Philadelphia Convention

Philadelphia Convention

The Philadelphia Convention (now also known as the Constitutional Convention, the Federal Convention, or the "Grand Convention at Philadelphia") took place from May 25 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 purportedly intended only to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was from the outset 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. The Convention is one of the central events in the history of the United States.

Historical Context

Before the Constitution was drafted, the thirteen colonies operated under the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress which eventually caused deep divides between the states that the national government could not resolve.citeweb|url=|author=Lloyd, Gordon|title=Introduction to the Constitutional Convention|accessmonthday=October 6|accessyear=2007|language=English] On January 21, 1786, the Virginia Legislature, following James Madison's recommendation, invited all the states to discuss ways to reduce interstate conflicts in Annapolis, Maryland. 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 in May, 1787 to discuss ways to improve the Articles of Confederation in a "Grand Convention."


The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution included most of the outstanding leaders, or Founding Fathers, of the new nation. Thomas Jefferson, who was in France during the convention, characterized the delegates as an assembly of "demi-gods." John Adams also did not attend, being abroad in Europe, 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." Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention.Connecticut
*Oliver Ellsworth*
*William Samuel Johnson
*Roger Sherman

*Richard Bassett
*Gunning Bedford, Jr.
*Jacob Broom
*John Dickinson
*George Read

*Abraham Baldwin
*William Few
*William Houstoun*
*William Pierce*Maryland
*Daniel Carroll
*Luther Martin*
*James McHenry
*John F. Mercer*
*Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

*Elbridge Gerry*
*Nathaniel Gorham
*Rufus King
*Caleb Strong*

New Hampshire
*Nicholas Gilman
*John LangdonNew Jersey
*David Brearley
*Jonathan Dayton
*William Houston*
*William Livingston
*William Paterson

New York
*Alexander Hamilton
*John Lansing, Jr.*
*Robert Yates*

North Carolina
*William Blount
*William Richardson Davie*
*Alexander Martin*
*Richard Dobbs Spaight
*Hugh WilliamsonPennsylvania
*George Clymer
*Thomas Fitzsimons
*Benjamin Franklin
*Jared Ingersoll
*Thomas Mifflin
*Gouverneur Morris
*Robert Morris
*James Wilson

South Carolina
*Pierce Butler
*Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
*Charles Pinckney
*John RutledgeVirginia
*John Blair
*James Madison
*George Mason*
*James McClurg*
*Edmund Randolph*
*George Washington
*George Wythe*
Rhode Island
*"Rhode Island did not send delegates to the convention.

"(*) Did not sign the final draft of the U.S. Constitution."

The Convention

Due to the difficulty of travel in the late 1700s, 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. The convention convened in the Pennsylvania State House, and George Washington was unanimously elected as president of the convention.citeweb|url=}|author=Bent, Devin|title="Constitutional Convention Overview"|accessmonthday=October 6|accessyear=2007|language=English] Although William Jackson was elected as secretary, Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 remain the most complete record of the convention.


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.cite web|url=|author=US|title=Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention|accessmonthday=October 17|accessyear=2007|language=English] For this reason, James Madison is sometimes called the Father of the Constitution. Presented by Virginia governor Edmund Randolph on May 29, 1787, the Virginia Plan proposed a very powerful bicameral legislature. Both houses of the legislature would be determined proportionately. The lower house would be elected by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house. The executive would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and would therefore be selected by the legislature. 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

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 supply a hard copy, the only evidence we have are Madison's notes,citeweb|url=|author=The Plan of Charles Pinckney (South Carolina), Presented to the Federal Convention, May 29, 1787|title=The Avalon Project at Yale Law School|accessmonthday=November 28|accessyear=2007|language=English] 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 "dernier 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.citeweb|url=|author=The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 reported by James Madison : May 29|title=The Avalon Project at Yale Law School|accessmonthday=November 28|accessyear=2007|language=English]

New Jersey Plan

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson, asked for an adjournment to contemplate the Plan. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state was perfectly equal — each had one vote in Congress. The Virginia Plan threatened to limit the smaller states' power by making both houses of the legislature proportionate to population. On 14/15 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."

Paterson's New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, and was much closer to the original plan for the Convention - draft amendments to the Articles of Confederation to fix the problems in it. Under the New Jersey Plan, the current Congress would remain, but it would be granted new powers, such as the power to levy taxes and force their collection. An executive branch was created, to be elected by Congress (the plan allowed for a multi-person executive). The executives would serve a single term and were subject to recall on the request of state governors. The plan also created a judiciary that would serve for life, to be appointed by the executives. Lastly, any laws set by Congress would take precedence over state laws. 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 beliefs.

Hamilton's 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 government. In his plan, Hamilton advocated getting rid of state sovereignty. 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. The plan also gave the Governor, an executive elected by electors for a life-term of service, an absolute veto over bills. State governors would be appointed by the national legislature, and the national legislature had veto power over any state legislation.

Hamilton presented his plan to the Convention on June 18, 1787. The plan was well received as a well-thought-out plan, but it was given very little consideration because it resembled the British system too closely.

Connecticut Compromise

The Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman from Connecticut, was proposed on June 11. Sherman proposed: "That the proportion of suffrage in the 1st. branch 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." 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.


Many questions remained unresolved. Among the most important were the controversial issues surrounding slavery. Slaves accounted for about one-fifth of the population in the American colonies.cite web|url=|author=Constitutional Rights Foundation|title=The Constitution and Slavery|accessmonthday=November 21|accessyear=2007|language=English] Most of them lived in the Southern colonies, where slaves made up 40 percent of the population. Whether slavery was to be permitted and continued 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 were not allowed.

One of the most contentious slavery-related issue was the question of whether slaves would be counted as part of the population in determining representation in Congress or considered property not entitled to representation. 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. Delegates from states where slavery had disappeared or almost disappeared argued that slaves should be included in taxation but not in determining representation.

Finally, delegate James Wilson proposed the Three-Fifths Compromise.cite web|url=|author=US|title=Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention|accessmonthday=October 17|accessyear=2007|language=English] This was eventually adopted by the convention.

Another issue at the Convention was what should be done about the slave trade. Ten states had already outlawed it. Many delegates heatedly denounced it, but the three states, Georgia and the two Carolinas, that allowed it threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned. In effect 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. Therefore, a special committee worked out another compromise: Congress would have the power to ban the slave trade, but not until at least 20 years had passed, in 1808.

Drafting and signing

In late July, the convention appointed a committee to draft a document based on the agreements that had been reached. After another month of discussion and refinement, a second committee, the Committee of Style and Arrangement, headed by Gouverneur Morris, and including Hamilton, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, and Madison, produced the final version, which was submitted for signing on September 17. Morris is credited now, as then, as the chief draftsman of the final document, including the stirring preamble.

Not all the delegates were pleased with the results; some left before the ceremony, and three of those remaining refused to sign: Edmund Randolph, 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 finally added and is considered the final compromise of the Convention - several states asked specifically for these amendments when ratifying the Constitution, and others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that a bill of rights would soon follow.cite web|url=|author=National Archives|title=Bill of Rights|accessmonthday=November 21|accessyear=2007|language=English] Of the 39 who did sign, probably no one was completely satisfied. Their views were ably 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 to 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..."

ee also

*Founding Fathers of the United States
*Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
*History of the United States
*Constitution Day (United States)
*Timeline of the United States Constitution
*National Constitution Center


External links

* [ The Constitutional Convention of 1787] EDSITEment Lessons
* [ - The Constitutional Convention]
* [ The Original Source Documents from The Constitutional Convention]
* [ Founders' Blog - Republishing Madison's notes on the convention 220 years later]
* [ - The Constitutional Convention]
* [ Transcription from the Report from the Grand Compromise Committee]
* [ National Constitution Center]

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