The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention was established in 1787 to replace the Articles of Confederation with a national constitution for all states.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the circumstances leading to the Constitutional Convention and the replacement of the Articles of Confederation

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain.
  • The Articles of Confederation was an agreement among the 13 founding states that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states. It soon become evident to nearly all that it was inadequate for managing the various conflicts that arose among the states.
  • Several plans were introduced at the Constitutional Convention. The Virginia Plan, inspired by James Madison, proposed that 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.
  • In contrast to the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan proposed a unicameral legislature with one vote per state. Inherited from the Articles of Confederation, this position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities.
  • To resolve this stalemate, the Connecticut Compromise blended the Virginia and New Jersey proposals. Ultimately, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the Senate. What was ultimately included in the Constitution was a modified form of this plan.
  • Among the most controversial issues confronting the delegates was that of slavery. The Three-Fifths Compromise established that three-fifths of the population of slaves would be counted in relation to the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of the members of the House of Representatives.

Key Terms

  • constitutional convention: The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain.
  • virginia plan: Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan.
  • new jersey plan: Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained.

Introduction

The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention was held to problems in governing the United States, 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.

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Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” by Howard Chandler Christy (1940).

The Convention

At the Convention, several plans were introduced. James Madison’s plan, known as the Virginia Plan, was the most important plan. The Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan. In its proposal, 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 branch would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and, therefore, would be selected by the legislature.

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Virginia Plan: Visual representation of the structure of James Madison’s Virginia 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 had equal representation in Congress, exercising one vote each. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained.

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New Jersey Plan: Visual representation of the structure of the New Jersey Plan.

To resolve this stalemate, the Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman from Connecticut, was proposed on June 11. In a sense, it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the Senate and, thus, retaining a federal character in the constitution. What was ultimately included in the constitution was a modified form of this plan.

Slavery

Among the most controversial issues confronting the delegates was that of slavery. Slavery was widespread in the states at the time of the Convention. Twenty-five of the Convention’s 55 delegates owned slaves, including all of the delegates from Virginia and South Carolina. Whether slavery was to be regulated under the new Constitution was a matter of such intense conflict between the North and South that several Southern states refused to join the Union if slavery were not to be allowed.

Whether slavery was to be regulated under the new Constitution was a matter of such intense conflict between the North and South that several Southern states refused to join the Union if slavery were not to be allowed. Delegates opposed to slavery were forced to yield in their demands that slavery practiced within the confines of the new nation be completely outlawed. However, they continued to argue that the Constitution should prohibit the states from participating in the international slave trade, including in the importation of new slaves from Africa and the export of slaves to other countries. The Convention postponed making a final decision on the international slave trade until late in the deliberations because of the contentious nature of the issue. 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.

During the Convention’s late July recess, the Committee of Detail had inserted language that would prohibit the federal government from attempting to ban international slave trading, and from imposing taxes on the purchase or sale of slaves. This committee helped work out a compromise: In exchange for this concession, the federal government’s power to regulate foreign commerce would be strengthened by provisions that allowed for taxation of slave trades in the international market and that reduced the requirement for passage of navigation acts from two-thirds majorities of both houses of Congress to simple majority.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise between Southern and Northern states reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in which three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves would be counted for representation purposes regarding both the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of the members of the United States House of Representatives. It was proposed by delegates James Wilson and Roger Sherman. This was eventually adopted by the Convention.

The Framers of the Constitution

The Framers of the Constitution were delegates to the Constitutional Convention who took part in drafting the proposed U.S. Constitution.

Learning Objectives

Describe the composition of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, and establishing the United States Constitution.
  • In 1973, historian Richard B. Morris identified seven key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
  • In the winter and spring of 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states chose a total of seventy-four delegates to attend what is now known as the Constitutional Convention. Of these seventy-four delegates, only fifty-five helped to draft what would become the Constitution of the United States.
  • More than half of the delegates had trained as lawyers, although only about a quarter practiced law as their principal means of business. Other professions included merchants, manufacturers, shippers, land speculators, bankers or financiers, three physicians, a minister, and several small farmers.
  • Several notable founders did not participate in the Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry, John Hancock and Samuel Adams did not attend the Convention.

Key Terms

  • founding fathers: The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders and statesmen who participated in the American Revolution by signing the United States Declaration of Independence, taking part in the American Revolutionary War, and establishing the United States Constitution.
  • constitutional convention: The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to problems in governing the United States of America, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain.
  • last of the romans: Term used to refer to the last remaining founders who lived well into the nineteenth century.

Introduction

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders who participated in the American Revolution. They signed the Declaration of Independence, took part in the Revolutionary War, and established the Constitution. The “Founding Fathers” included two major groups. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Framers of the Constitution were delegates to the Constitutional Convention and helped draft the Constitution of the United States.

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Framers of the Constitution Stamp (1937): US Postage Stamp depicting delegates at the signing of the US Constitution.

Some historians consider the “Founding Fathers” to be a larger group, which includes not only the Signers and the Framers but also ordinary citizens who took part in winning American independence and creating the United States of America. In 1973, historian Richard B. Morris identified seven figures as the main Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

In 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states—all but Rhode Island—chose seventy-four delegates to attend what is now known as the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (). Nineteen of these delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates. The states had originally appointed seventy representatives to the Convention, but a number of the appointees did not accept or could not attend, leaving fifty-five delegates to draft the Constitution. Almost all of these delegates had taken part in the Revolution. At least twenty-nine of the delegates served in the Continental forces. Most of the delegates had been members of the Confederation Congress, and many had been members of the Continental Congress.

Occupations and Experience

The framers of the Constitution had extensive political experience. By 1787, four-fifths of the delegates had been in the Continental Congress. Nearly all of the fifty-five delegates had experience in colonial and state government. Furthermore, the delegates practiced a wide range of high- and middle-status occupations. Many delegates pursued more than one career simultaneously. They did not differ dramatically from the Loyalists, except the delegates were generally younger in their professions.

More than half of the delegates had trained as lawyers, although only about a quarter had practiced law as their principal career. Other professions included merchants, manufacturers, shippers, land speculators, bankers or financiers, three physicians, a minister, and several small farmers. Of the twenty-five who owned slaves, sixteen depended on slave labor to run the plantations or other businesses that formed the mainstay of their income. Most of the delegates were landowners with substantial holdings, and most were comfortably wealthy. George Washington and Governor Morris were among the wealthiest men in the entire country.

The Founding Fathers had strong educational backgrounds at some of the colonial colleges or abroad. Some, like Franklin and Washington, were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship. Others had obtained instruction from private tutors or at academies. About half of the men had attended or graduated from college. Some men held medical degrees or advanced training in theology. Most delegates were educated in the colonies, but several were lawyers who had been trained at the Inns of Court in London.

Notable Absences and Post-Convention Careers

Several notable Founders did not participate in the Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson was abroad, serving as the minister to France. John Adams was in Britain, serving as minister to that country, but he wrote home to encourage the delegates. Patrick Henry refused to participate because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy. ” John Hancock and Samuel Adams were also absent. Many of the states’ older and more experienced leaders may have simply been too busy to attend the Convention.

Most were successful in subsequent careers, although seven suffered serious financial reverses that left them in or near bankruptcy. Most of the group continued to render public service, particularly to the new government they had helped to create. The last remaining founders, also called the “Last of the Romans”, lived well into the nineteenth century.

Constitutional Issues and Compromises

At the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia, Pinckney, New Jersey, and Hamilton plans gave way to the Connecticut Compromise.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the U.S. Constitution with the Articles of Confederation.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Inspired by proposals at the Constitutional Convention, The Virginia Plan proposed a legislative branch consisting of two chambers. Rotation in office and recall were two principles applied to the lower house of the national legislature.
  • Under the Pinckney Plan, the House would have one member for every one thousand inhabitants. The House would also elect Senators who would serve by rotation for four years. Congress would meet in a joint session to elect a President, and it would also appoint members of the cabinet.
  • Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. Unlike the Virginia Plan, this plan favored small states by giving one vote per state.
  • Alexander Hamilton ‘s plan advocated doing away with much state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. The plan was perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered because it resembled the British system too closely.
  • The Connecticut Compromise blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Its main contribution was in determining the method for apportionment of the Senate and retaining a federal character in the constitution.

Key Terms

  • virginia plan: Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan.
  • pinckney plan: The Pinckney Plan refers to the proposal by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina to the Constitutional Convention. It advanced 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.
  • hamilton’s plan: Proposed by Alexander Hamilton to the Constitutional Convention, this plan advocated doing away with much state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. The plan was perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered because it resembled the British system too closely.

Introduction

At the Constitutional Convention, several plans were introduced. Debate topics included the composition of the Senate, how “proportional representation ” was to be defined, whether the executive branch would be composed of one person or three, presidential term lengths and method of election, impeachable offenses, a fugitive slave clause, whether to abolish slave trade, and whether judges should be chosen by the legislature or executive.

The Virginia Plan

While waiting for the Convention to formally begin, James Madison sketched out his initial draft, which became known as the Virginia Plan. It also reflected his views as a strong nationalist. The Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan. The Virginia Plan proposed a legislative branch consisting of two chambers. Rotation in office and recall were two principles applied to the lower house of the national legislature. Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants.” States with a large population, like Virginia, would thus have more representatives than smaller states.

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The Virginia Plan: The front page of the Virginia Plan document.

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Portrait of James Madison: Stippling engraving of James Madison, President of the United States, done between 1809 and 1817.

The 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 reduce it to writing, the only evidence we have are Madison’s notes, so the details are somewhat scarce. It was a confederation, or treaty, among the thirteen 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 it 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 for early draft.

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Pinckney Plan: The Pinckney Plan proposed 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.

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 had equal representation in Congress—one vote per state. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities that could enter and leave the United States on their own volition.

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 strong centralized government. Hamilton’s plan advocated doing away with much state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. 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 perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered because it resembled the British system too closely.

Connecticut Compromise

To resolve this stalemate, Roger Sherman, a delegate from Connecticut, forged the Connecticut Compromise. In a sense it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Ultimately, its main contribution was determining the method for apportionment of the Senate and retaining a federal character in the constitution.

What was ultimately included in the Constitution was a modified form of this plan. In the Committee of Detail, Benjamin Franklin added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House. 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.

The Virginia and New Jersey Plans

In the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia Plan favored large states while the New Jersey Plan favored small states.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, and the Connecticut Compromise regarding the revision of the Articles of Confederation.

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Virginia delegation took the initiative to frame the debate by immediately drawing up and presenting a proposal, for which delegate James Madison was given chief credit.
  • The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral legislature, a legislative branch with two chambers. This legislature would contain the dual principles of rotation in office and recall, applied to the lower house of the national legislature.
  • According to the Virginia Plan, states with a large population would have more representatives than smaller states. Large states supported this plan, while smaller states generally opposed it.
  • Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities.
  • Ultimately, the New Jersey Plan was rejected as a basis for a new constitution. The Virginia Plan was used, but some ideas from the New Jersey Plan were added.
  • The Connecticut Compromise established a bicameral legislature with the U.S. House of Representatives apportioned by population as desired by the Virginia Plan and the Senate granted equal votes per state as desired by the New Jersey Plan.

Key Terms

  • virginia plan: Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan.
  • new jersey plan: Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained.
  • Connecticut Compromise: The Connecticut Compromise was an agreement that both large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The compromise defined, in part, the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by James Madison, along with proportional representation in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally between the states.
  • recall: a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended

Introduction

The Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia delegation took the initiative to frame the debate by immediately drawing up and presenting a proposal, for which delegate James Madison is given chief credit. It was, however, Edmund Randolph, the Virginia governor at the time, who officially put it before the convention on May 29, 1787 in the form of 15 resolutions.

The scope of the resolutions, going well beyond tinkering with the Articles of Confederation, succeeded in broadening the debate to encompass fundamental revisions to the structure and powers of the national government. The resolutions proposed, for example, a new form of national government having three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. One contentious issue facing the convention was the manner in which large and small states would be represented in the legislature. The contention was whether there would be equal representation for each state regardless of its size and population, or proportionate to population giving larger states more votes than less-populous states.

Virginia Plan

The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral legislature, a legislative branch with two chambers. This legislature would contain the dual principles of rotation in office and recall, applied to the lower house of the national legislature. Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants.” States with a large population would thus have more representatives than smaller states. Large states supported this plan, while smaller states generally opposed it.

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Virginia Plan: Visual representation of the structure of James Madison’s Virginia Plan.

In addition to dealing with legislative representation, the Virginia Plan ed other issues as well, with many provisions that did not make it into the Constitution that emerged. It called for a national government of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The people would elect members for one of the two legislative chambers. Members of that chamber would then elect the second chamber from nominations submitted by state legislatures. The legislative branch would then choose the executive branch.

The terms of office were unspecified, but the executive and members of the popularly elected legislative chamber could not be elected for an undetermined time afterward. The legislative branch would have the power to negate state laws if they were deemed incompatible with the articles of union. The concept of checks and balances was embodied in a provision that a council composed of the executive and selected members of the judicial branch could veto legislative acts. An unspecified legislative majority could override their veto.

New Jersey Plan

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New Jersey Plan: Visual representation of the structure of the New Jersey Plan.

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William Paterson: Portrait of William Paterson (1745–1806) when he was a Supreme Court Justice (1793–1806). Paterson was also known as the primary author of the New Jersey Plan during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the Plan. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. The less populous states were adamantly opposed to giving most of the control of the national government to the more populous states, and so proposed an alternative plan that would have kept the one-vote-per-state representation under one legislative body from the Articles of Confederation.

Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities, and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained. The plan proposed that the Articles of Confederation should be amended as follows:

  1. Congress would gain authority to raise funds using tariffs and other measures;
  2. Congress would elect a federal executive who cannot be re-elected and subject to recall by Congress;
  3. The Articles of Confederation and treaties would be proclaimed as the supreme law of the land.

Connecticut Compromise

Ultimately, the New Jersey Plan was rejected as a basis for a new constitution. The Virginia Plan was used, but some ideas from the New Jersey Plan were added.

Debate over the Presidency and the Judiciary

During the Constitutional Convention, the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition of the Presidency and the Judiciary.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the key debates of the Constitutional Convention

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While waiting for the convention to formally begin, James Madison sketched out his initial draft, which became known as the “Virginia Plan” and which reflected his views as a strong nationalist.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Committee on Detail shortened the president’s term from seven years to four years, freed the president to seek re- election after an initial term, and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate. They also created the office of the vice president.

Key Terms

  • James Madison: James Madison was an American statesman and political theorist, the fourth President of the United States (1809–1817). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the United States Constitution and as the key champion and author of the United States Bill of Rights.
  • presidency: The bureaucratic organization and governmental initiatives devolving directly from the president.
  • electoral college: A body of electors empowered to elect someone to a particular office

Debate Over the Presidency and Judiciary

During the Constitutional Convention, the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition and election of the Senate, how “proportional representation” was to be defined, whether to divide the executive power between three people or invest 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 convention was spent deciding these issues, while the powers of legislature, executive, and judiciary were not heavily disputed.

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Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: During the Constitutional Convention, some the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition of the Presidency and the Judiciary.

James Madison’s Influence

While waiting for the convention to formally begin, James Madison sketched out his initial draft, which became known as the “Virginia Plan” and which reflected his views as a strong nationalist. By the time the rest of the Virginia delegation arrived, most of the Pennsylvania delegation had arrived as well. The delegates 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. The Confederation government was the ultimate example of this.

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Portrait of James Madison: James Madison authored the Virginia Plan, which contained important provisions on the presidency and judiciary.

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. Madison, however, did not believe that the judiciary should be truly independent, but rather be obligated to the legislature not the executive. By insisting on the independence of the judiciary, Madison stepped away from the Articles of Confederation to create something entirely new. 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 pick judges and the Senate confirm them.

The Early Debate

One of the most pressing issues during the early debate was 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 eighteenth 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.

This 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, was a contested issue. Most thought that the house should then choose the president, since it most closely reflected the will of the people. 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.

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Electoral College 1800: The Constitutional 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.

Modifications

The Committee of Detail was a committee established by the United States Constitutional Convention on June 23, 1787 to put down a draft text reflecting the agreements made by the convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s 15 resolutions. It was chaired by John Rutledge, and other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham.

The committee shortened the president’s term from seven years to four years, freed the president to seek re-election after an initial term, and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate. It also created the Office of the Vice President whose only roles were to succeed a president unable to complete a term of office and to preside over the Senate. The committee transferred important powers from the Senate to the president who now, for example, would be given the power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. One controversial issue throughout much of the Convention had been the length of the president’s term and whether the president was to be term limited. The problem had resulted from the understanding that the president would be chosen by Congress; the decision to have the president be chosen instead by an electoral college reduced the chance of the president becoming beholden to Congress, so a shorter term with eligibility for re-election became a viable option.

Drafting the Final Document

The report from the Committee on Detail at the Constitutional Convention constituted the first draft of the United States Constitution.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the editorial stages the Constitution went through

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to problems in governing the United States of America.
  • The Three-Fifths Compromise designated that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted as part of a state’s population.
  • The Committee of Detail was a committee established by the United States Constitutional Convention on June 23, 1787 to put down a draft text reflecting the agreements made by the Convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s fifteen resolutions.
  • Once the final modifications had been made, the Committee of Style and Arrangement was appointed to revise the articles which had been agreed to by the house.
  • George Washington signed the document first. 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.
  • After the signing, the Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification, as stipulated by its own Article VII.

Key Terms

  • committee of style and arrangement: Once the final modifications had been made, the Committee of Style and Arrangement was appointed “to revise the style of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the house. “
  • Committee of Detail: The Committee of Detail was a committee established by the United States Constitutional Convention on June 23, 1787 to put down a draft text reflecting the agreements made by the Convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s 15 resolutions.

Introduction

The Constitutional Convention took place in 1787, from May to September, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was convened to problems in governing the United States of America following independence from Great Britain. Before the Constitution was drafted, the nearly four million inhabitants of the thirteen newly-independent states were governed under the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress. However, the chronically underfunded Confederation government, as originally organized, was inadequate for managing the various conflicts that arose among the states. 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. It was not until May 25 that a quorum of seven states was secured.

The Early Debate

During the debates, each state was allowed to cast a single vote in accordance with the majority opinion of the state’s delegates. The first area of major dispute was the manner by which the lower house would be apportioned. A minority wanted all states would have equal weight. 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. The Three-Fifths Compromise designated that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted as part of a state’s population.

The First Draft

The Convention adjourned from July 26 to August 6 to await the report of the Committee of Detail. The Committee of Detail drafted agreements made by the Convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s fifteen resolutions. It was chaired by John Rutledge. Other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham. This report constituted the first draft of the United States Constitution. Much of what was contained in the final document was present in this draft.

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John Rutledge: The Constitutional Convention adjourned 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 (nicknamed “Dictator John” as a reflection of the extraordinary power he had assumed as South Carolina’s governor during the early days of the Revolution).

Many details recorded by the Committee had never been discussed during the Convention, but the Committee viewed these details as uncontroversial and unlikely to be challenged. Much of the Committee’s proposal would ultimately be incorporated into the final version of the Constitution without debate. Examples of these details include the Speech and Debate Clause, which grants members of Congress immunity for comments made in their jobs and the rules for organizing the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Further Modifications

Another month of discussion and minor refinement followed. During this month, few attempts to alter the Rutledge draft were successful. Some delegates wanted to add property qualifications for people to hold office. Others wanted to prevent the national government from issuing paper money. James Madison wanted to push the Constitution back in the direction of his Virginia plan.

Drafting and Signing

Once the final modifications had been made, the Committee of Style and Arrangement was appointed “to revise the style of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the house.” Unlike other committees this final committee included no representatives from smaller states. Its members were mostly in favor of a strong national government and unsympathetic to calls for states’ rights.

For three days, the Convention compared this final version with the proceedings of the Convention. The Constitution was ordered engrossed on Saturday, September 15 by Jacob Shallus, and it was submitted for signing on September 17. George Washington signed the document first. 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, Benjamin 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, as stipulated by Article VII.

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Delegates Voting: Reproduction of secretary’s handwritten records of votes conducted at the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, as published in Farrand’s Records, Volume 1 (1911).

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George Washington: George Washington; Oil on canvas, 361/2″ x 273/4″ (circa 1787-1790).