the list of enumerated powers, notably by adding the necessary and proper clause. He also strengthened the supremacy clause.[37] These changes set the final balance between the national and state governments that would be a part of the final document, as the convention never challenged this dual-sovereignty between nation and state established by Rutledge and Wilson.[38] The final report of this committee, which became the first draft of the constitution, was the first workable constitutional plan, as Madison's Virginia Plan had simply been an outline of goals and a broad structure. Even after it issued this report, the committee continued to meet off and on until early September.

Further modifications and concluding debate

As the committee was putting together the first draft of the constitution, Benjamin Franklin offered a compromise to settle the most contentious dispute. The large states didn't like the Connecticut Compromise, because they thought it gave too much power to the smaller states. Franklin made two important modifications to this compromise, which was sufficient to win support for the overall constitution. He added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the house, although this language was later modified further so revenue bills could be modified in the senate.[39] He also specified that each state was to get "one vote", rather than each state delegation, and that each state would have multiple senators. This meant that the senators would each be voting individually, rather than as a block by state as delegates always had. The effect of this was to make senators free agents, presumably acting on behalf of their state at large, rather than as mere agents of the state legislatures.[40] As such, the senate would bring a federal character to the government, not because senators were elected by state legislatures, but because each state was equally represented in the senate, which was the main aim of the smaller states.[41] It was this, not simply Madison's earlier agreement to replace the word "national" in the constitution with the word "federal", that convinced the delegates that the constitution had a federal character. The final document was thus a mixture of Madison's original "national" constitution and the desired "federal" constitution that many of the delegates sought.[42]

Another month of discussion and relatively minor refinement followed, during which several attempts were made to alter the Rutledge draft, though few were successful. Some wanted to add property qualifications for people to hold office, while others wanted to prevent the national government from issuing paper money.[43] Madison in particular wanted to push the constitution back in the direction of his Virginia plan. One important change that did make it into the final version included the agreement between northern and southern delegates to empower congress to end the slave trade in 1808. Southern and northern delegates also agreed to strengthen the fugitive slave clause in exchange for removing a requirement that two-thirds of congress agree on "navigation acts" (mainly regulations between states and foreign nations). The two-thirds requirement was favored by southern delegates, who thought congress might pass navigation acts that would be economically harmful for slave owners.[44] Once the convention had finished amending the first draft from the Committee of Detail, a new set of unresolved questions were sent to several different committees for resolution. The Committee of Detail was considering several questions related to habeas corpus, freedom of the press and an executive council to advise the president. Two committees chaired by Livingston addressed questions related to the slave trade and the assumption of war debts.

A new committee was created, the Committee on Postponed Parts, to address other questions that had been postponed. David Brearley was named its chair. Its members, such as Madison, were delegates who had shown a greater desire for compromise and were choose for this reason as most in the convention wanted to finish their work and go home.[45] It addressed questions related to the taxes, war making, patents and copyrights, relations with Indian tribes, and Franklin's compromise to require money bills to originate in the house. The biggest issue they addressed was the presidency, and the final compromise was written by Madison with the committee's input.[46] They adopted Wilson's earlier plan for choosing the president by electoral college, and settled on the method of choosing the president if no candidate had an electoral college majority, which many such as Madison thought would be "nineteen times out of twenty". The committee also shorted the president's term to seven years to four years, freed him to seek reelection, and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the senate. They also created the vice president, whose only role was to succeed the president and preside over the senate. This also transferred important powers from the senate to the president, who was given the power (which had been given to the senate by Rutledge's committee) to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. [47] One controversial issue throughout much of the convention had been the length of the president's term, and whether he was to be term limited. The problem was caused by the belief that he would be chosen by congress, but the decision to go with election by electoral college freed him from possibly becoming beholden to congress, so a shorter term with eligibility for reelection became a viable option.

Near the end of the convention, Gerry, Randolph and Mason emerged as the main force of opposition. Their fears were increased as the convention moved from Madison's vague Virginia Plan to the concrete plan of Rutledge's Committee of Detail.[48] Historian David Stewart argues that Randolph's attacks on the constitution, then and now, have been criticized for coming from his political ambitions, in particular the likelihood of him facing Patrick Henry in a future campaign. The main objection of the three was the compromise that allowed congress to pass "navigation acts" (regulations of commerce between states and foreign governments) with a simple majority in exchange for strengthened slave provisions.[49] They had other objections, such as the creation of the office of vice president. Though most of their complaints did not result in changes, a couple did. Mason succeeded in adding "high crimes and misdemeanors" to the impeachment clause. Gerry convinced the convention to include a second method for ratification of amendments. The report out of the Committee of Detail included only one mechanism of constitutional amendment, where two-thirds of the states had to ask congress to convene a convention to consider amendments. Upon Gerry's urging, the convention added back the Virginia Plan's original method where congress proposed amendments that the states would then ratify.[50] All amendments to the constitution have been approved through this method. Despite their successes, these three dissenters grew increasingly unpopular as most other delegates wanted to end the convention and go home. As the convention was nearing its end, and getting ready to refer the constitution to the Committee on Style to prepare the final version, one delegate raised an objection over civil trials. He wanted to guarantee the right to a jury trial in civil matters, and Mason saw in this a larger opportunity. Mason told the convention that the constitution should include a bill of rights, which he thought could be prepared in a few hours. Gerry agreed, though the rest of the committee overruled them. They wanted to go home, and thought this was nothing more than another delaying tactic.[51] Few at the time realized how important the issue would become, as the absence of the bill of rights would be the main argument used against ratification by the anti-federalists. Most thought that states already protected individual rights, and that the constitution didn't authorize the national government to take away rights, so there was no need to include protections on rights. Once the convention moved beyond this point, they addressed a couple of last-minute issues. Importantly, they modified the language that required spending bills to originate in the house so so that they could be modified by the senate rather than only giving the senate the power to agree or reject the proposed bill.[52]

Drafting and signing

U.S. Postage, Issue of 1937, depicting Delegates at the signing of the Constitution, engraving after a painting by Junius Brutus Stearns[53]

Once the final modifications had been made, the Committee of Style and Arrangement produced the final version. Unlike other committees, whose members were named so the committees included members from different regions, this final committee included no champions of the small states. Its members were mostly in favor of a strong national government and hostile to states rights.[54] It was headed by Gouverneur Morris, and included Hamilton, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, and Madison. It produced the final version, which was submitted for signing on September 17. It made at least one important change to what the convention had agreed to. King wanted to prevent states from inferring in contracts, though the convention never took up the matter. His language was now inserted, creating the contract clause.[55] Morris is credited, both now and then, as the chief draftsman of the final document, including the stirring preamble. According to historian David Stewart, Morris started with the twenty-three articles from Rutledge's Committee of Detail. He threw out the first two as surplus, then consolidated the next seven articles. "Once underway the work developed its own rhythm. Moving related sections together, imposing a simple structure, Morris condensed twenty-three articles" into the seven main sections of the final constitution. "The new structure streamlined the charter, an effect that Morris reinforced with rigorous editing." Stewart cites the allocations of seats in the house, which was detailed in complex compromise language spanning nearly 300 words over three articles. Morris condensed this all down into one simple article, with just over 100 words. He also wrote the final preamble, based on earlier drafts. His reference to "We the people of the United States" as opposed to the earlier language of "We the people of the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts..." come from his desire for a strong national government, as well as a fear that not all the listed states might ratify the constitution.[56]

Not all the delegates were pleased with the results; thirteen left before the ceremony, and three of those remaining refused to sign: Edmund Randolph of Virginia, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. George Mason demanded a Bill of Rights if he was to support the Constitution. The Bill of Rights was not included in the Constitution submitted to the states for ratification, but many states ratified the Constitution with the understanding that a bill of rights would soon follow.[57] Shortly before the document was to be signed, Gorham proposed to lower the size of congressional districts from 40,000 to 30,000 citizens. A similar measure had been proposed earlier, and failed by one vote. George Washington spoke up here, making his only substantive contribution to the text of the constitution in supporting this move. The convention adopted it without further debate. 39 of the 55 delegates ended up signing, but it is likely that none were completely satisfied. Their views were summed up by Benjamin Franklin, who said,

"There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. ... I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. ... It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies..."

Rhode Island never sent delegates, and two of New York's three delegates did not stay at the convention for long. Therefore, as George Washington stated, the document was executed by "eleven states, and Colonel Hamilton".[58] Washington signed the document first, and then moving by state delegation from north to south, as had been the custom throughout the convention, the delegates filed to the front of the room to sign their names. As the final delegates were signing the document, Franklin commented on the painting of a sun behind Washington's chair at the front of the room. He said he often looked at the painting, "without being able to tell, whether it was rising or setting. But now at length, I have the happiness to know it is a rising, and not a setting sun." The Constitution was then submitted to the states for ratification, pursuant to its own Article VII.

Proposed plans

Several plans were introduced, with the most important plan being that of James Madison (the Virginia Plan). The convention's work was mostly a matter of modifying this plan. Charles Pinckney also introduced a plan, although this wasn't considered and its exact character has been lost to history. After the convention was well under way, the New Jersey Plan was introduced though never seriously considered.[59] It was mainly a protest to what some delegates thought was the excessively radical change from the Articles of Confederation.[60] Alexander Hamilton also offered a plan after the convention was well under way, although it included an elected king and was thus not taken seriously.[61] Historians are unsure how serious he was about this, and some have speculated that he may have done it to make Madison's plan look moderate by comparison.[62] The Connecticut Compromise wasn't a plan but one of several compromises offered by the Connecticut delegation. It was key to the ultimate ratification of the constitution, although was only included after being modified by Benjamin Franklin in order to make it more appealing to larger states.[63]

Virginia Plan

The Virginia Plan

Prior to the start of the convention, the Virginian delegates met, and using Madison's thoughts, work, and notes, came up with what came to be known as the Virginia Plan, also known as the Large State Plan.[64] For this reason, James Madison is sometimes called the Father of the Constitution.[64] Presented by Virginia governor Edmund Randolph on May 29, 1787, the Virginia Plan proposed a very powerful bicameral legislature.[64] Both houses of the legislature would be determined proportionately.[64] The lower house would be elected by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house.[64] The executive would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and would therefore be selected by the legislature.[64] The Virginia Plan also created a judiciary, and gave both the executive and some of the judiciary the power to veto, subject to override.

Plan of Charles Pinckney

The Pinckney Plan

Immediately after Randolph finished laying out the Virginia Plan, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina presented his own plan to the Convention. As Pinckney did not reduce it to writing, the only evidence we have are Madison's notes,[65] so the details are somewhat sketchy. It was a confederation, or treaty, among the 13 states. There was to be a bicameral legislature made up of a Senate and a House of Delegates. The House would have one member for every one thousand inhabitants. The House would elect Senators who would serve by rotation for four years and represent one of four regions. Congress would meet in a joint session to elect a President, and would also appoint members of the cabinet. Congress, in joint session, would serve as the court of appeal of last resort in disputes between states. Pinckney did also provide for a supreme Federal Judicial Court. The Pinckney plan was not debated, but it may have been referred to by the Committee of Detail.[66]

New Jersey Plan

The New Jersey Plan

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the Plan.[64] Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had equal representation in Congress, exercising one vote each.[64] The Virginia Plan threatened to limit the smaller states' power by making both houses of the legislature proportionate to population. On 14 and 15 June 1787, a small-state caucus met to create a response to the Virginia Plan. The result was the New Jersey Plan, otherwise known as the Small State Plan.[64]

Paterson's New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, and was much closer to the initial call for the Convention: drafting amendments to the Articles of Confederation to fix the problems in it.[64] Under the New Jersey Plan, the existing Continental Congress would remain, but it would be granted new powers, such as the power to levy taxes and force their collection.[64] An executive branch was created, to be elected by Congress (the plan allowed for a multi-person executive).[64] The executives would serve a single term and were subject to recall on the request of state governors.[64] The plan also created a judiciary that would serve for life, to be appointed by the executives.[64] Lastly, any laws set by Congress would take precedence over state laws.[64] When Paterson reported the plan to the convention on June 15, 1787, it was ultimately rejected, but it gave the smaller states a rallying point for their interests.[64]

Hamilton's Plan

The Hamilton Plan

Unsatisfied with the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed his own plan. It also was known as the British Plan, because of its resemblance to the British system of strong centralized government.[64] In his plan, Hamilton advocated eliminating state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation.[64] The plan featured a bicameral legislature, the lower house elected by the people for three years. The upper house would be elected by electors chosen by the people and would serve for life.[64] The plan also gave the Governor, an executive elected by electors for a life-term of service, an absolute veto over bills.[64] State governors would be appointed by the national legislature,[64] and the national legislature had veto power over any state legislation.[64]

Hamilton presented his plan to the Convention on June 18, 1787.[64] The plan was perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered, because it resembled the British system too closely.[64] It also contemplated the loss of all state authority, which the states were unwilling to allow.

Connecticut Compromise

The Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman from Connecticut, was proposed on June 11.[64] In a sense it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals regarding congressional apportionment. Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the senate, and thus retaining a federal character in the constitution. Sherman sided with the two-house national legislature of the Virginia Plan, but proposed "That the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. branch [house] should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more."[64] Although Sherman was well liked and respected among the delegates, his plan failed at first. It was not until July 23 that representation was finally settled.[64] What was ultimately included in the constitution was a modified form of this plan, partly because the larger states didn't like it. In the Committee of Detail, Benjamin Franklin modified Sherman's proposal to make it more acceptable to the larger states. He added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the house, and that senate delegations be severed from the state legislatures. During prior assemblies, such as the Confederation Congress, the state delegations would vote as a block as instructed by the state legislatures. Franklin modified this, so that the senators would not vote as a block. This freed them from pressure from state legislatures, and made them free agents.[67] As such, the senate would bring a federal character to the government, not because senators were elected by state legislatures, but because each state was equally represented in the senate, which was the main aim of the smaller states.[68]


Among the most controversial issues confronting the delegates was that of slavery. Slaves comprised approximately one-fifth of the population in the American colonies.[69] In the Southern colonies, slaves comprised 40 percent of the population.[69] Whether slavery was to be regulated under the new Constitution was a matter of conflict between the North and South, with several Southern states refusing to join the Union if slavery was not allowed.

One of the most contentious slavery-related issues was the question of whether slaves would be counted as part of the population in determining representation in the United States Congress or considered property not entitled to representation.[69] Delegates from states with a large population of slaves argued that slaves should be considered persons in determining representation, but as property if the new government were to levy taxes on the states on the basis of population.[69] Delegates from states where slavery had disappeared or almost disappeared argued that slaves should be included in taxation, but not in determining representation.[69]

Finally, delegate James Wilson proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise.[64] This was eventually adopted by the convention.

Another issue at the Convention was what should be done about the slave trade. The three states that still allowed it threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned.[69] They postponed the decision on the slave trade because of its contentious nature. The delegates to the Convention did not want its ratification to fail because of the conflict over slavery.[69] Therefore, a special committee worked out another compromise: Congress would have the power to ban the importation of slaves, but not until at least 20 years had passed, in 1808.[64]


The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution included many of the Founding Fathers of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, who was Minister to France during the convention, characterized the delegates as an assembly of "demi-gods."[2] John Adams also did not attend, being abroad in Europe as Minister to Great Britain, but he wrote home to encourage the delegates. Patrick Henry was also absent; he refused to go because he "smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy." Also absent were John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention.






New Hampshire

New Jersey

New York

North Carolina


South Carolina


Rhode Island

  • Rhode Island did not send delegates to the convention.

(*) Did not sign the final draft of the U.S. Constitution. Randolph, Mason, and Gerry were the only three present in Philadelphia at the time who refused to sign.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Calvin C. Jillson (2009). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (5th ed.). Taylor & Francis. pp. 31. ISBN 9780203887028. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Lloyd, Gordon. "Introduction to the Constitutional Convention". Retrieved October 6, 2007. 
  3. ^ Articles of Confederation, Art. 13.
  4. ^ Art. 8.
  5. ^ Bent, Devin. ""Constitutional Convention Overview"" (in English).}. Retrieved October 6, 2007. 
  6. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p141. Random House, 2009.
  7. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p230. Random House, 2009.
  8. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p47 Random House, 2009.
  9. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p47. Random House, 2009.
  10. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p64. Random House, 2009.
  11. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p64. Random House, 2009.
  12. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p67. Random House, 2009.
  13. ^ Wood, Gordon. "The Creation of the American Republic". p12. 1969
  14. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p82. Random House, 2009.
  15. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p82. Random House, 2009.
  16. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p85. Random House, 2009.
  17. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p82. Random House, 2009.
  18. ^ Wood, Gordon. "The Creation of the American Republic". p201. 1969
  19. ^ Wood, Gordon. "The Creation of the American Republic". p201. 1969
  20. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p84. Random House, 2009.
  21. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p117. Random House, 2009.
  22. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p119. Random House, 2009.
  23. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p119. Random House, 2009.
  24. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p119. Random House, 2009.
  25. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p121. Random House, 2009.
  26. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p122. Random House, 2009.
  27. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p122. Random House, 2009.
  28. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p134. Random House, 2009.
  29. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p134. Random House, 2009.
  30. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p136. Random House, 2009.
  31. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p136. Random House, 2009.
  32. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p168
  33. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p166
  34. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p166
  35. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p167
  36. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p169
  37. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p169
  38. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p172
  39. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  40. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  41. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  42. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  43. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p181
  44. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p196
  45. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p207
  46. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p209
  47. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p212
  48. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p235
  49. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p236
  50. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p238
  51. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p241
  52. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p243
  53. ^ United States Postage Stamps
  54. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p243
  55. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p243
  56. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p244
  57. ^ National Archives. "Bill of Rights". Retrieved November 21, 2007. 
  58. ^ Stewart, David. "The Summer of 1787". p244
  59. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p230. Random House, 2009.
  60. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p230. Random House, 2009.
  61. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p137. Random House, 2009.
  62. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p137. Random House, 2009.
  63. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  64. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac US "Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention". Retrieved October 17, 2007. 
  65. ^ The Plan of Charles Pinckney (South Carolina), Presented to the Federal Convention, May 29, 1787. "The Avalon Project at Yale Law School". Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  66. ^ The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 reported by James Madison : May 29. "The Avalon Project at Yale Law School". Retrieved November 28, 2007. 
  67. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  68. ^ Beeman, Richard. "Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution". p199. Random House, 2009.
  69. ^ a b c d e f g Constitutional Rights Foundation. "The Constitution and Slavery".*/ Retrieved November 21, 2007. 

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