Drafting the Constitution

15b. A Cast of National Superstars

Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was the premier scientist, author, businessman and all-around scholar of his time.

At the same time that Shays' Rebellion attempted to force the government to take a new course of action in response to hard times, another group of Americans gathered to consider a very different vision for the future of the republic. The group was especially concerned about economic policy and the way that competing state policies often worked at cross-purposes. Responding to such concerns, the Virginia legislature called for a convention to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786 to discuss commercial matters. Only twelve delegates came from five states, but they agreed to meet again the next year in Philadelphia.

When Shays' Rebellion erupted in the interim, this group had even stronger reasons to meet to discuss plans for responding to the range of problems in the "critical period" of the 1780s. Following on the possibility of widespread popular unrest as evidenced by Shays' Rebellion, the Congress, in January 1787, directed the meeting to consider revisions to the Articles of Confederation.

Convention at Philadelphia
The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia brought together all the great leaders of the United States (unless they came from Rhode Island).

The Philadelphia Convention drew fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island refused to send anyone to a meeting about strengthening the power of the central government). Most of the delegates had gained national-level experience during the Revolution by serving as leaders in the military, the Congress, or as diplomats. The impressive group included many prominent Revolutionary leaders like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Robert Morris. Some of the older leaders of the Revolution, however, were not present. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were abroad serving as diplomats to France and England, respectively.

Meanwhile, key local leaders like Sam Adams of Boston had lost his bid to be a delegate, while the Virginian patriot Patrick Henry was elected, but refused to go because he opposed the purpose of the Convention. In their place were a number of younger leaders, who had been less prominent in the Revolution itself. Most notable among them were the Virginian James Madison and the West Indian-born New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton.

The Maryland State House
Charles Willson Peale drew these sketches of the Maryland State House, site of the Annapolis Convention of 1786.

These national "superstars" did not, however, include people from western parts of the country, nor did it include any artisans or tenant farmers. Indeed, there was only a single person of modest wealth whom we could consider a yeoman farmer. These were superstars and that meant that they did not reflect anything close to the full range of American society. Partly because the delegates had already served as national representatives, they shared a general commitment to a strong central government. Many were strong nationalists who thought the Articles of Confederation gave too much power to the states and were especially concerned about state governments' vulnerability to powerful local interests. Instead, the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention aimed to create an energetic national government that could deal effectively with the major problems of the period from external matters of diplomacy and trade to internal issues of sound money and repayment of public debt.

On the Web
Weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation
Here is an interesting question to think about: Why did the Founding Fathers need to draft a Constitution in the first place? They already had the Articles of Confederation as a model for the nation. Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation did not give the Federal government enough authority, leaving the power instead with the states. This link, from the Federalist Papers, provides Hamilton's list of the weaknesses (1787).
Constitution of the United States
An interesting site created by a wilderness community in Colorado, this link provides further background into the making of the Constitution. Topics found here including "Events Leading to the Drafting of the Constitution" can provide you with useful information about one of the most pivotal times in United States history. As would be expected from the title, the full text of the Constitution itself is also found at this site.
Patrick Henry: "A Wrong Step Now and the Republic Will Be Lost Forever"
Patrick Henry, arguably the greatest speaker of the American Revolutionary period, declined to attend the Constitution Convention of 1787 when he was elected as a delegate by his home state of Virginia. His belief in the need for the states to retain governmental power was one of the reasons for his harsh criticism of the work done by the Framers of the Constitution. Henry delivered this speech addressing these issues on June 4, 1788.
The Report of the Annapolis Conference
Not many delegates came to the Annapolis Conference, but they got the ball rolling. Who was there, and what did they talk about? This site has the minutes of the conference, the report sent to the state legislatures, and a complete list of all in attendance.
There were 7 Presidents before George Washington! Each of them served under the Articles of Confederation.
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California Missions
"The California Missions Resource Center is a comprehensive and unique resource for historical information on the twenty-one California Missions."

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