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Constitutional Convention

By

James Madison, Fourth President of the United States

James Madison, Fourth President of the United States

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-13004

Date of Constitutional Convention:

The meeting of the Constitutional Convention began on May 25, 1787. They met on 89 of the 116 days between May 25th and their final meeting on September 17, 1787.

Location of Constitutional Convention:

The meetings took place Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

States Participating:

Twelve of the 13 original states participated by sending delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The only state that did not participate was Rhode Island. They were against the idea of a stronger federal government. Further, New Hampshire delegates did not reach Philadelphia and participate until July, 1787.

Key Delegates to the Constitutional Convention:

There were 55 delegates who attended the Convention. The most well known attendees for each state were:
  • Virginia - George Washington, James Madison, Edmund Randolph, George Mason
  • Pennsylvania - Benjamin Franklin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, James Wilson
  • New York - Alexander Hamilton
  • New Jersey - William Paterson
  • Massachusetts - Elbridge Gerry, Rufus King
  • Maryland - Luther Martin
  • Connecticut - Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman
  • Delaware - John Dickinson
  • South Carolina - John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney
  • Georgia - Abraham Baldwin, William Few
  • New Hampshire - Nicholas Gilman, John Langdon
  • North Carolina - William Blount

Replacing the Articles of Confederation:

The Constitutional Convention was called in order to make revisions to the Articles of Confederation. George Washington was immediately named the Convention's president. This Articles had been shown since their adoption to be very weak. It was soon decided that instead of revising the articles, an entirely new government needed to be created for the United States. A proposal was adopted on May 30th that stated in part, "...that a national government ought to be established consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary." With this proposal, writing began on a new constitution.

A Bundle of Compromises:

The Constitution was created through many compromises. The Great Compromise solved how representation should be determined in Congress by combining the Virginia Plan which called for representation based on population and the New Jersey Plan that called for equal representation. The Three-Fifths Compromise worked out how slaves should be counted for representation counting every five slaves as three people in terms of representation. The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise promised that Congress would not tax the export of goods from any state and would not interfere with the slave trade for at least 20 years.

Writing the Constitution:

The Constitution itself was based on many great political writings including the Baron de Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Law, Jean Jacques Rousseau's Social Contract, and John Locke's Two Treatises of Government. Much of the Constitution also came from what was originally written in the Articles of Confederation along with other state constitutions. After the delegates finished working out resolutions, a committee was named to revise and write the Constitution. Gouverneur Morris was named the head of the committee, but most of the writing fell to James Madison, who has been called the "Father of the Constitution."

Signing the Constitution:

The Committee worked on the Constitution until September 17th when the convention voted to approve the Constitution. 41 delegates were present. However, three refused to sign the proposed Constitution: Edmund Randolph (who later supported ratification), Elbridge Gerry, and George Mason. The document was sent to the Congress of the Confederation which then sent it to the states for ratification. Nine states needed to ratify it for it to become law. Delaware was the first to ratify. The ninth was New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. However, it wasn't until May 29, 1790 that the last state, Rhode Island, voted to ratify it.

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