Constitutional Convention — Quick Facts
- Also Known As: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 is also known as the Philadelphia Convention.
- Date Started: The proceedings started on May 14, 1787.
- Date Ended: The convention came to a close on September 17, 1787.
- Location: The convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in Independence Hall.
- President: George Washington was elected by the delegates to preside over the meetings.
- Father of the Constitution: James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution because of his work drafting the document and work toward ratification.
- Purpose: The purpose of the convention was for all the States to discuss improvements to the Articles of Confederation.
This painting by Howard Chandler Christy depicts the scene at the Signing of the Constitution. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Constitutional Convention — Important Facts
History of the Constitutional Convention of 1787
- The idea for a “Grand Convention” of all the States to discuss improving the Articles of Confederation came out of the Annapolis Convention in 1786. The purpose of the Annapolis Convention was to find ways to regulate trade between the states.
- In 1786 and 1787, Shays’ Rebellion took place in Massachusetts, which was an armed insurrection in protest of tax policies. Although the Rebellion failed, it showed the government established by the Articles of Confederation was weak and ineffective and prompted support for the Grand Convention.
- The Confederation Congress endorsed the meeting of the Grand Convention “for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation . . .” on February 28, 1787.
Delegates to the Convention
- The delegates convened in the State House — Independence Hall — in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation.
- Some delegates, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, wanted to overhaul the entire system of government, instead of trying to fix the Articles of Confederation.
- A quorum necessary to conduct business — seven states — was not reached until May 25, 1787.
- Although 70 delegates were elected from 12 states, only 55 attended the meetings.
- Rhode Island did not send delegates.
- The delegates elected George Washington as President of the Convention.
- The delegates agreed to keep the deliberations secret so that they would feel free to speak their minds and change their minds, as they saw fit.
War hero George Washington was elected to preside over the convention. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Important Issues of the Constitutional Convention
There were many important issues that needed to be addressed by the convention, including:
- The division of power between the state legislatures and the national government.
- The power of taxation.
- The regulation of trade and commerce.
- The continuation and regulation of the institution of slavery.
- The handling of foreign affairs.
- The process for electing a president.
Key Plans Presented at the Constitutional Convention
There were three plans presented to the delegates which were referred to as the Committee of the Whole.
- The Virginia Plan was presented to the convention on May 29, 1787.
- The Pinckney Plan was presented to the convention on May 29, 1787.
- The New Jersey Plan was presented to the convention on June 18, 1787.
The delegates agreed on 19 resolutions but were unable to come to a final agreement. By mid-June, a Committee of Detail was set up to draft the Constitution based on the resolutions.
Key Points of the Virginia Plan
The Virginia Plan was prepared by the delegation from Virginia, which was the first to arrive in Philadelphia. The plan was presented by Edmund Randolph, the Governor of Virginia. The important parts of the plan were:
- A bicameral — two-house — legislature.
- Proportional representation.
- A two-house legislature.
- Strong national government with veto power over state laws.
Overall, the purpose of the Virginia Plan was to protect the interests of large states.
Key Points of the New Jersey Plan
The New Jersey Plan was presented by William Paterson. Overall, the main points were:
- A unicameral — one-house — legislature.
- Equal votes for each state.
- The president would be elected by the national legislature.
- The national government had the power to raise revenue, regulate commerce, and conduct foreign affairs.
- The plan retained the same basic form of government as under the Articles of Confederation.
Overall, the New Jersey plan protected the interests of the smaller states.
The Committee of Detail
The members of the Committee of Detail were:
- John Rutledge of South Carolina.
- Edmund Randolph of Virginia.
- Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut.
- James Wilson of Pennsylvania.
- Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts.
Developing the Constitution
- The report compiled by the Committee of Detail was debated by the delegates from August 6 to September 10.
- The delegates went through the report one section at a time.
- When the debate concluded, a Committee of Style was selected to polish the final document.
The Compromises of the Constitutional Convention
Throughout the course of the debates, some important compromises were agreed to by the delegates. Each compromise solved, at least temporarily, a critical issue that divided the delegates. Those five agreements allowed the process to move ahead.
- The Great Compromise solved the dispute between a one-house and two-house legislature. It set up two houses of the legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate was based on equal representation and the House was based on population. It is also known as the Connecticut Compromise because it was presented by Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth who were both from Connecticut.
- The Three-Fifths Compromised provided a “solution” for counting enslaved people as part of the population. This allowed the Southern states, where the practice was more prevalent, to count enslaved people in the population for determining the number of members of the House of Representatives.
- The Commerce Compromise resolved the issue of imposing tariffs on imports and exports and the regulation of commerce between the states. The compromise applied to tariffs to imports, but not exports and the national government would regulate trade between the states. It also required all legislation that dealt with commerce to be passed by a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.
- The Slave Trade Compromise tried to deal with the practice of slavery. The compromise allowed the slave trade to continue for another 20 years and required non-slave states to deport runaway slaves back to the southern states. In March 1807, President Thomas Jefferson signed a bill into law that abolished the slave trade, effective January 1, 1808.
- The Electoral College decided the issue of how to elect the President of the United States. It created a system of electors from each state. Today, most electors are bound by state law to vote for the candidate that wins the popular election in their state.
This lithograph by E. Sachse & Co. depicts the interior view of the House of Representatives wing of the U.S. Capitol. Image Source: Library of Congress.
Writing the United States Constitution
- A Committee of Style wrote the final draft of the Constitution.
- William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut was the chairman of the committee.
- Other members of the committee were James Madison, Rufus King, and Alexander Hamilton.
- Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania is given credit for the opening words, “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”
The first page of the United States Constitution, with the Preamble. Image Source: Library of Congress.
Congress Approves the United States Constitution
- The final draft of the Constitution was signed at the Convention on September 17, 1787.
- Of the 55 people who attended the Convention, 39 actually signed the Constitution.
- Some delegates refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include a Bill of Rights.
- The Bill of Rights was added in the form of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution before the last two states ratified the document.
Constitutional Convention — Interesting Facts
- George Washington’s copy of the report from the Committee of Detail, with his notes, was preserved.
- James Madison was the only delegate to attend every meeting.
- Madison’s notes on the proceedings were kept secret until after he died. They were published in 1840.
- Of the fifty-five delegates who attended the convention 8 had signed the Declaration of Independence, 39 were former Congressmen, 8 were present or past governors, and almost half were Revolutionary War veterans.
- The Convention was saved when Abraham Baldwin voted in favor of the bicameral legislature, which forced the Convention to set up the Grand Committee. As a result, the small states remained at the Convention, and the Great Compromise was developed.
- Benjamin Franklin, at 81, was the oldest delegate at the Convention.
- Jonathon Dayton, at 26, was the youngest delegate at the Convention.
- Rhode Island was the only state not to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. It was also the last state to ratify the Constitution, which took place on May 29, 1790.
Why Did the Convention Reject a Daily Prayer
Benjamin Franklin proposed to have a pastor lead a prayer every before the proceedings. However, the idea was rejected for two main reasons:
- The delegates would not be able to agree on the denomination of the pastor.
- The convention did not have the money to pay a pastor.
Why Did Rhode Island Not Attend the Constitutional Convention
The main reason why the leaders of Rhode Island did not send delegates to Philadelphia is that they were not in favor of a strong national government.
Outcome of the Constitutional Convention
The outcome of the Constitutional Convention was an entirely new document, the United States Constitution. However, the process of approving and amending the document was not over. Congress sent the document to the states for ratification. Most of the states held their own conventions to discuss ratification. While those went on, proponents of the new Constitution — James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton — wrote and distributed the Federalist Papers. The debate on the Constitution led to the passage of the Bill of Rights. New York became the eleventh state to ratify the document on July 26, 1788, which ushered in the new era of the Federal Government and the United States of America as a republic.
Federalist Alexander Hamilton played a significant role in the ratification of the United States Constitution. Image Source: Wikipedia.
Complete List of Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787
This is a complete list of the men who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The members marked with an asterisk did not sign the Constitution. The signers are considered to be Founding Fathers.
- Richard Bassett
- Gunning Bedford, Jr.
- Jacob Broom
- John Dickinson
- George Read
- Abraham Baldwin
- William Few
- William Houston*
- William L. Pierce*
- Daniel Carroll
- Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer
- Luther Martin*
- James McHenry
- John F. Mercer*
- Elbridge Gerry*
- Nathaniel Gorham
- Rufus King
- Caleb Strong*
- Nicholas Gilman
- John Langdon
- David Brearley
- Jonathan Dayton
- William C. Houston*
- William Livingston
- William Paterson
- Alexander Hamilton
- John Lansing, Jr.*
- Robert Yates*
- William. Blount
- William R. Davie*
- Alexander Martin*
- Richard. Dobbs Spaight
- Hugh Williamson
- George Clymer
- Thomas Fitzsimmons
- Benjamin Franklin
- Jared Ingersoll
- Thomas Mifflin
- Gouverneur Morris
- Robert Morris
- James Wilson