Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

Constitutional Topic: The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Topics pages at the USConstitution.net site are presented
to delve deeper into topics than can be provided on the Glossary Page or in the FAQ
. This Topic Page concerns the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The
Convention Timeline may also be of interest. A
list of members of various committees is also

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 produced the most enduring written
Constitution ever created by human hands. Though the United States existed
prior to the ratification of the Constitution, it was a nation held together by
the tenuous threads of the Articles of
, a sometimes contentious, and often ineffectual national
government. The men who were at Philadelphia that hot summer hammered out a
document that was the result of dozens of compromises and shaped by the
failures of the Unites States under the Articles as well as the failures of all
well-known European governments of the time.

The primary source for this document is Decision in Philadelphia, by
Christopher and James Collier (available for purchase on the Recommended Reading Page). Many other sources were
used to flesh out the page, not the least of which is Madison’s Notes on the Convention. Source
material on the Convention abounds, and any serious student of the Constitution
should refer to the various sources.


The Annapolis Conference

As noted on the Articles of Confederation Topic
, the United States had some fundamental problems in the late 1780’s.
Those with sufficient foresight saw this with ease, and were looking for a way
to produce a national government that would be more than the virtually
powerless government the United States currently had.

So it was in September 1786 that a conference was called to discuss the
state of commerce in the fledgling nation. The national government had no
authority to regulate trade between and among the states. The conference was
called to discuss ways to facilitate commerce and establish standard rules and
regulations. The conference was called by Virginia, at the urging of one of
its great minds of the time, James Madison. Madison had designs on doing more
than just discussing commerce, but his hopes were dashed when he arrived at the
conference. Only five of the 13 states sent any delegates at all (Delaware,
New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), and of those, only three
(Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia) had enough delegates to speak for their

Unable to do much of anything, the people who were there sat down and talked
amongst themselves. The group consisted of some of the great political minds
of the time; besides Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Read, and Edmund
Randolph. Most were dissatisfied with the current system of government. The
delegates decided that another conference, “with more enlarged powers” meet in
Philadelphia the following summer to “take into consideration the situation of
the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them
necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the
exigencies of the Union.” The report was written by Alexander Hamilton and
sent to Congress for its consideration on September 14, 1786. The entire
report of the Annapolis Conference is

Congress approved the plan to hold another, more sweeping conference on
February 21, 1787. The wheels were now in motion, though few had any inkling
of the momentous changes that were about to come.

Madison and the Virginia Plan

Virginian James Madison has been called the Father of the Constitution. He
arrived in Philadelphia for the Convention almost two weeks early so that he
could start thinking about what he wanted the Convention to accomplish. From
his point of view, there were a few main problems with the Confederation. The
states were under no obligation to pay their fair share of the national budget;
they violated international treaties with abandon; they ran roughshod over the
authority of the Congress; and they violated each other’s rights

Worse, however, was Madison’s view that the liberties of the minorities in
the states were being violated, particularly in economic issues. He believed
that the Confederation was giving too much emphasis to state sovereignty and
not enough to a national focus on consistent and fair policy and the upholding
of natural rights.

Madison’s idea, certainly not an original one, but unique for the new United
States, was to recreate the United States under an entirely different form of
government – a republican model. In a republic, the people are the ultimate
power, and the people transfer that power to representatives. As in the United
States today, the people would elect their representatives to govern. This was
in contrast to the Confederation model of the time, when the states appointed
members of Congress. His vision included separate authorities with separate
responsibilities, allowing no one to control too much of the government; and a
dominant national government, curbing the power of the states.

From Madison’s thoughts, notes, and work, the delegates from Virginia all
met prior to the start of the Convention. They hammered out the details of what
became known as the Virginia Plan. Its main

  • A bicameral legislature (two houses)
  • Both house’s membership determined proportionately
  • The lower house was elected by the people
  • The upper house was elected by the lower house
  • The legislature was very powerful
  • An executive was planned, but would exist to ensure the will of
    the legislature was carried out, and so was chosen by the legislature
  • Formation of a judiciary, with life-terms of service
  • The executive and some of the national judiciary would have the
    power to veto legislation, subject to override
  • National veto power over any state legislation

The Virginia Plan was reported to the Convention by Edmund Randolph,
Virginia’s governor, on May 29, 1787.

Sherman and the Connecticut (Great)

Most of the debate in the first few weeks concerned the revision of the
Virginia Plan. The Plan “corrected” the inequality that the “one state, one
vote” notion inflicted upon the large states (and those, like the Southern
states, that hoped to be large soon).

Most of the details could certainly be worked out. Issues like fugitive
slaves, export taxes, and import taxes were minor, when compared to the really
big issue facing the Convention: representation.

Quite frankly, the small states would never agree to a purely
representational form of government. They foresaw the annexation of small,
ineffective states as the populations of the large states continued to grow and
their influence waned. Some, like the Delaware delegation, were instructed to
leave the Convention if equal suffrage in the legislature was compromised.
Large states felt the equal suffrage system to be inherently unfair, and were
going to do everything they could to abolish it. Today, a conflict between the
big and small states seems odd. Conflicts between states are now generally
regional and regardless of size. But at the Convention, size, or anticipated
size, was one big dividing line.

The intensity of feelings of the two sides were surprises to the others –
Madison and the Big State faction thought the inequality of equal suffrage to
be so patently unfair that the small states would naturally accede. The small
states, used to the status quo, were surprised at how forceful the big states
were about proportionality, seeing that the Congress had operated so long under
the equal suffrage rule.

The subject of suffrage in the houses of the legislature proposed in the
prevailing Virginia Plan came to a debate on June 9, 1787.
Threats to dissolve the Convention, and, indeed, the Union, flew from one side
of the issue to the other. Fortunately, when the convention adjourned that
day, it did so on a Saturday evening, allowing heads to cool and deals to be
made that Sunday for presentation to the Convention on Monday. On June 11, Roger
Sherman of Connecticut rose on the floor and 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.”

Sherman was very well-liked and well-respected among the delegates, and
spoke more in the Convention than anyone except Madison. In his time, he was a
leader, respected by political friend and foe alike. His opinion carried
weight. He had advanced an idea such as this as far back as 1776, when it was
considered too radical to be taken seriously. This time, it not only was taken
seriously, but Sherman’s voicing of his compromise may have saved the
Convention from doom.

At first, Sherman’s plan failed and was rejected. For several weeks, and
through the debate on the New Jersey Plan, his idea lay dormant until June 27 and June 28, 1787,
when Marylander Luther Martin rose to speak in favor of the Compromise – his
speech, long, rambling, and generally disagreeable, seemed to sound the death
knell for the idea. Representation in the lower House of Congress was firmly
cemented. The small states were firm in the desire for equal suffrage in the
Senate. The debates continued and the big states eventually deferred to the
small ones: on July
and July
, the Senate we know today was finally agreed to.

Paterson and the New Jersey Plan

New Jersian William Paterson had a passion for order. He wanted nothing
more than to put an end to the rebellions and disorder that had arisen from
the current state of the national government. He feared that smaller states
like his own would be overtaken by the larger ones without specific

It is no wonder, then, that Paterson and many of his small-state colleagues
could not stomach the Virginia Plan. In the current Confederation, each state
was perfectly equal – all had one vote on all matters in Congress. In the
Virginia Plan, everything was proportionate to population. New Jersey, New
Hampshire, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and even New York felt they had to
fear any attempt by the large states of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and
Massachusetts to take away equal suffrage. They also feared the Southern
states, because of the general belief (historically proven wrong) that they
would soon grow to Pennsylvanian-sized populations.

After the Virginia plan was introduced, Paterson asked for an adjournment to
contemplate the Plan. On June 14 and 15, 1787, a small-state caucus met to
hammer out a response to the Virginia Plan. The New
Jersey Plan
was more or less a rebuttal of the Virginia Plan. Its main

  • The current Congress was maintained, but granted new powers –
    for example, the Congress could set taxes and force their collection
  • An executive, elected by Congress, was created – the Plan allowed
    for a multi-person executive
  • The executives served a single term and were subject to recall
    based on the request of state governors
  • A judiciary appointed by the executives, with life-terms of service
  • Laws set by the Congress took precedence over state law

The New Jersey Plan was more along the lines of what the delegates had
been sent to do – draft amendments to the Confederation to ensure that it
functioned properly. It expanded national power without totally scrapping
the old system. More over, it protected the small states from the large
ones by ensuring one state, one vote.

Paterson reported the plan to the Convention on June 15, 1787. It
was ultimately rejected, but gave the small states a rallying point from which
to defend their firm beliefs.

Hamilton and the British Plan

For New Yorker Alexander Hamilton, neither the Virginia Plan nor the New
Jersey Plan were enough. Hamilton was well-known and well-liked in upper
society in the 1780’s. He married into the aristocracy and was one of George
Washington’s advisors during the Revolutionary War. In politics, he was of the
general opinion that the masses could not be trusted to select the leaders of
the United States.

Hamilton proposed a new government based on a model he and the other
delegates knew well, perhaps all too well: that of the British monarchy and

Hamilton advocated virtually doing away with state sovereignty, noting that
as long as there was power to be had in the states, people would aspire to
acquire that power, to the detriment of the nation as a whole. His plan featured:

  • A bicameral legislature
  • The lower house, the Assembly, was elected by the people for
    three year terms
  • The upper house, the Senate, elected by electors chosen by the
    people, and with a life-term of service
  • An executive called the Governor, elected by electors and with
    a life-term of service
  • The Governor had an absolute veto over bills
  • A judiciary, with life-terms of service
  • State governors appointed by the national legislature
  • National veto power over any state legislation

Hamilton reported his plan to the Convention on June 18, 1787.

Hamilton’s plan was well-received, it seems, with general agreement that it
was well thought out and complete. However, no one supported it as a model for
a new form of government. The system was too similar to that of Britain, under
which the Americans had long-suffered. His plan went no further.

Soon after his speech, Hamilton left the Convention, only to return later.
Outvoted by his fellow New Yorkers at every turn, he grew frustrated. But when
he did return, he sat on the influential Committee of Style, which presented
the Convention with the Constitution in nearly the form we know today. Aside
from his work on this committee, for which Gouvernour Morris’s work is more
renowned, Hamilton had very little effect the outcome. However, in the struggle
for ratification, Hamilton became a champion of the new Constitution, and was
one of the main contributors to the Federalist Papers.

Pinckney – step-father of the

If Madison is the Father of the Constitution, it could be argued that
Charles Pinckney, of South Carolina, is its Step-Father. Who is
you may ask. He certainly is not one of the revered names of
the 18th century. History shows us that Pinckney is not an American historical
icon for a few reasons; one cause was himself, the other, James Madison.

Pinckney’s beliefs about the people of the United States contrasted sharply
with those of Hamilton. Where many of Hamilton’s beliefs seem foreign to us,
many of Pinckney’s are in line with our contemporary values. Almost in total
contrast to his kin in the South Carolinian aristocracy, Pinckney grew to hold
beliefs that the people could be trusted to make important decisions on a
national scale.

There were a few problems with Pinckney, though. Though he would go on to
be governor of South Carolina, and a member of both the U.S. Senate and the
U.S. House (and was obviously well liked and trusted by the people of South
Carolina), he was considered brash, arrogant, vain. He had all the
characteristics that a person such as Madison would dislike. When Pinckney
submitted his plan to the Convention, Madison’s notes on his speech are
uncharacteristically brief. Pinckney ensured that copies of his proposed plan
were published decades after the Convention, but after Pinckney’s death,
Madison disparaged Pinckney’s version of events, tainting his name. Pinckney
himself made things worse, when it was discovered that his version of events,
purported to have been written at the time of the Convention, were actually
written just before publication. It seemed as though Pinckney was taking
credit for work not his own.

Pinckney was saved, though, in the early 1900’s, when the papers of fellow
delegate James Wilson were examined and found to contain notes from Pinckney’s
Plan. Upon examination, it was clear that a great deal of what Pinckney
proposed eventually appeared in some form or another in the final Constitution.
Among his plan‘s features:

  • A bicameral legislature
  • The lower house, the House of Delegates, was elected by the people,
    with proportional representation
  • The upper house, the Senate, elected by the House of Delegates, four
    from each of four districts, with four year terms
  • An executive called the President, elected by the legislature
  • A Council of Revision consisting of the President and some or all
    of his Cabinet, with a veto over bills
  • National veto power over any state legislation
  • A judiciary was established

Pinckney reported his plan to the Convention on May 29, 1787,
the same day as the Virginia Plan was introduced.

Little in Pinckney’s plan was truly original. Pinckney himself had
submitted a smaller but similar plan to the Congress just a few months before
the Annapolis Conference. But it is clear from the accounts of other members
of the Convention that Pinckney’s plan was sent on to the Committee of Detail
that drafted the first copies of the Constitution, and many of his ideas and
phrases are included in what we read today.

The question of power

So there were lots of ideas on how to fix the government that existed under
the Articles of Confederation. One thing everyone agreed on was that the
current Congress did not have enough power. But they were almost all wary of
giving the federal government too much power. Madison’s famous line is “if men
were angels, no government would be necessary.” But men are not angels; they
desire power, and if there is power to be had, someone will aspire to it. So
power is necessary to get things done; too much power is corrupting. Finding a
way to balance the power would be needed.

One thing each of the Plans had in common was a division of the government
into “departments.” An executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial
branch. For a more of a discussion on this Separation of Power, see the Separation of Power Topic Page. In addition to
this separation on the national level, there was an additional level of
separation the delegate had to work out – that between the states and the
national government. Another thing in common was the dedication of the Founding Fathers. If you think drafting a Constitution and organizing a convention on this scale is easy, think again. Try following in their footsteps, I did, by pursuing a career in government with my online public administration degree

Some advocated giving the federal government almost total power; with the
ability to overrule or approve all state legislation. But most agreed that the
United States was too large to follow the European model of central control.
The interests of the people of the states would be best served by allowing
considerable control of the law to remain with the states.

But how to grant power to the federal government? Again, there were two
schools of thought. One was to grant the federal government general powers,
with interpretation left up to the congress of the time. The other was to
grant specific powers to the federal government. The first choice was deemed
too general, with the possibility of too much abuse; the second was considered
too strict, with a congress with more power than it had currently, but unable
to adapt to changing conditions. The Virginia Plan opted for the former
option, considering it the lesser of two evils. With a body consisting of the
executive and judiciary, some control over the legislature was provided for; it
also allowed the federal government to overrule the states in some cases.

But even the authors of the Plan were not satisfied with this aspect.
Madison and Edmund Randolph both spoke out against this detail, but seeing
nothing better, this detail remained unchanged. Not until July 16, when the
issue of equal suffrage in the Senate was settled, did the subject reappear in
the Convention. Now that smaller states had what they wanted, and were more
confident that this new Constitution would work out, they were more willing to
discuss expanding the powers of the new government. But what emerged from the
debates was still the Virginia Plan’s general grant.

Then, on July
, the Convention established a Committee of Detail to take everything
discussed thus far and put it into a rough draft. As delivered on August 6, the Committee, which included Randolph,
disregarded the general grant and proposed a list of powers (or enumeration).
Surprisingly, the surreptitious change came and went with no debate. The
enumerated powers were taken up on August 16, and for
the next several days the enumerated powers were discussed, including one
seemingly small detail at the end of the list, which allowed Congress to make
all laws deemed “necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the powers
listed previously. There was no debate on the point; was this the result of
another compromise? Were the delegates just tired and did not see the
implications? The reasons this clause passed by so smoothly is unclear. But
today, it is clear to us how much power the Necessary and Proper clause grants
to the federal government.

With the question of the powers of the national government resolved, the
next question was what to do with the states. The utter disregard of some of
the states for the weak authority of the Congress was a great concern. It was a
situation the delegates wanted to resolve once and for all. Again, the Virginia
Plan proposed a national veto over onerous state laws, but the potential for
abuse was easily recognized. The Southern states were especially wary of a
national government’s ability to upset slavery. Many worried that so powerful
a national government would turn the populace against the Constitution. Despite
these reservations, the provision remained, and several proposals were made to
expand the Virginia Plan’s provision.

But on July
, the tide suddenly shifted. Swayed by arguments that the provision was
simply not palatable, that state laws would be held in check by the state and
national courts, and the prospect of the national legislature being forced to
review the legislation of 13 states (not to mention 50), a vote to remove the
provision passed. That, plus the idea of Luther Martin to adopt language from
the New Jersey Plan that made all national laws and treaties the “supreme law
of the respective states,” provided some control over the states while not
going overboard.

Empowering a president

Some at the Convention felt an executive necessary to the carrying out of
the laws passed by the legislature; others felt an executive not only
unnecessary but dangerous. But all of the major plans included one in some
form or another. In the Virginia Plan, a weak executive was a single person,
who, along with the judiciary, would have some veto power over the legislature.
In the New Jersey Plan, the executive was not one person, but a council of
sorts, a sort of co-presidency. In both cases, the executive was chosen by the
legislature. These presidents were nothing like the president we know

The reason is clear – the royal governors and the King, and their love of
power, were fresh on the minds of the Framers. The need for a third branch, a
branch whose task is the carrying out of the laws, was clear under the concept
of the separation of powers. But the Framers wanted to be careful, to avoid
creating a position from which a tyrant could rule over the states.

One of the driving forces behind the strong presidency we have today is a
figure virtually unknown today, but who was very prominent in his day, and
eventually would serve on the Supreme Court: James Wilson of Pennsylvania.
Scottish by birth, Wilson was educated by some of the greatest minds in
Scotland at the time, leading to a great trust in the common sense of the
common man. He was an adamant supporter of the relatively new notion that the
government served the people, that all power derived from the people, rejecting
the social contract theory that the people allowed themselves to be ruled in
exchange for certain guaranteed rights. His theory required the direct
election of as many representatives as possible; to him, an appointed President
was as dangerous, or at least as onerous, as a monarch. He is considered
responsible for our peculiar Electoral

When the Convention took up the question of the President, they had a few
decisions to make: single individual or committee? Appointed or elected? And
what powers should the President, in whatever form, be able to carry out? The
debate started on June 1, when
Wilson almost immediately moved that the Executive be a single person. Sherman
was opposed – the lines were clear. States rightists wanted a weak executive;
nationalists a strong one. Wilson noted that each of the states had single
executives; the idea is well-known and seemed to work. When it came to a vote,
the single executive prevailed.

The Virginia Plan also called for the President to have a council to advise
him, but the idea was deemed unnecessary with the separation of powers being
built into the Constitution, and it was eliminated.

Next, to decide on a term and how the President would be chosen – by the
people or by the legislature? The idea of direct election sounds so simple to
us today, but in 18th century America, there were no parties, no conventions,
no mass media … how would the people know who to vote for? Many supported
the idea of direct election, but considered it impractical. Wilson came
through again and on June 2, proposed
something akin to our present Electoral
. But his plan was voted down, and the matter was debated and
redebated over the course of the next six weeks.

At the same time, the term of the President was debated; the delegates toyed
with many ideas, including a seven year, non-reelectable term, a three-year
reelectable term, and a term which was essentially life, or on good behavior.
But there was little consensus here either.

Neither matter was fully resolved, and they were referred to the Committee
of Detail. Its executive was elected by the legislature for a seven-year,
non-reelectable term, and he was impeachable. This portion of the Committee’s
draft was debated on August 24, and
Wilson once again lobbied for an popularly elected President. Debate produced
little result, and another committee was formed to iron out these and other
details. This committee took Wilson’s Electoral College idea and expanded upon
it; electors would be chosen by the states in whatever manner they desired,
which accommodated selection by the state legislature, governor, or the people.
This was read to the Convention on September 4, and
included details on the powers of the President, his checks by the legislature,
and details on the procedures on impeachment.

The problem of slavery

There is no gentle way to put it. The enslavement of blacks in America was of great
concern to the men at the convention. Some genuinely felt that the black man
was as much “man” as the white man. But this was a minority view. Southern
delegates had one thing in mind when it came to slavery: to keep it going to
prop up the Southern economy. Indeed, many of the largest slave holders in the
United States were at the Convention. Most Northern delegates did not like
slavery, but that does not mean they cared for blacks either. Many felt that
the larger the black populations in the South grew, the larger the threat that
that population would revolt against their masters and march north to exact
revenge on the people who bought the goods they had been driven to tend.

For some, slavery itself was at least tolerable, but the slave trade, the
importation of new people from Africa, was deplorable. Some felt it was
deplorable because trafficking in human lives is simply deplorable. Others
felt it deplorable because it diminished the value of their surplus slaves in
the slave market.

First we will address the capitation (counting) of slaves in the
Constitution. On June 11, Roger
Sherman suggested that representation be based on a count of all free men. The
South wanted their slaves counted as whole persons, but that would never
happen. James Wilson wanted to get the issue out of the way quickly, and asked
the Convention to adopt the same standard as that in the Articles: slaves would
count as three-fifths persons. This issue would rise again on July 9, when some
began to realize that the South could increase their representation in the
Congress by simply importing new slaves. Recall, too, that everyone expected
the extreme Southern states to grow in white population as well, over the next
few decades. The notion was frightening to many from the North, and Northern
states banded together on July 11 to
completely remove slaves from the population counts.

In the end, both side got something they wanted. Through what some have
theorized was a complicated bargain between Northern and Southern delegates to
the Convention and Northern and Southern representatives to the Congress,
taxation and representation were tied together (the Congress comes into the
story, because on July 12, the day after the compromise was reached, the
Northwest Ordinance was passed, detailing the carving up of the north western
wilderness of North America, and granting the South fugitive slave rules). The
deal allowed the South to keep the three-fifths count for representation that
had been used under the Articles for calculation of state levies, as long as
they also had a three-fifths count for calculation of taxes.

As for the slave trade, for quite some time in the Convention, it was
debated hotly. The states of the deep south wanted it maintained; the North
and the middle south was opposed. But alliances between states kept some of
the Northern states voting with the deep south, and any prohibition in new slave
imports or import taxes were defeated. As the Convention progressed, though,
it became clear to the South and her allies that some compromise would be
needed. In exchange for a prohibition on export taxes, the South agreed to
allowing the slave trade to continue for just 20 more years, and for imported
slaves to be taxable. As a side note, the very day that the slave trade
could constitutionally be prohibited, it was: on January 1, 1808.

The fight for a bill of rights

Neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan contained an enumeration
of the rights of the people. Today, the Bill of Rights is one of the most
recognizable parts of the U.S. Constitution; but the Framers, for the most part,
felt one was not necessary.

There were some who felt that listing the rights of the people was of
paramount importance, such as George Mason (the principle author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights), Pinckney, and Elbridge
Gerry. Part of Pinckney’s outline that he presented to the Committee of Detail
included a notation to include an enumeration of rights. But the general
feeling was that since each state had its own constitution, each with its own
bill of rights, a federal bill of rights was unnecessary. There were certain
rights, however, that were so important to the delegates as a whole that they
were included in the original Constitution: the prohibition against the
suspension of habeas corpus, and the prohibition of bills of attainder and ex
post facto laws.

But to Mason in particular, these provisions did not go nearly far enough.
After the final draft by the Committee of Style was
, with out any enumeration of rights, Mason moved that the entire
Constitution be prefaced with a bill of rights – the placement to signify the
importance of the rights. He implied that the Virginia Declaration could be
used as a model, and the details could be worked out in just a few hours. Gerry
so moved and Mason seconded, but there was no more support for the

The delegates were at the end of the convention – they had worked on the
Constitution for months on end, and were tired and ready to return home. In
addition, few felt that Mason’s idea that such a thing could be worked out in
just a few hours, considering all the debate that had gone into even minor
details, was possible. Above all, however, was the feeling that adding a bill
of rights could open up discussions that could bring the convention to a
stand-still; perhaps even break it up. For example, how to add a provision
that all men are born equal and free with the specter of slavery looming over
the nation? Mason and Gerry were rejected. Both Mason and Gerry ultimately
refused to sign the final version over the issue.

In the end, Mason and Gerry were in the right. As the completed
Constitution went out among the states for debate and ratification, the issue
of the lack of a bill of rights was a major point of contention raised over and
over again by the opponents of the Constitution, the Anti-Federalists. So
important an issue did the states feel it to be that many submitted proposed
articles of amendment along with their ratification. So important was the
addition of a Bill of Rights that one was proposed even before the last two
states ratified the Constitution; in December, 1791, the Bill of Rights was
added to the end of the Constitution, placing some of the strongest protections
of individual rights since before or since into force on a national scale.


On September 17, 1787, the final draft of the Constitution was signed. Of
the 55 people who attended the Convention, 39 actually signed. Some, such as
Oliver Ellsworth, left as the Convention progressed, others refused to sign in
protest, such as Mason and Gerry. The final day was one of relief for all who
remained in Philadelphia. Finally, the work was done. The work of creating
the Constitution. The work for ratification still lay ahead. As Ben Franklin noted on that day, the Constitution had
its faults, but it is possible that no better document could have been created.
With the signing of the Constitution by the Convention’s President, the eminent
George Washington, and the signatures of each of the attending states, the
journey began. The Letter of Transmittal directed
a startling course for the Congress, to set its own demise into motion. Hopes
were indeed high for the new creation: as Washington said in his own letter, as President of the Convention, to the
President of the Congress, “[we wish] that it may promote the lasting welfare
of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and