Untitled Document

The Election of 1800-1801

Table of Contents

Discontent with the Articles of Confederation
The Constitutional Convention
Aftermath & Thomas Jefferson’s Reaction

Discontent with the Articles of Confederation

“‘Tis done. We have become a nation,” wrote Dr. Benjamin Rush, in July 1788 after New York State ratified the new Constitution of the United States.1 Two years earlier, Rush, a prominent Philadelphia politician as well as respected physician, had written: “The American war is over, but this far from being the case with the American revolution. On the contrary, nothing but the first act of the drama is closed. It remains yet to establish and perfect our new forms of government, and to prepare the principles, morals, and manners of our citizens for these forms of government after they are established and brought to perfection.”2

Frustration with the Articles of Confederation grew after the Treaty of Paris in 1783 officially ended the Revolutionary War. Even before the end of the war, General George Washington wrote: “No man in the United States is, or can be more deeply impressed with the necessity of a reform in our present Confederation than myself. No man perhaps has felt the bad effects of it more sensibly; for to the defects thereof, & want of Powers in Congress may justly be ascribed the prolongation of the War, & consequently the Expences occasioned by it. More than half the perplexities I have experienced in the course of my command, and almost the whole of difficulties & distress of the Army, have there [sic] origin here.”3 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Almost immediately after the war began the Americans’ doubts and anxieties, never far below the surface in 1776, began to emerge with increasing frequency.” Wood observed that “the disillusionment with American politics in the 1780's only grew more intense.”4

The period of the Articles of Confederation undermined the Founders’ confidence in their creation. It was a period of elite pessimism. In 1786, Noah Webster wrote: “So long as any individual state has power to defeat the measures of the other twelve, our pretended union is but a name, our confederation, a cobweb.”5 In March 1786, Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay wrote Washington that “an opinion begins to prevail that a general convention for revising the articles of Confederation would be expedient.”6 Washington wrote Jay in August 1786,”We have, probably, had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation.”7 Even on the eve of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, doubts about the government’s future were widespread. Washington reportedly told Pennsylvania businessman Gouverneur Morris: “It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If, to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disprove, how can we afterwards defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.”8

In the mid-1780s, America’s Founders had become increasingly upset that their government was essentially powerless to deal with the nation’s problems. “I suppose the crippled state of Congress is not new to you. We have only nine States present, eight of whom are represented by two members each; and of course, on all great questions, not only a unanimity of States, but of members, is necessary; a unanimity which can never be obtained on a matter of any importance,” wrote Thomas Jefferson to George Washington in March 1784 concerning the problem’s of the new nation. “The consequence is, that we are wasting our time and labor in vain efforts to do business. Nothing less than the presence of thirteen States, represented by an odd number of delegates, will enable us to get forward a single capital point.”9 Those who served with Washington in the Continental Army like Alexander Hamilton and Henry Knox had the best vantage point for a national viewpoint. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The peacetime experience had likewise convinced many of the necessity of a national government, but its effect was largely on whole populations of whole states – that is, those states whose experiments in independence convinced the inhabitants that their states could not make a go of it alone.” McDonald wrote that the Revolution “had converted many to the national view. Among those so converted, three groups were most important: First, those who had learned firsthand the idiocy of attempting to wage a war or defend a country without a government, which would include particularly those persons who had been in Congress or in important administrative positions when the republican-dominated Congress collapsed in 1779-80. Second, those who fought in the war, particularly those in the continental line and most particularly those who had served in close proximity to Washington. Third, those who inhabited areas which had suffered great devastation or long occupation at the hands of the British during the war – which would include especially the cities of Newport, New London, New York, Norfolk, Charleston, Savannah, most of the tidewater of South Carolina and Virginia, and all of New Jersey.”10

The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a tacit admission of America’s governmental weakness. Historian Gordon S. Wood observed: “By the middle eighties Congress had virtually ceased trying to govern.”11 Historian Darren Staloff wrote: “It was not simply its lack of revenue that weakened the American position abroad; Congress also lacked the authority to regulate trade. Instead, each state was left to pass its own tariffs and restrictions. Such a chaotic and weak position invited mercantile aggression from the powerful, centrally governed nation-states of Europe. Those states, and England in particular, had no motive to sign a treaty of commerce with the United States when they could simply seize commercial advantage unilaterally. The result could only be the destruction of American shipping and trade.”12

Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote that “the Continental Congress had little ability to raise revenue, was too weak to deal effectively with encroaching great powers like Britain and Spain, could not make foreign loans because its credit was so bad, and was incapable of rectifying these defects because the articles could be amended only by unanimous consent of the states, and there were too many conflicting interests among them to achieve unanimity on almost any question. Spain was blocking shipping on the Mississippi River, Britain was restricting American exports; and the Congress was powerless to deal with them. Regional differences were such that there were well-grounded fears that the Union could break up into two or three confederacies.”13

The Constitution’s framers wanted to preserve the liberties won in the American Revolution – from the threat of popular unrest and anarchy. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that the Founders “were guided as well as limited by four sets of considerations, none of which was so clear as subsequent (or even contemporary) writing would lead one to believe. The first was inherent in their purpose, that of providing protection for the lives, liberty, and property of the citizenry. They repeatedly voiced their agreement about their goals.”14 In the view of Washington and his peers, funding the government and its Revolutionary War debts was a prime consideration. Declining faith in the nation’s credit-worthiness was endemic. Historian Roger G. Kennedy wrote: “The Constitutional Convention faced twelve million dollars in debts owed foreigners, forty million owed domestic creditors by the United States, and twenty-five million in obligations of the states. These in turn broke into categories, domestic debts turn up by the states to their own people in financing the war and debts to foreign bankers and governments. With such a burden upon them, the Founders found themselves writing a constitution not upon some Lockean blank page but upon pages bearing the word ‘debt’ followed by large numbers. Even if the domestic debt were repaid gradually at 4 percent interest, its carriage and reduction would consume three fourths of the contemplated federal budget. Worse, during the shilly-shallying years of the Confederation, the most patriotic of citizens had lost faith that those debts would ever be paid. Many who had been willing to forget wartime inflation and to invest in government obligations had next to withstand a postwar depression by selling whatever assets they held, including their tattered, shredded, spindled, and torn notes from their government. By 1790, only about 20 percent of these government obligations were held by original lenders, and those held were heading downward in the direction traversed already by the Continentals.”15 Key Founders realized that the nation could only grow on a strong political and economic foundation. Max Farrand wrote that “the wretched condition of the government finances, and the unsatisfactory state of foreign and domestic trade, were responsible for the calling of the Philadelphia convention. The two subjects were closely connected. In the matter of trade a uniform policy was necessary, and that uniformity could only be obtained by granting to the central government full power over trade and commerce, both foreign and domestic. This meant of course that duties would be laid and something in the way of revenue would result.”16

The United States was in deep trouble economically in the 1780s as it struggled to handle debts incurred during the Revolution. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that during the American Revolution Secretary of Finance Robert “Morris only appeared to be a magician. For all the imaginative sweep of his scheme and the brilliance with which he executed its details, it could work only if the economy was working and if permanent revenues were soon forthcoming. After Yorktown, the economy all but stopped working for a while.”17 McDonald wrote that during the American Revolution, Americans “shared a huge obligation and a huge piece of property, the public debt (which Morris calculated at around $25 million, or somewhere near as much as all the commercial property in the country) and the western lands (which were incalculable, but seemed likely to be twice as extensive as all the occupied lands in the country). The unimaginative, which is to say most people, saw the first as a curse and the second as a blessing, and proposed to use the one to cancel the other. Morris proposed instead to keep the lands out of the equation for now, and to come up with other means for servicing the debts. That done, the many, many thousands who held public securities would have a stake in supporting the national administration. Then, as an unrelated enterprise, Congress could begin to sell the lands, and soon many, many more thousands would have a stake in supporting the national administration. Soon, too, the national administration would have grown large and powerful.”18

Frustration with the Articles of Confederation had been steadily building. The unicameral congress was supplemented by a vestigial bureaucracy for finance and foreign affairs. Massachusetts’ Rufus King wrote Elbridge Gerry in April 1786: “We go on in Congress as when you left us. Three days since October only have nine States been on the Floor. Eight are now here, when we shall have nine is a melancholy uncertainty. I proposed a few days since that Congress should resolve, that provided on a certain day, sufficiently distant for information to reach all the States in season, the States were not so represented as to give power to administer the Government, Congress would adjourn without day. Something of this kind must be done. It is a mere farce to remain here as we have done since last October. Foreigners know our situation and the friends of free Governments through the world must regret it.”

Resolves have been passed upon Resolves—and letter after letter has been sent to the deficient States, and all without the desired effect. We are without money or the prospect of it in the Federal Treasury; and the States, many of them, care so little about the Union, that they take no measures to keep a representation in Congress. The civil list begin to clamour—there is not money to pay them: they are now unpaid for a longer period than since the circulation of Paper Money. The handful of troops over the Ohio are mutinous and desert because they are unpaid. The money borrowed in Europe is exhausted and this very day our Foreign Ministers have it not in their power to receive their salaries for their support.19

George Washington was not the most advanced political thinker in America, but he was a very advanced political doer and a conscientious student of practical politics. His eight years at the head of the Continental Army had given him a thorough grounding in the deficiencies of American government and the requirements of effective government. Political scientist Glenn A. Phelps wrote: “The war taught Washington another lesson: those burdened with political responsibilities should also have sufficient authority to meet those responsibilities.”20 Historian John E. Ferling wrote: “Almost to a person those men whom Washington most admired were among the noisiest proponents of constitutional change. Generals Sullivan and Knox, David Humphreys and Henry Lee, and especially Hamilton, the Morrisses, and young James Madison had been preaching for a stronger central government for years.”21 Throughout his career, Washington relied on such close colleagues to draft important public documents – George Mason, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Now, these men would join him in constructing a new governmental framework. For Washington, the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was effectively a tutorial in government and political philosophy. Stanley Elkins & Eric McKitrick wrote that “for four long months, the best minds in the country spelled out for Washington in great detail what the country thought it needed in the way of executive authority, the limits on that authority which the country might be expected to insist on, the range of alternatives that were open as well as of those that were not open, and the range of alternatives that were open as well as of those that were not open, and the theoretical and historical principles which might justify the right choices as well as warn against the wrong ones.”22

Historian Woody Holton wrote: “The wave of insurrections and threats that swept over the United States during the 1780s – and more important, the relief legislation that the rebels managed to extract from lawmakers and local officials – convinced many of the nation’s most prominent citizens that the time had come to launch a rebellion of their own.”23 The turning point was Shay’s Rebellion initiated by veterans of the Revolutionary War against economic and taxation policies western Massachusetts in 1786-87. The impotence of the federal government — and many state governments – was illustrated by the Massachusetts Rebellion. Max Farrand wrote: “Shay’s rebellion had taught a much needed lesson. It was not sufficient to place the state militia under some central control. The central government must be empowered to maintain an efficient army and navy to protect the states against internal disorders, as well as against external dangers.”24 Spurred on by the warnings of General Henry Knox, George Washington was concerned that anarchy might beset America. But Washington was an essentially conservative man who valued prudence in public life. Historian John E. Ferling noted that Washington “feared that this Convention might be the last hope of the Revolution, and he likewise thought ‘radical cures’ were necessary in order to save the liberties and opportunities won by independence. But his views differed from those of many delegates. A near victim of Hamilton’s and ‘the financier’s’ machinations while at the Newburgh cantonment, he was almost as suspicious of their motives as he was fearful of the Shaysites and other ‘incendiaries.’”25

The Constitutional Convention was partly a reaction to the threat posed by Shay’s Rebellion, which was greatly exaggerated by Henry Knox in a letter to George Washington, which Washington then repeated in letters to his correspondents.26 Knox played the role of governmental Paul Revere – warning of the approach of anarchy. Forrest McDonald wrote of Knox: “On the strength of little more than his imagination, he shouted to all who would listen that a full-fledged rebellion was under way, that huge bands of armed men were about the seize the federal arsenal at Springfield, and that, for good measure, an Indian uprising was about to appear from somewhere.”27 Knox’s apocalyptic vision had an impact on other leaders. Historian Gordon S. Wood observed: “The belief that the 1780s’s, the years after the peace with Britain, had become the really critical period of the entire Revolution was prevalent everywhere during the decade. By the mid-eighties the oratory and writings were filled with talk of crisis to the point of redundancy: ‘The present crisis is critical in the extreme.’” As Wood observed: “American liberty seemed in fact to have made revolution perpetual and civil disorder legitimate.”28 In effect there was little national government of which to speak.

The primary midwife of the Constitutional Convention was James Madison. Historian Lance Banning noted that Madison “blamed the popular abuses on the weaknesses of the Confederation, set about to build a Union capable of treating underlying, economic sources of the troubles, and fixed his mind throughout on saving the republican experiments already underway in Massachusetts and Virginia.”29 Madison biographer Kevin R. Gutzman wrote: “In 1786-1787, Madison devoted himself to what one scholar of his role in that August assemblage called his ‘research project. Combing ancient, medieval, and modern writings on history and political science, he mastered the history of both bygone and contemporary confederations. In the main, his conclusion was that confederations tended to fail for lack of power in the central government. Madison also came to certain conceptions about the ways that the American system needed to be improved. Those lessons took the form of a memorandum entitled ‘Vices of the Political System of the United States.’”30 In 1786, Madison became a driving force in getting the constitutional convention off the ground and later in getting it approved and amended. The Constitution had many fathers. But, noted historian Richard Brookhiser, “At every stage– the Annapolis convention, the Philadelphia convention, writing The Federalist and fighting for ratification, writing the Bill of Rights – Madison was a major player. He dealt with all the other major players – Washington and Hamilton, [Gouverneur] Morris and [James] Wilson; he kept Jefferson informed and on board, and fended off Brutus and Henry. Sometimes he was wrong or stubborn; these are flyspecks against his patience and energy, learning and savvy.”31 William Pierce described Madison as “very remarkable every Person seems to acknowledge his greatness. He blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar. In the management of every great question he evidently took the lead in the Convention, and tho' he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreable, eloquent, and convincing Speaker. From a spirit of industry and application which he possesses in a most eminent degree, he always comes forward the best informed Man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest Members that ever sat in that Council. Mr. Maddison is about 37 years of age, a Gentleman of great modesty, — with a remarkable sweet temper. He is easy and unreserved among his acquaintance, and has a most agreable style of conversation.”32

Fortuitously, another of Washington’s concerns – navigation in the Potomac – had prompted a meeting in 1778 in Annapolis attended only by delegates from five states.33 The Annapolis convention did not attract sufficient delegations to handle the work that had been proposed. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “a small band of long-time and devout nationalists did what they had previously decided to do.”34 Madison and Hamilton were the driving forces at the conference. Economic historian Charles Sellers wrote that Madison “so far absorbed the commercial perspective as to collaborate with Hamilton in organizing the movement for a constitutional convention (Jefferson being in France as American minister at the time), and the convention largely followed his impressive intellectual leadership.” Madison biographer Kevin R. Gutzman wrote: “The unanimous report, seemingly drafted by Hamilton, said that although they had met in Annapolis for the purpose of proposing changes to the Confederation in relation to trade, they believed that more extensive alteration of the federal system was necessary.”35 Historian Clinton Rossiter noted that the convention “was a joint triumph for Hamilton and Madison. It was the former who, acting his favorite part of the audacious man of destiny, persuaded his colleagues to exceed their limited mandates and to strike for a constitutional solution to all their problems, and who probably wrote out the resolutions adopted September 14. It was the latter who, acting his favorite part of the creative politician, had brought about this meeting in the first place, and who seems to have persuaded Hamilton (with the aid of Edmund Randolph) to pitch his proposal in the blandest language of which he was capable.” The resolution called for a convention to convene in Philadelphia the following May “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and preservation of the Union.”36 Max Farrand wrote that “there is no doubt that the Annapolis Convention was an all-important step in the progress of reform, and its recommendation was the direct occasion of the calling of the great convention that framed the Constitution of the United States.”37 Unlike Madison, Hamilton played a larger role at the Annapolis Convention than he would at Philadelphia where his attendance and influence was very limited.

So, there was both a proximate cause and an immediate test for constitutional reform. By 1786, noted historian James Schouler, “Abroad and at home the Union was fast becoming disreputable. It fretted our European allies that treaties which promised so much could yield so little. Great Britain, still bent on keeping her late Colonies disunited, had now pointedly refused to give up the Western posts, as the treaty of peace bound her to do, alleging infractions on our part. Spain was insidiously laboring on our southwestern border to divert the allegiance of settlers west of the Alleghanies, who, in common with the Southern States, had become inflamed over a project lately pending before Congress to barter our rights in the Mississippi for certain commercial privileges which promised to be mainly advantageous to the North...States which once moved in solid phalanx now warred upon one another. | Connecticut taxed Massachusetts imports higher than British. Weighed down with debts, nearly every sovereignty was on the verge of repudiation, the contagion of a bad Federal example in that respect proving almost irresistible. Requisitions lay unheeded. The utter impotence of Congress to enforce its legitimate authority stimulated State disobedience. New Jersey bluntly refused to supply her quota. Georgia proposed sending commissioners of her own to negotiate with the Spanish governor at New Orleans. Other States arrogated the function of treating with adjacent Indian tribes. So strong were the symptoms of general dissatisfaction that no rumor of sectional plots and combinations seemed too wild for belief.

Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “Throughout 1786 there were reports of legislative excesses, particularly in the form of debtor-relief laws and new issues of paper money (the doings in Rhode Island, which issued new issues of paper money that rapidly depreciated to one-fifteenth of its face value, were later described in a New York newspaper as ‘the Quintessence of Villainy; or Proceedings of the Legislature of the State of Rhode Island’).38 McDonald wrote that “by the winter of 1786-1787, the American republic was in peril, and the institutional safeguards for liberty and property that had been erected had proved inadequate. This is not to suggest that the principal supplements to colonial experience upon which Patriots had drawn – natural-law and natural-rights theory, republican ideology of both the classical-cum-puritanical and the Harringtonian-cum-Bolingbrokean variety, Montesquieu, the English legal tradition, the Scottish Enlightenment – were suddenly and totally rejected. Those systems of ideas continued to pervade the thinking of most of the Framers of 1787, albeit sometimes in modified ways.”39

Some motives for constitutional change were opportunistic but well-intentioned. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “A third position, one that had attracted little support at first, but had gained some favor by 1787, was that sovereignty had passed directly to the Continental Congress, even though in 1775 that body existed only de facto, not de jure. Its support derived from two main sources. The first was people (especially prospective land speculators) in the states that had no charter claims to western lands, who therefore wanted the lands to be held in common. The second was a small group of ardent nationalists, most notably James Wilson and Alexander Hamilton, who had begun to develop the doctrine of inherent powers – that certain powers logically derive from responsibilities – to justify an expansion of the authority of Congress....Hamilton’s motives were purely nationalistic.”40 So were Washington’s. Near the end of the Revolutionary War, General Washington wrote to Virginia Governor Benjamin Harrison: “My wish to see the Union of these States established upon liberal and permanent principles, and inclination to contribute my mite in pointing out the defects of the present Constitution are equally great. All my private letters have teemed with these Sentiments, and whenever this topic has been the subject of conversation, I have endeavoured to diffuse and enforce them; but how far any further essay by me might be productive of the wished for end, or appear to arrogate more than belongs to me, depends so much upon popular opinions, and the timper and dispositions of People, that is not easy to decide. I shall be obliged to you however for the thoughts which you have promised me on this Subject, and as soon as you can make it convenient.”41 Less than a year later, having retired to Mount Vernon, Washington wrote Harrison: “The disinclination of the individual States to yield competent powers to Congress for the Fœderal Government – their unreasonable jealousy of that body & of one another – & the disposition which seems to pervade each, of being all-wise & all- powerful within itself, will, if there is not a change in the system, be our downfall as a Nation.”42

“The calling of the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was the climax of the process of rethinking that had begun with the reformation of the state constitutions in the late seventies and early eighties, a final step ‘taken from the fullest conviction that there was not a better, perhaps no other, which could be adopted in this crisis of our public affairs,” wrote historian Gordon S. Wood. “The federal Convention, Americans told themselves repeatedly, was to frame a constitution that would ‘decide forever the fate of republican government.’”43 Historian Jackson Turner Main wrote: “Eleven of the original thirteen states, and Vermont, too, altered the structure of their governments during the Revolutionary era; only Rhode Island and Connecticut retained the inherited form.”44 Historian Andrew C. McLaughlin observed: “What was needed was, not a juggling with powers and authorities, not an adding of complexity to confusion, but simply the organization of a state on the broadest and most rational basis. It is not strange that men sought to tinker [with] the Confederation. There are always quacks with pet nostrums, and physicians who treat the symptoms, but do not cure the disease. The remarkable thing is that there were in 1787 so many men who saw the need of a bold operation to remove the root of the whole evil.” McLaughlin wrote: “The great need of the time, then, was the recognition of the fact that there was an American people; that there just be one government rising from then and over them; that this government must come in contact with its own citizens; that state selfishness and greed, the base of the old order, must be checked by making the new government sufficient unto itself – in short, that there must be provided an organization for a pure, national state, broad in its purposes and broad in its foundation, with an adequate means of expressing its sovereign will.”45 As Washington wrote Madison in March 1787:

That a thorough reform of the present system is indispensable, none who have capacities to judge will deny--and with hand and heart I hope the business will be essayed in a full Convention – After which, if more powers, and more decision is not found in the existing form – If it still wants energy and that secresy and dispatch (either from the non-attendance, or the local views of its members) which is characteristick of good Government – And if it shall be found (the contrary of which however I have always been more affrd of, than of the abuse of them) that Congress will upon all proper occasions exercise the powers with a firm and steady hand, instead of frittering them back to the Individual States where the members in place of viewing themselves in their national character, are too apt to be looking. I say after this essay is made if the system proves inefficient, conviction of the necessity of a change will be dissiminated among all classes of the People – Then, and not till then, in my opinion can it be attempted without involving all the evils of civil discord.46

The Constitutional Convention

Organization & Setting

Changes is always hard. Clearly, the Philadelphia convention had to consider a wide range of political and economic issues if it was to be a comprehensive as desired by critics of the Articles of Confederation. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The real issue, throughout, was whether there would be a national government – and therefore a nation – at all.”47 The creation of the new government was a multi-obstacle course. First a convention needed to be organized and the required people needed to show up — not an inconsiderable problem. They then needed to agree on a document. They then needed Congress to approve the ratification process. Finally, they then needed the states to ratify quickly before opponents could get properly organized.

Most of all, they needed George Washington to show up. Much as General Washington regretted the state of the nation, he also regretted anything that would take him away from his beloved home at Mount Vernon. In April 1789, President Washington would write in one draft of his inaugural address: “After I had rendered an account on my military trust to congress and retired to my farm, I flattered myself that this unenviable lot was reserved for my latter years....But in this I was disappointed. The Legislature of Virginia in opposition to my express desire signified in the clearest terms to the Governor of the State, appointed me a Delegate to the federal Convention. Never was my embarrassment or hesitation more extreme or distressing. By letters from some of the wisest and best in almost every quarter of the Continent, I was advised, that it was my indispensable duty to attend, and that, in the deplorable condition to which our affairs were reduced, my refusal would be considered a desertion...”48

Washington was indeed under considerable pressure to attend. Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph wrote Washington in December 1786: “By the inclosed act, you will readily discover that the Assembly are alarmed at the storms which threaten the United States. What our enemies have foretold, seems to be hastening to its accomplishment; and cannot be frustrated but by an instantaneous, zealous, and steady union among the friends of the Federal Government. To you I need not press our present dangers. The inefficiency of Congress you have often felt in your official character; the increasing languor of our associated Republics you hourly see; and a dissolution would be, I know, to you a source of the deepest mortification.” Randolph added: “I freely, then, entreat you to accept the unanimous appointment of the General Assembly to the Convention at Philadelphia. For the gloomy prospect still admits one ray of hope; that those who began, carried on, and consummated the revolution, can yet rescue America from the impending ruin.”49

Not everyone agreed with Randolph. In January 1787, Washington friend David Humphreys wrote Washington from New Haven suggesting that Washington stay home: “The result of the convention may not be, perhaps so important as is expected: in which case your character would be materially affected. Other people can work up the present scene. I know your personal influence & character is, justly considered, the last stake which America has to play. Should you not reserve yourself for the united call of a Continent entire?”50 Other Virginians – and non-Virginians – urged Washington to overcome his reluctance to participate. Some also argued theory. New York attorney John Jay wrote in early January 1787:

Would it not be better for Congress plainly and in strong Terms to declare that the present federal Government is inadequate to the purposes for which it was instituted. That they forbear to point out its particular Defects or to ask for an Extension of any particular powers, lest improper Jealousies should thence arise; but that in their opinion it would be expedient for the people of the States without Delay to appoint State Conventions (in the way they chuse the general assemblies) with the sole and express power of appointing Deputies to a general Convention who or the majority of whom should take into Consideration the Articles of Confederation, and make such Alterations, amendments and additions Thereto, as to them should appear necessary and proper and which being by them ordained and published should have the same force and Obligation which all or any of the present Articles now have.
Perhaps it is intended that this Convention shall not ordain, but only recommend. If so, there is Danger that their Recommendations will produce endless Discussion, and perhaps Jealousies and party Heats.
No alteration in the Government should I think be made, nor if attempted will easily take place, unless deduceable from the only Source of just authority, The People.51

General Washington was full of excuses. He didn’t want to leave Mount Vernon. He was not feeling well. His private affairs needed his attendance. And he had already told the Society of Cincinnati, the controversial group of Revolutionary War officers, which was scheduled to meet in Philadelphia about the same time, that he would not attend their conclave. Historian Pauline Maier wrote that Washington “scanned newspapers for information, and he picked up more news from a stream of visitors so steady that at times his home seemed like a tavern...Above all, however, Washington relied on his correspondents, many of whom were old officers in the Continent Army.” They made the case for his participation.52 Washington’s attendance was a virtual prerequisite to the convention’s success. Fearful of failure and criticism, Washington was reluctant to come if the convention was not likely to succeed. Biographer Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “Anxiously and painfully Washington reviewed the arguments for and against attendance. There was danger, he felt, that his reputation might suffer if a feeble Convention ended with proposals that would not give the Union needed strength. A desperate crisis appeared to lie ahead. A supreme effort seemed necessary to prevent disintegration of the Federation into a congeries of rival States which might choke themselves with paper money. The Convention presented perhaps the only means of making this effort. If Washington did not share in it, he might be accused of lack of sympathy with it. Abstention might be greater disservice to the nation than his presence would be affront to the Cincinnati. The risk of odium from refusal might be greater than loss of popularity by taking sides in a dispute that might not, after all, be furious or defamatory.”53

Washington finally decided to attend the Convention because he decided it could succeed – and without it, the American experiment would fail. Washington wrote Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as American’s representative in Paris: “Much is expected by some – but little by others – and nothing by a few. That something is necessary, all will agree; for the situation of the General Government (if it can be called a government) is shaken to its foundation....In a word, it is at an end, and unless a remedy is soon applied, anarchy & confusion will inevitably ensue.”54 Washington had been carefully tutored on political theory and practice by George Mason and James Madison before he left his beloved Virginia. Historian Joseph J. Ellis observed: “No one could have received a better briefing on the arguments that would shape the political agenda of the Constitutional Convention. It was, to be sure, a briefing from the nationalist side of the argument. But Washington, who at the presiding presence at the convention at the convention would have to project otherworldly detachment – one of his best and favorite roles – was in fact a charter member of the nationalist camp.”55 James Monroe wrote fellow Virginian Jefferson in July 1787 after the convention was well underway to observe “the presence of General Washington will have a great weight in the body itself, so as to overawe and keep under the demon of party [sectional interests], and that the signature of his name to whatever act shall be the result of their deliberations will secure its passage thro’ the union.”56 Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Those framers who argued most ardently for national supremacy often spoke as if the great challenge of federalism was to annul the political advantages the states would enjoy in commanding the loyalty of the people, and which would embolden the state governments to counteract or evade national measures as calculations of provincial interest dictated.” This was the real thrust of Hamilton’s famous speech of June 18.”57

Madison used the time prior to the convention to tutor the president on political science and what he saw as the needed structure of the new government. On April 16, 1787, he wrote Washington: “I have been honored with your letter of the 31 March, and find, with much pleasure, that your views of the reform which ought to be pursued by the Convention give a sanction to those I entertained. Temporising applications will dishonor the councils which propose them, and may foment the internal malignity of the disease, at the same time that they produce an ostensible palliation of it. Radical attempts, although unsuccessful, will at least justify the authors of them.” Madison proceeded to give a thoroughly nationalist interpretation of the country’s difficulties:

Having been lately led to revolve the subject which is to undergo the discussion of the Convention, and formed some outlines of a new system, I take the liberty of submitting them without apology to your eye.
Conceiving that an individual independence of the States is utterly irreconcileable with their aggregate sovereignty, and that a consolidation of the whole into one simple republic would be as inexpedient as it is unattainable, I have sought for middle ground, which may at once support a due supremacy of the national authority, and not exclude the local authorities wherever they can be subordinately useful.
I would propose as the groundwork, that a change be made in the principle of representation. According to the present form of the Union, in which the intervention of the States is in all great cases necessary to effectuate the measures of Congress, an equality of suffrage does not destroy the inequality of importance in the several members. No one will deny that Virginia and Massachusetts have more weight and influence, both within and without Congress, than Delaware or Rhode Island. Under a system which would operate in many essential points without the intervention of the State legislatures, the case would be materially altered. A vote in the national Councils from Delaware would then have the same effect and value as one from the largest State in the Union. I am ready to believe that such a change would not be attended with much difficulty. A majority of the States, and those of greatest influence, will regard it as favorable to them. To the northern States it will be recommended by their present populousness; to the Southern, by their expected advantage in this respect. The lesser. States must in every event yield to the predominant will. But the consideration which particularly urges a change in the representation is, that it will obviate the principal objections of the larger States to the necessary concessions of power.
I would propose next, that in addition to the present federal powers, the national Government should be armed with positive and compleat authority in all cases which require uniformity; such as the regulation of trade, including the right of taxing both exports and imports, the fixing the terms and forms of naturalization, &c., &c. Over and above this positive power, a negative in all cases whatsoever on the Legislative acts of the States, as heretofore exercised by the Kingly prerogative, appears to me to be absolutely necessary, and to be the least possible encroachment on the State jurisdictions. Without this defensive power, every positive power that can be given on paper will be evaded or defeated. The States will continue to invade the National jurisdiction, to violate treaties and the law of nations, and to harass each other with rival and spiteful measures dictated by mistaken views of interest. Another happy effect of this prerogative would be its controul on the internal vicissitudes of State policy, and the aggressions of interested majorities on the rights of minorities and of individuals. The great desideratum, which has not yet been found for Republican Governments, seems to be some disinterested and dispassionate umpire in disputes between different passions and interests in the State. The majority, who alone have the right of decision, have frequently an interest, real or supposed, in abusing it. In Monarchies, the Sovereign is more neutral to the interests and views of different parties; but, unfortunately, he too often forms interests of his own, repugnant to those of the whole. Might not the national prerogative here suggested be found sufficiently disinterested for the decision of local questions of policy, whilst it would itself be sufficiently restrained from the pursuit of interests adverse to those of the whole society? There has not been any moment since the peace at which the representatives of the Union would have given an assent to paper money, or any other measure of a kindred nature.
The national supremacy ought also to be extended, as I conceive, to the Judiciary departments. If those who are to expound and apply the laws are connected by their interests and their oaths with the particular States wholly, and not with the Union, the participation of the Union in the making of the laws may be possibly rendered unavailing. It seems at least necessary that the oaths of the Judges should include a fidelity to the general as well as local Constitution, and that an appeal should lie to some National tribunal in all cases to which foreigners or inhabitants of other States may be parties. The admiralty jurisdiction seems to fall entirely within the purview of the National Government.
The National supremacy in the Executive departments is liable to some difficulty, unless the officers administering them could be made appointable by the Supreme Government. The Militia ought certainly to be placed, in some form or other, under the authority which is entrusted with the general protection and defence. A Government composed of such extensive powers should be well organized and balanced. The legislative department might be divided into two branches; one of them chosen every years, by the people at large, or by the Legislatures; the other to consist of fewer members, to hold their places for a longer term, and to go out in such a rotation as always to leave in office a large majority of old members. Perhaps the negative on the laws might be most conveniently exercised by this branch. As a further check, a Council of revision, including the great ministerial officers, might be superadded. A National Executive must also be provided. I have scarcely ventured, as yet, to form my own opinion either of the manner in which it ought to be constituted, or of the authorities with which it ought to be cloathed.
An article should be insertd expressly guarantying the tranquillity of the States against internal as well as external dangers.
In like manner the right of coercion should be expressly declared. With the resources of commerce in hand, the National administration might always find means of exerting it either by sea or land. But the difficulty and awkwardness of operating by force on the collective will of a State render it particularly desirable that the necessity of it might be precluded. Perhaps the negative on the laws might create such a mutuality of dependence between the general and particular authorities as to answer this purpose. Or, perhaps, some defined objects of taxation might be submitted, along with commerce, to the general authority.
To give a new system its proper validity and energy, a ratification must be obtained from the people, and not merely from the ordinary authority of the Legislatures. This will be the more essential, as inroads on the existing Constitutions of the States will be unavoidable.58

Along with other delegates, Washington chose to ignore the dubious legality of the Philadelphia convention. Under the Articles of Confederation, unanimous consent of all 13 state legislatures was required to amend the compact. Historian Woody Holton wrote: “In 1781, when the thirteen state legislatures had ratified the ‘Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union’, they agreed never to alter them without unanimous consent.” Holton wrote: “It is an unsettling but inescapable fact that several of the principal authors of the U.S. Constitution, which has served as a model for representative governments all over the world, would never have made it to Philadelphia if their constituents had known their real intentions.”59 Still, there was no alternative course of action. Just doing normal business continued to be a trial for the Confederation Congress, which often lacked the requisite attendance for a quorum. Washington wrote Henry Knox a few months before the Convention: “The legallity of this Convention I do not mean to discuss, nor how problematical the issue of it may be. That powers are wanting, none can deny. Through what medium they are to be derived, will, like other matters, engage public attention. That which takes the shortest course to obtain them will, in my opinion, under present circumstances, be found best. Otherwise, like a house on fire, whilst the most regular mode of extinguishing it is contended for, the building is reduced to ashes. My opinion of the energetic wants of the federal government are well known; publicly and privately I have declared it; and however constitutionally it may be for Congress to point out the defects of the foederal System, I am strongly inclined to believe that it would not be found the most efficatious channel for the recommendation, more especially the alterations, to flow, for reasons too obvious to enumerate.”60

At the convention in Philadelphia, Washington would be in good company. He went with a top-flight delegation from Virginia – including Madison, Governor Randolph, George Mason, and George Wythe. The presence of Washington and Benjamin Franklin was important to success of the meeting. The two lent prestige and credibility to any event they attended. They did not even need to talk to make the meeting a convention of notables. Washington’s arrival in Philadelphia on May 13 was reported by the Pennsylvania Packet: “Yesterday His Excellency General WASHINGTON, a member of the grand convention, arrived here, – He was met at some distance and escorted into the city by the troops of horse, and saluted at his entrance by the artillery. The joy of the people on the coming of this great and good man was shown by their acclamations and the ringing of bells.”61 Washington arrived ahead of most other delegates to the Constitutional Convention. While waiting for sufficient delegates to arrive to start the convention in May 1787, Virginia’s delegates spent their time planning. Max Farrand wrote that Virginia’s “delegates accordingly took advantage of the delay in forming a quorum to meet together for two or three hours every day, and they agreed upon a series of resolutions to be presented for the consideration of their fellow delegates.”62 The Virginia delegation went to work: “The Virginia deputies (who are all here) meet and confer together two or three hours every day, in order to form a proper correspondence of sentiments; and for form’s sake, to see what new deputies are arrived, and to grow into some acquaintance with each other, we regularly meet every day at three o’clock,” wrote George Mason to his son.63 Ron Chernow wrote: “Their deliberations yielded the so-called Virginia Plan, spearheaded by Madison, which proposed for a tripartite government and proportional representation in both houses of Congress. Madison and Washington, who favored a vigorous central government, carried the day against objections from Randolph and Mason, making their strongly nationalist views the official opening position of the Virginia delegation.”64 Historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote that “while Madison did the most to shape the proposal, the final draft shows the marked influence of Randolph and Mason. Deciding how to present their case to the convention was very much a collaborative effort.”65 Virginians were worried about the fate of the country if they did not act: “ Let us not be afraid to view with a steady eye the [dangers] with which we are surrounded,” said Randolph soon after the convention got underway. “Are we not on the eve of [civil] war, which is only to be prevented by the hopes from this convention?”66

Seven states were needed for the convention to start its proceedings. Historian Jack N. Rakove observed: “Public assemblies in eighteenth-century America often failed to meet on time. For all the great expectations the Convention commanded, only Pennsylvania and Virginia – the two states that were in effect its hosts – were adequately represented on the appointed day of Monday, May 14. Eleven days passed before a quorum of seven states finally assembled, enabling the Convention to elect George Washington as its chair and to appoint a committee to propose rules of debate.”67 Max Farrand wrote: “In the interval that elapsed while the delegates were gathering and the convention was organizing, there had been much informal discussion of the work to be done, of which this incident was related by Gouverneur Morris. It happened on morning in the convention hall, before a quorum had arrived, that some of those present advocated half measures as more likely to meet the approval of the people than any thoroughgoing reform.”68 George Mason prophesied: “It is easy to foresee that there will be much difficulty in organizing a government upon his great scale, and at the same reserving to the state legislatures a sufficient portion of power for promoting and securing the prosperity and happiness of their respective citizens. Yet, with a proper degree of coolness, liberality and candour (very rare commodities by the bye) I doubt not but that it may be effected.”69 On the first day of the official proceedings, Washington was nominated by Pennsylvania’s Robert Morris to be the convention’s president. Morris was operating on behalf of Benjamin Franklin, who was too sick to attend the convention that day. Madison noted that only Franklin “could have been thought of as a competitor” to Washington. The former general’s election was unanimous.

The setting of the convention’s meeting in the Pennsylvania State House lent gravity to Washington’s presence. Max Farrand wrote that Washington “sat on a raised platform, in a large, carved, high-backed chair, from which his commanding figure and dignified bearing exerted a potent influence on the assembly, an influence enhanced by the formal courtesy and stately intercourse of the times. Washington was the great man of his day and the members not only respected and admired him; some of them were actually afraid of him. When he rose to his feet he was almost the Commander-in-Chief again. There is evidence to show that his support or disapproval was at times a decisive factor in the deliberations of the Convention.”70 The story is told about Washington’s reserve:

When the Convention to form a Constitution was sitting in Philadelphia in 1787, of which General Washington was president, he had stated evenings to receive the calls of his friends. At an interview between Hamilton, the Morrises, and others, the former remarked that Washington was reserved and aristocratic even to his intimate friends, and allowed no one to be familiar with him. Gouverneur Morris said that was a mere fancy, and he could be as familiar with Washington as with any of his other friends. Hamilton replied, "If you will, at the next reception evenings, gently slap him on the shoulder and say, 'My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well!' a supper and wine shall be provided for you and a dozen of your friends." The challenge was accepted. On the evening appointed, a large number attended; and at an early hour Gouverneur Morris entered, bowed, shook hands, laid his left hand on Washington's shoulder, and said, "My dear General, I am very happy to see you look so well!" Washington withdrew his hand, stepped suddenly back, fixed his eye on Morris for several minutes with an angry frown, until the latter retreated abashed, and sought refuge in the crowd. The company looked on in silence. At the supper, which was provided by Hamilton, Morris said, "I have won the bet, but paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.71

Georgia delegate William Pierce recalled another incident reflecting the awe that Washington inspired in his fellow delegates and what biographer Ron Chernow wrote showed “how Washington functioned as the conscience of the convention and could make this room full of dignitaries feel like guilty schoolboys, summoned to the headmaster’s office for a reprimand.”72 Pierce recalled: “When the Convention first opened at Philadelphia, there were a number of propositions brought forward as great leading principles for the new Government to be established for the United States. A copy of these propositions was given to each Member with the injunction to keep everything a profound secret. One morning, by accident, one of the Members dropt his copy of the propositions, which being luckily picked up by General Mifflin was presented to General Washington, our President, who put it in his pocket, After the debates of the Day were over, and the question for adjournment was called for, the General arose from his seat, and previous to his putting the question addressed the Convention in the following manner, — Gentlemen

"I am sorry to find that some one Member of this Body, has been so neglectful of the secrets of the Convention as to drop in the State House a copy of their proceedings, which by accident was picked up and delivered to me this Morning. I must entreat Gentlemen to be more careful, least our transactions get into the News Papers, and disturb the public repose by premature speculations. I know not whose Paper it is, but there it is (throwing it down on the table), let him who owns it take it." At the same time he bowed, picked up his Hat, and quitted the room with a dignity so severe that every Person seemed alarmed; for my part I was extremely so, for putting my hand in my pocket I missed my copy of the same Paper, but advancing up to the Table my fears soon dissipated; I found it to be the hand writing of another Person. When I went to my lodgings at the Indian Queen, I found my copy in a coat pocket which I had pulled off that Morning. It is something remarkable that no Person ever owned the Paper.73

Benjamin Franklin, the oldest delegate, played a different role at the convention. Like Washington, he did not speak much. Georgia’s William Pierce wrote: “Dr. Franklin is well known to be the greatest phylosopher of the present age; — all the operations of nature he seems to understand,- the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod. But what claim he has to the politician, posterity must determine. It is certain that he does not shine much in public Council, — he is no Speaker, nor does he seem to let politics engage his attention. He is, however, a most extraordinary Man, and tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard. Let his Biographer finish his character. He is 82 years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a youth of 25 years of age.”74 Franklin Biographer Philip Dray wrote: “was something of its unofficial host, and his home on Market Street, where he had ordered his dining room enlarged for the purpose, became an informal gathering place for the delegates, many of whom were staying at the nearby Indian Queen.” Franklin greeted delegates and visitors in the interior garden of his home.75 Like Washington, his presence gave the convention credibility.

Max Farrand wrote: “The members of the Convention realized the significance of the task before them, which was, as Madison said, ‘now to decide forever the fate of Republican government.’ Gouverneur Morris, with unwonted seriousness, declared; ‘The whole human race will be affected by the proceedings of this Convention.’ James Wilson spoke with equal gravity: “after the lapse of six thousand years since the creation of the world America now present the first instance of a people assembled to weigh deliberately and calmly and to decide leisurely and peaceably upon the form of government by which they will bind themselves and their posterity.’”76 Farrand wrote: “Not all the men to whom this undertaking was entrusted, and who were taking themselves and their work so seriously, could pretend to social distinction, but practically all belonged to the upper ruling class. At the Indian Queen, a tavern on Fourth Street between Market and Chestnut, some of the delegates had a hall in which they lived by themselves. The meetings of the Convention were held in an upper room of the State House. The sessions were secret; sentries were placed at the door to keep away all intruders; and the pavement of the street in front of the building was covered with loose earth so that the noises of passing traffic should not disturb this August assembly. It is not surprising that a tradition grew up about the Federal Convention which hedged it round with a sort of awe and reverence.”77

Two of the most distinguished Founders were not present. John “Adams exerted his great influence over the movement for constitutional reform not through the power of his writings,” wrote Jack N. Rakove, “but through his frustrations as a diplomat.”78 Like Adams, Thomas Jefferson was on diplomatic service in Europe. Silence was the order of the day for the convention – although not all approved of the restriction. From Paris Jefferson wrote Adams in London in August 1787: “I am sorry they began their deliberations by so abominable a precedent as that of tying up the tongues of their members. Nothing can justify this example but the innocence of their intentions, and ignorance of the value of public discussion. I have no doubt that all their other measures will be good and wise. It is really an assembly of demigods.”79 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that the convention’s “first chore, making the ground rules, took only one day. But it was extremely important because without a consensus on procedure the convention might have exploded on numerous occasions. What is more, the rules biased the enterprise toward success by providing for secret deliberations without minutes (Madison took his own detailed ones), approval of motions by a simple majority, a ‘one state, one vote’ formula, and the revisiting of issues in light of subsequent developments. Finally, the convention agreed to sit as a committee of the whole, a House of Commons technique that encouraged informal, open debate. These rules were flexible, expeditious, and fair. They also isolated the convention from external pressures and politics.”80

In such a small group, relationships would prove important. The relationship between Washington and James Madison was critical to the success of the convention which had developed over the previous four years as they worked on issues concerning the Potomac River. Historian Stuart Leiberger wrote: “Washington and Madison increasingly aimed not at a revised Confederation but a new national government acting directly on the people, able to tax, control commerce, and enforce its decrees and featuring separate, well-balanced executive, legislative, and judicial branches.” According to Leiberger, “Without the Washington-Madison collaboration, the 1787 Federal Convention might not have taken place. As a Virginia legislator Madison placed Washington at the head of the state’s prestigious delegation to Philadelphia, and as a Confederation congressman he helped remove many obstacles to Washington’s involvement. Perhaps most important, he pressured his friend to attend. Washington played a more passive but equally crucial role in the convention’s genesis, acquiescing in Madison’s promotional use of his name, which convinced the other states to send their best men equipped with broad authority to negotiate. His name bestowed the legitimacy and popular approval vital to the convention’s success.” Leiberger noted: “Throughout the summer the men stood out among the delegates in their commitment to create a powerful and extremely republican government.”81 Biographer Douglas Southall Freeman wrote that “having no speeches to prepare or committee meetings to attend, [Washington] could lend both ears to all spokesmen and thereby learn much that he had not acquired previously in camp or on his plantation.”82

Along with Madison and other Virginians, Washington wanted the convention to think big. Historian Garry Wills wrote: “Madison’s original plan, with a stronger central government able to veto state laws, and a stronger veto on congressional legislation, would have confirmed the worst fears of the antifederalists.”83 The resulting Virginia Plan was the basis of the Convention’s work and the basis of the resulting Constitution. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that Madison “was...the major author of the Virginia Plan, which formed the original working model for the convention. During the meeting not only did he participate vigorously in the debates, but he also took it upon himself to keep voluminous notes of the discussions; mainly because of these notes we know so much about what went on in the convention. But the Constitution that emerged from the Philadelphia Convention was not at all what he had wanted. With good reason he always contended that it was ‘the work of many heads and many hands.’”84

Convention Participants

The delegates were a mixed lot. Max Farrand wrote that “the average attendance was little if any more than thirty. Accordingly, as we use the terms at the present time, this body was more like a large committee than a convention.”85 Historian Bernard Bailyn noted: “The Constitution was written not by hard-nosed, conservative political bosses determined to reverse the meliorist enthusiasm of the early years, but by idealists, tempered idealists, who had come to recognize, reluctantly, the need to create the dangerous instruments of centralized power. Survival, they realized – economic, political military – depended on it.”86 Still, the delegates reflected the relative diversity of their backgrounds – including religion. Daniel J. Elazar wrote: “A majority of the delegates to the [Constitutional] Convention were affiliated with covenant-based churches, while most of the delegates were no doubt familiar with the covenant idea, given their Protestantism and attention to the Bible as a source of wisdom and literary enjoyment, if not always spiritual inspiration. The English and Scottish backgrounds of many of the delegates may have also accounted for covenantal influences. The Congregationalists were certainly grounded in covenant ideas, though their propensity for localism and local control made them somewhat hesitant to leap into large-scale arrangements. The Presbyterians, however, were already moving toward full-scale federalism.”87

Washington and Franklin acted as unifying forces by their mere presence. Other participants acted through the force of their personality or ideology. Historian Max Farrand wrote that “in such a small body personality counted for much, in ways that the historian can only surmise. Many compromises of conflicting interests were reached by informal discussion outside of the formal sessions. In these small gatherings individual character was often as decisive as weight argument.”88 More than half the members of the Constitutional Convention had graduated from college. “Thirty-four of the fifty-five men who participated in the deliberations were lawyers, though several were not active practitioners,” wrote historian Forrest McDonald. “Of those who were active, eight had as their main clients merchants who were engaged in interstate and foreign commerce; thirteen were country lawyers (most of them also derived income from farms); and others received most of their incomes from salaries as public officials. Twenty-seven of the delegates, including nine who doubled as lawyers, were farmers. At least nineteen of the farmers were slave owners, and at least eleven nonfarmers owned slaves as well. The commercial interests was represented, in addition to the eight mercantile lawyers, by seven delegates who were actively engaged in interstate and foreign trade.”89 Biographer Douglas Southall Freeman wrote: “Among nearly all members the disposition was to find the largest basis of agreement and defer the issues on which there was wide disagreement. The spirit of accommodation seemed so pervasive that echoes of accord were audible in the newspapers, along with rumbling criticism of Rhode Island for ignoring the convention.”90 Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “Madison himself had an exalted opinion of his associates. Whatever might be their competency, he wrote in a later year, ‘I feel it a duty to express my profound and solemn conviction, derived from my intimated opportunity of observing and appreciating the views of the convention, collectively and individually, that there never was an assembly of men, charged with a great and arduous trust, who were more pure in their motives, or more exclusively or anxiously devoted to the object committed to them.” Brant wrote: “These fifty-five men, one and all, were men of property, and part of their ‘great and arduous trust’ was to safeguard property against ‘the leveling spirit’ of Shays’ Rebellion and the destructive excesses of state debt moratoriums, fiat money, and impairment of contracts.”91

The delegates,, according to Max Farrand, were “in some respects they were a remarkable body of men. At an average age of forty-two or forty-three, although one-sixth were of foreign birth, most of them had played important parts in the drama of the Revolution, a large majority, approximately three-fourths, had served in congress, and practically all of them were persons of note in their respective states and had held important public positions.” Farrand wrote: “Great men there were, it is true, but the convention as a whole was composed of men such as would be appointed to a similar gathering at the present time: professional men, business men, and gentlemen of leisure; patriotic statesmen and clever, scheming politicians; some trained by experience and study for the task before them, and others utterly unfit. It was essentially a representative body, taking possibly a somewhat higher tone from the social conditions of the time, the seriousness of the crisis, and the character of the leaders.”92 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “First, it was...primarily a meeting of lawyers. No less than thirty-four (62 percent) of the delegates boasted legal training and twenty-one were practitioners. Of course, lawyers can drag disputes on forever when it serves their clients and pocketbooks, but they also know how to reconcile contending parties and verbal contradictions when obstruction serves nobody’s interest. Second, obstruction served few of the delegates’ interests because they were on the whole a striving, self-selected group already convinced of the need for thorough reform. Third, 75 percent of them had served in the dysfunctional Congress or state legislatures and agreed on the need for checks and balances among separate branches of government. Fourth, whether Christians, skeptics, or ‘common sense’ philosophers (by no means exclusive categories) all Federalists believed human nature was flawed. They envisioned no utopias, put little trust in republican virtue, and believed the only government liable to endure was one taking mankind as it was and making allowance for passion and greed.” McDougall noted that it was important who did not attend: “Finally, there was the matter of who wasn’t in Philadelphia. Patrick (‘I smelt a rat’) Henry, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and many other partisans of state sovereignty stayed home.”93

Harmony was clearly hard enough under the circumstances. It would have been impossible with outright enemies of the convention’s purpose. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “second governing and limiting consideration [was] the commitment to republicanism. A few of the Framers questioned the desirability of adhering to a republican form of government, thinking that form to be less compatible with liberty than limited monarchy was, but none believed that any other form would be acceptable to the American electorate. And yet, though the Framers shared the commitment in the abstract, they were far from agreed as to what republicanism meant, apart from the absence of hereditary monarchy and hereditary aristocracy.”94

“Some delegates, to be sure, were more active and influential than others, and some were engaged in artful backstage manipulations; but no delegate or coalition of like-minded delegates was able to dominate the convention except for brief periods and on specific issues,” wrote historian Forrest McDonald. “The diversity of interests and points of view among the delegates made for alignments that shifted with circumstances and necessitated repeated compromises. The physical conditions – an average of close to forty men, most of them obese, crowded into a modest-sized and not well ventilated room for five to seven hours a day during an intensely hot and muggy summer – ensured that those compromises would not always be accepted with good grace. The complexity and duration of the undertaking, combined with the absence of stenographic record, meant that the delegates could not always even be sure just what they had decided.”95

One of the most important delegates was Pennsylvania’s James Wilson. “Mr. Wilson ranks among the foremost in legal and political knowledge. He has joined to a fine genius all that can set him off and show him to advantage. He is well acquainted with Man, and understands all the passions that influence him. Government seems to have been his peculiar Study, all the political institutions of the World he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Greecian commonwealth down to the present time. No man is more clear, copious, and comprehensive than Mr. Wilson, yet he is no great Orator. He draws the attention not by the charm of his eloquence, but by the force of his reasoning.”96 Robert G. Ferris and Richard E. Morris wrote: “Wilson reached the apex of his career in the U.S. Constitutional Convention (1778), in which he was one of the leaders, both in the floor debates and the drafting committee. That same year, overcoming powerful opposition, he led the drive for ratification in Pennsylvania, the second State to ratify.”97 James Wilson argued of the Articles of Confederation: “To give additional weight to an old building is to hasten its ruin.”98 Historian Andrew C. McLaughlin wrote: “Certainly Wilson was one of the four men who bore the burden in the heat of the day – who fought with desperate and magnificent energy in the greatest controversy of the convention. But for Madison, King, Gouverneur Morris and Wilson, narrow, selfish particularism might have won the victory in the long battle that was waged between the friends of nationalism on the one hand, and those of contracted localism on the other.”99 Wilson biographer Geoffrey Seed wrote: “Wilson was one of the pioneers of the concept of the divisibility of sovereignty, by which state governments and the national government could be recognized as supreme within their separate defined spheres. This was the most effective way of offsetting the widespread belief that as governments tended to become tyrannical the only way of restraining the national government was to leave an undivided ultimate sovereignty with the states.” Wilson biographer Geoffrey Seed wrote that Wilson “feared that excessive caution in this matter would put the states in a position to dominate the national government, and in this way to obstruct the general welfare. It was to him more necessary to safeguard the national government against state domination than the opposite.”100

Max Farrand wrote: “Madison and Wilson came forward prominently as the leaders in advocating a strong national government. They were heartily supported by [Rufus] King and Gouverneur Morris, and in general also by Randolph, the Pinckneys, Mason, and Gerry. It is a point not to be overlooked that Washington and Franklin unmistakably cast their influence on this side.”101 Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “James Madison and James Wilson stand out as constructive statesmen among the fifty-five men who participated in the framing of the Constitution. Madison had the better historical grasp of public law and displayed superior talent in applying the lessons of history to American experience. Wilson excelled in fitting the structure of government to Madison’s balanced federalism. Madison led in preventing the President from being made the puppet of Congress. Wilson fashioned the link between him and the people – the Electoral College.”102 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “James Wilson alone departed from the consensus: rejecting the idea that the protection of property was ‘the sole or the primary’ purpose of government, he asserted that ‘the cultivation & improvement of the human mind was the most noble object’ of government and society.”103

New York was underrepresented at the Convention and its delegates were irregular in attendance. Nationalist Alexander Hamilton was alienated from his colleagues. William Pierce wrote that “Colo. Hamilton is deservedly celebrated for his talents. He is a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar. To a clear and strong judgment he unites the ornaments of fancy, and whilst he is able, convincing, and engaging in his eloquence the Heart and Head sympathize in approving him. Yet there is something too feeble in his voice to be equal to the strains of oratory; — it is my opinion that he is rather a convincing Speaker, that [than] a blazing Orator. Colo. Hamilton requires time to think, — he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of phylosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter, there is no skimming over the surface of a subject with him, he must sink to the bottom to see what foundation it rests on. — His language is not always equal, sometimes didactic like Bolingbroke's at others light and tripping like Stern's. His eloquence is not so defusive as to trifle with the senses, but he rambles just enough to strike and keep up the attention. He is about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean. His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreeable.”104 Historian John C. Miller wrote: “For Hamilton, the pursuit of happiness led straight to a strong national government. But he no longer pretended that it could be attained within the Articles of Confederation; a sound and enduring government, he observed, could not be built upon rubble. He considered the Articles to be designed for a league of nations, not for a nation; nationalism could not live within that narrow and oppressive framework.”105 Historian Max Farrand wrote that Hamilton “was expected to take an important part, but he was out of touch with the views of the majority. He was aristocratic rather than democratic and, however excellent his ideas may have been, they were too radical for his fellow delegates and found but little support. He threw his strength in favor of a strong government and was ready to aid the movement in whatever way he could. But within his own delegation he was outvoted by Robert Yates and John Lansing, and before the sessions were half over he was deprived of a vote by the withdrawal of his colleagues. Thereupon, finding himself of little service, he went to New York and returned to Philadelphia only once or twice for a few days at a time, and finally to sign the completed document.”106

Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: “In Hamilton’s career, audacity had paid off handsomely; his life seemed to prove that the valorous were the favorites of fortune. He was simply inviting the Convention to do what he had done repeatedly – to aim as high as possible and to strain every nerve to attain the goal.” Miller wrote: “His speech in the Constitutional Convention continued to plague him for the rest of his life: what he had said in favor of republicanism was forgotten while his ‘speculative opinions’ regarding monarchism were never permitted to be interred.” Monarchism was a demon which Hamilton’s enemies used against him when they could not adequately confront his ideas. Miller wrote: “It is doubtful if Jefferson could have found an issue more calculated than was ‘monarchism’ to undermine Hamilton’s position before the country and, incidentally, to obscure the real issues between himself and the Secretary of the Treasury. For to accuse a politician of hankering after a king and lords was the most serious indictment that could be leveled against a public man in the United States. ‘Monarchist’ or ‘monocrat’ was at this time a term of abuse – as Fisher Ames said, ‘a substitute for argument, and its overmatch.’ As a propaganda weapon, therefore, monarchism’ was unexcelled, and Jefferson wielded it with consummate skill.”107 Biographer Forrest McDonald wrote: “In regard to the objectives of government, Hamilton’s views were also unorthodox, paralleling as they did the ideas of Vattel. Virtually every member of the convention held that one primary end of government was the protection of liberty and agreed with Madison’s Lockean statement that the other primary objects of civil society, and thus of government, ‘are the security of property and public safety.’ Hamilton took a much more positive position. Paraphrasing Vattel, he declared that the ends of government were three: (1) providing for ‘the great purposes of commerce, revenue, [and] agriculture’; (2) facilitating ‘domestic tranquility & happiness’; and (3) establishing ‘sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad.’”108

Madison and Hamilton had more influence in convening the convention and the ratification of the Constitution than they had in producing the document itself. Madison was stronger on the framework of the document than on the specifics of its contents. He was a strong opponent of a number of major actions taken by the convention.” Historian Forrest McDonald dismissed the notion that Madison was the “Father of the Constitution. McDonald wrote that “by starting with the Virginia Plan and by working carefully through all the particular proposals that Madison offered or spoke strongly in favor of, we can reconstruct a Madisonian constitution. It bears limited resemblance to the document that was drafted by the convention.” He added: “Madison proposed to establish a government that would be neither federal nor, to employ the phraseology that he would later use in The Federalist to describe the actual government, partly federal and partly national. Instead, his government would have been purely national.”109

Historian Lance Banning wrote: “Madison did demonstrate a sensitivity to a society’s persistence through the generations which is largely lacking in the theoretical opinions of his friend. But let us not forget that Madison’s most memorable achievements started with a bold assertion of the people’s revolutionary right to overturn an established constitution, that he drew attention pridefully to the provision for amendments to the new one, and that he moved in the proceedings on the Bill of Rights for the insertion in the present Constitution of a declaration of the people’s right to alter or abolish even that. From Charles A. Beard until the present, scholarship has made too much of Madison’s determination to protect the propertied minority from popular abuses. He was concerned with that, but taken as a whole, his life was anything except a stubborn and conservative defense of the established order – except so far as that established order was itself republican and dedicated to the proposition that the people have the right, and the capacity, to rule.”110

Convention Decisions

“Although Washington had never been known as a political theorist, he did have several well-considered principles that he applied to political affairs,” wrote Washington biographer Robert E. Jones. “Some of these principles are seen in the votes he cast within the Virginia delegation to decide how its vote would be given. Government had to be strong, so he voted to suppress the states’ interests; the executive also had to be strong, so he voted in favor of a single executive who was not elected by and thus dependent on the legislature; he also approved making a three-fourths rather than two-thirds vote of the congress necessary to override an executive veto, but he lost on this point. He also within the Virginia delegation when he approved export taxes, generally thought to be against the interest of the southern states. He was ready to be more nationalist than his Virginia colleagues. And as his request on the size of House districts indicated, he wanted government to be close to the people, although he may also have been looking ahead to the effort to get the convention’s work approved by voters wedded to small electoral districts and immediate representation. Other than these few rules, however, he seemed to be ready to accept any ‘tolerable compromise’ that would strengthen the Union and restrain the states from excesses.”111 Political scientist Glenn A. Phelps wrote that “Washington’s imprint is there [on the Constitution]....It can be found in Washington’s encouragement of James Madison’s plans for the convention that culminated in the submission of the Virginia Plan. It can be found in the symbolic significant of Washington’s very attendance at Philadelphia, lending the enterprise a political legitimacy that it might otherwise have lacked.”112

The convention got off to a fast start. Washington biographer Robert E. Jones wrote that “on May 29, the first full day of deliberations, Edmund Randolph offered a set of proposals that, in effect, would have supplanted the Articles. On the next day, on motion of a national government with an executive, legislature, and judiciary – an explicit replacement, not a revision of the Articles.”113 It was Madison who authored the “Virginia Plan,” According to Madison biographer Irving Brant, “It was a virtual expansion of his letters to Washington and Randolph into a groundwork of government, in the shape of numbered resolutions. The first three set guiding principles:

(1) Resolved, That a Union of the States merely federal will not accomplish the objects proposed by the articles of Confederation, namely common defence, security of liberty, and general welfare.
(2) Resolved, That no treaty or treaties among the whole or part of the States, as individual Sovereignties, would be sufficient.
(3) Resolved, That a national Government ought to be established, consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.114

The exchange of views was necessary before serious progress could be made on the content of the new constitution. On June 15, Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson wrote his wife: “The Convention is very busy — of an excellent temper — and for Abilities exceeds, I believe any Assembly that ever met upon this Continent, except the first Congress. Give my Compliments to Dr. Wharton and let him know my sentiments concerning this Body. Nothing further said at present.”115 Dickinson declared: “Some of the members from the small states wish for two branches in the general legislature and are friends to a good national government; but we would sooner submit to a foreign power than submit to be deprives, in both branches of the legislature, of an equal suffrage, and thereby thrown under the dominion of the larger states.”116 At the Constitutional Convention itself, Benjamin Franklin said: “The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close attendance and continual reasonings with each other is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those republics which, having been formed with seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist.” Progress was slow. “The work of the convention is easily divisible into three distinct parts,” wrote historian Andrew C. McLauglin. “It was necessary to decide: first, what should be the nature and character of the new organization, whether it should be a government or the agent of sovereign states, whether, in fact, there should be one state or another more complex confederation of states; second, what should be the power confided to the government; third what should be its mechanism and form.”117

It was important the new constitution reflect the principles on which the war of independence had been fought. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “That the American Revolution and the American people – of all the world’s peoples the most materialistic and most vulgar and least disciplined – should have produced a governmental system adequate to check the very forces they unleashed; this was the miracle of the age, and of the succeeding age, and of all ages to come.”118 Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “The genius of the Framers was in writing a constitution that captured American democratic politicking as it was practiced, designing institutions and a structure of society that would perpetuate not redesign, the way Americans were already constituted.” The document was both philosophical and practical. “The next thing to note is that, despite their often sharp differences, all the leaders, on both sides, were committed to the principles of political liberty. There were no monarchists, no oligarchists, no proponents of any kind of nonrepublican, nonconstitutional regime. All were devoted to establishing a constitutional republic founded on the principles of the primacy of the rights of the individuals and government by the consent of the governed. They agreed about the end they sought; they differed about the best ways to achieve it. They agreed about fundamental principles; They differed about the best ways to implement them.”119 Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote: “The Constitution, in creating a strong central government, The Federalist argued, did not betray the Revolution, with its radical hopes for greater political freedom than had been known before. Quite the contrary, it fulfilled those radical aspirations, by creating the power necessary to guarantee both the nation’s survival and the preservation of the people’s and the states’ rights.”120

Economics affected the political outlook of the delegates. Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote that Charles “Beard’s achievement was extraordinary: he examined the career of every member of the convention and discovered that most of them had invested in public securities of the United States and therefore stood to gain by strengthening public credit. He also examined their political ideas expressed in the convention and found that most of them wished to restrain the people from legislation that would adversely affect the value of public securities. The conclusion was obvious that the makers of the Constitution, consciously or unconsciously, were seeking to protect their own economic interests, a characteristic that historians of the present age have frequently discovered in the actions of people both past and present.” Morgan wrote: “We have discovered signs of economic interest in the events of the decades preceding the convention. The colonists did not wish to see their trade ruined or their property endangered by Parliamentary taxation and fought to protect themselves; land speculators wished to profit by settling the West and helped to secure a national domain. In each case self-interest led to the enunciation of principles which went far beyond the point at issue. In each case the people of the United States were committed to doctrines which helped to mold their future in ways they could not have anticipated. At the constitutional convention much the same thing occurred. The member had a selfish interest in bringing about a public good. But in this case, contrary to the impression given by Beard, it is all but impossible to differentiate private selfishness from public spirit.”121 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “To the extent, therefore, that public creditors in the convention were divided into holders of state paper and holders of Continental paper, their interests were antithetical.” McDonald wrote that “it may be inferred that their speculations exerted little significant influence upon their behavior in the convention.”122

The delegates were concerned with political and economic order. Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote “that if the Revolution was a struggle to make property secure, the Constitution was the final fulfilment of the struggle. If the Revolution called for the coupling of taxation with representation, the Constitution made the central government representative before giving it powers to tax. If the Revolution was built upon the principle that all men are created equal, the Constitution gave men a more equal share in the national government than the Confederation did. If the Revolution opened for Americans the discovery of their own nationality, the Constitution gave the instrument for expressing it. If the Revolution taught them the danger of tyranny, the aim of the Constitution was to prevent tyranny.”123 The delegates were not creating a static society. Madison fought putting a property qualification in the Constitution. Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “In future times a great majority of the people will not only be without land, but any other sort of property. These will either combine under the influence of their common situation; in which case, the rights of property and the public liberty will not be secure in their hands: or which is more probably, they will become the tools of opulence and ambition, in which case there will be equal danger on another side.”124

The constitution was a balancing act. The form of the government was designed to be balanced. The Founders had one eye on what was necessary and desirable and another eye on what was practicable and ratifiable. Bernard Bailyn wrote: “Pressures exerted at one point would activate rebalancing responses elsewhere; and it was in this mechanism of tense equilibria that Madison placed his hopes of protecting minorities from the impact of majoritarian rule.”125 Forrest McDonald wrote that “almost by accident was created the magnificent systems of checks and balances of the United States Constitution. Until September 6, the constitution agreed upon was one that would have established a congressional government. On that day, the government became a mixed one, for in rendering the presidency independent of Congress, the delegates rendered the judiciary relatively independent also. This one stroke, by crystallizing the whole structure, resulted in a form of government more peculiarly adapted to the nature of the human animal than anything devised before or since.”126 McDonald wrote: “Because of the way the presidency evolved in the convention, the Constitution did not adhere to the Montesquieuan doctrine of the separation of powers even though most delegates endorsed the doctrine as an abstract principle. Instead, they fashioned a government in which the various branches were separate and independent in terms of personnel but the powers were intermingled.”127

Congress – Legislative Powers

There was immediate resistance to the Virginia Plan which small states thought would hurt them. New Jersey’s William Paterson said of the Virginia Plan: “New Jersey will never agree to the plan. She would be swallowed up! If we are to be considered as a nation, all state distinctions must be abolished.” Georgia’s William Pierce wrote that Paterson “is one of those kind of Men whose powers break in upon you, and create wonder and astonishment. He is a Man of great modesty, with looks that bespeak talents of no great extent, — but he is a Classic, a Lawyer, and an Orator; — and of a disposition so favorable to his advancement that every one seemed ready to exalt him with their praises.”128 The key difficulty was over the form and composition of the legislative branch. Historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote: “On June 19, four days after Paterson introduced it, the New Jersey Plan was voted down. But it had achieved its purpose of dividing the ranks of delegates and weaken in the resolve of the moderates in Madison’s coalition. The course of debate was not very productive at this point – one step forward, two steps back – principally because the issue of representation refused to die.”129

“As the convention continued its work, difficulties increased rather than diminished,” wrote historian Andrew C. McLauglin. “At first it had seemed probable that the fact of nationality would be fully recognized, and that a national government would be erected in conformity with this overruling idea; but as the days went by, the jealousies of the small states increased, and their opposition became more keen and bitter. No peace was possible until the great principle involved in the proper basis of representation was irrevocably established.”130 The form of the legislature was linked to the basis of the national government. Forrest McDonald wrote: “All of the ardent advocates of a purely national system – including Madison, Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Charles Pinckney, King, and Gorham – were adamantly opposed to...compromise.”131 As McLaughlin observed, James Wilson believed “the national authority must be strong and high, but its source must be the people; the people were to be trusted, and on their confidence the new government must rest; the government was to be over men and to have as few points of contact as possible with the state governments.”132 Wilson asked: “Can we forget for whom we are forming a government? Is it for men, or for the imaginary beings called states? Will our constituents be satisfied with metaphysical distinctions?....The rule of suffrage ought, on every principle, to be the same in the second as in the first branch. If the government be not laid on this foundation it can be neither solid nor lasting. Any other principles will be local, confined and temporary. This will expand with the expansion and grow with the growth of the United States.”133 Wilson argued: “The government ought to possess not only first the force but secondly the mind or sense of the people at large. The legislature ought to be the most exact transcript of the whole society. Representation is made necessary only because it is impossible for the people to act collectively.”134

On June 19, 1787 as Congress was discussing the Paterson plan, Madison delivered a comprehensive speech on the theory of government: “ Much stress had been laid by some gentlemen on the want of power in the Convention to propose any other than a federal plan. To what had been answered by others, he would only add, that neither of the characteristics attached to a federal plan would support this objection. One characteristic, was that in a federal Government, the power was exercised not on the people individually; but on the people collectively, on the States. Yet in some instances as in piracies, captures &c. the existing Confederacy, and in many instances, the amendments to it proposed by Mr. Patterson, must operate immediately on individuals. The other characteristic was that a federal Govt. derived its appointments not immediately from the people, but from the States which they respectively composed. Here too were facts on the other side. In two of the States, Connect. and Rh. Island, the delegates to Congs. were chosen, not by the Legislatures, but by the people at large; and the plan of Mr. P. intended no change in this particular.

of any article by any of the parties, does not set the others at liberty, it is because, the contrary is implied in the compact itself, and particularly by that law of it, which gives an indifinite authority to the majority to bind the whole in all cases. This latter circumstance shews that we are not to consider the federal Union as analogous to the social compact of individuals: for if it were so, a Majority would have a right to bind the rest, and even to form a new Constitution for the whole, which the Gentn. from N. Jersey would be among the last to admit. If we consider the federal Union as analogous not to the social compacts among individual men: but to the conventions among individual States. What is the doctrine resulting from these conventions? Clearly, according to the Expositors of the law of Nations, that a breach of any one article, by any one party, leaves all the other parties at liberty, to consider the whole convention as dissolved, unless they choose rather to compel the delinquent party to repair the breach. In some treaties indeed it is expressly stipulated that a violation of particular articles shall not have this consequence, and even that particular articles shall remain in force during war, which in general is understood to dissolve all subsisting Treaties. But are there any exceptions of this sort to the Articles of confederation? So far from it that there is not even an express stipulation that force shall be used to compell an offending member of the Union to discharge its duty. He observed that the violations of the federal articles had been numerous & notorious. Among the most notorious was an act of N. Jersey herself; by which she expressly refused to comply with a constitutional requisition of Congs. and yielded no farther to the expostulations of their deputies, than barely to rescind her vote of refusal without passing any positive act of compliance. He did not wish to draw any rigid inferences from these observations. He thought it proper however that the true nature of the existing confederacy should be investigated, and he was not anxious to strengthen the foundations on which it now stands. Proceeding to the consideration of Mr. Patterson's plan, he stated the object of a proper plan to be twofold. 1. to preserve the Union. 2. to provide a Governmt. that will remedy the evils felt by the States both in their united and individual capacities. Examine Mr. P.s plan, & say whether it promises satisfaction in these respects.
Madison raised several questions
1. Will it prevent those violations of the law of nations & of Treaties which if not prevented must involve us in the calamities of foreign wars?
2. Will it prevent encroachments on the federal authority?
3. Will it prevent trespasses of the States on each other?
4. Will it secure the internal tranquility of the States themselves?
5. Will it secure a good internal legislation & administration to the particular States?
6. Will it secure the Union agst. the influence of foreign powers over its members.

Madison added: “The great difficulty lies in the affair of Representation; and if this could be adjusted, all others would be surmountable. It was admitted by both the gentlemen from N. Jersey [Mr. Brearly and Mr. Patterson] that it would not be just to allow Virga. which was 16 times as large as Delaware an equal vote only. Their language was that it would not be safe for Delaware to allow Virga. 16 times as many votes. The expedient proposed by them was that all the States should be thrown into one mass and a new partition be made into 13 equal parts. Would such a scheme be practicable? The dissimilarities existing in the rules of property, as well as in the manners, habits and prejudices of the different States, amounted to a prohibition of the attempt. It had been found impossible for the power of one of the most absolute princes in Europe [K. of France] directed by the wisdom of one of the most enlightened and patriotic Ministers [Mr. Neckar] that any age has produced to equalize in some points only the different usages & regulations of the different provinces. But admitting a general amalgamation and repartition of the States to be practicable, and the danger apprehended by the smaller States from a proportional representation to be real; would not a particular and voluntary coalition of these with their neighbours, be less inconvenient to the whole community, and equally effectual for their own safety. If N. Jersey or Delaware conceived that an advantage would accrue to them from an equalization of the States, in which case they would necessaryly form a junction with their neighbours, why might not this end be attained by leaving them at liberty by the Constitution to form such a junction whenever they pleased? And why should they wish to obtrude a like arrangement on all the States, when it was, to say the least, extremely difficult, would be obnoxious to many of the States, and when neither the inconveniency, nor the benefit of the expedient to themselves, would be lessened, by confining it to themselves. -The prospect of many new States to the Westward was another consideration of importance. If they should come into the Union at all, they would come when they contained but few inhabitants. If they shd. be entitled to vote according to their proportions of inhabitants, all would be right & safe. Let them have an equal vote, and a more objectionable minority than ever might give law to the whole.”

Madison battled with advocates of the rights of small states. Historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote that Madison “was abnormally contentious when he openly accused the small states of endangering the Union. Now in the minority, all he could do to turn the tide was to paint as bleak a picture as he could conjure and hope it reached the doubters. He made a dire prediction: republic liberty would yield to militarism.”135 James Wilson also advocated for large states and was among the foremost advocates for proportional representation. “The election of the second branch by the legislatures will introduce and cherish local interests and local prejudices,” he argued on June 25. “The general government is not an assemblage of states, but of individuals, for certain political purposes; it is not meant for the states, but for the individuals composing them. The individuals, therefore, not the states, ought to be represented in it.”136

Great Compromise

Debate over the structure and composition of the legislature was crucial to the convention’s success. Small states wanted equality of representation by state; large states wanted equality of representation by population. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “Early in the convention John Dickinson arose and wisely pointed out that the delegates could save themselves a good deal of time and save their nerves a good deal of wear by making the legislature bicameral, with representation apportioned by population in one branch and with each state have one vote in the other, for that was the only way their differences could be compromised.”137 Because the deliberations were secret and the deliberations outside the hall went unrecorded, it is difficult to know with certainty what transpired between South Carolina’s John Rutledge and Connecticut’s Roger Sherman. Sherman was a bit odd but very smart. Georgia’s William Pierce recalled that “Mr. Sherman exhibits the oddest shaped character I ever remember to have met with. He is awkward, un-meaning, and unaccountably strange in his manner. But in his train of thinking there is something regular, deep and comprehensive; yet the oddity of his address, the vulgarisms that accompany his public speaking, and that strange New England cant which runs through his public as well as his private speaking make everything that is connected with him grotesque and laughable; — and yet he deserves infinite praise, — no Man has a better Heart or a clearer Head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful.” Pierce wrote that former South Carolina Governor “Rutledge is one of those characters who was highly mounted at the commencement of the late revolution; — his reputation in the first Congress gave him a distinguished rank among the American Worthies. He was bred to the Law, and now acts as one of the Chancellors of South Carolina. This Gentleman is much famed in his own State as an Orator, but in my opinion he is too rapid in his public speaking to be denominated an agreeable Orator. He is undoubtedly a man of abilities, and a Gentleman of distinction and fortune.”138

While most of Franklin’s proposals were ignored or rejected, he nevertheless had a powerful effect on the gathering. Franklin contributed to a major compromise. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The committee reported its compromise proposal, which was Franklin’s brainchild on July 5. This was that the states should be equally represented in the second branch, but that all bills for raising or spending money should originate in the first branch and that the second branch could concur with or reject such bills but could not amend them in any way.”139 Historian Walter McDougall wrote: “Almost any private understandings are possible, given the fact so many of the key players slept just down the hall from each other in the Indian Queen Tavern on Third Street.”140 When the Rutledge-Sherman deal leaked out, it threatened to undermine the whole Constitution. But the “news” of the deal was wrong in its particulars and the deal-makers publicly allowed the deal to be broken in places they did not truly care about. Max Farrand noted: “How far physical conditions may influence men in adopting any particular course of action it is impossible to say. But just when the discussion in the Convention reached a critical stage, just when the compromise presented by the committee was ready for adoption or rejection, the weather turned from unpleasantly hot to being comfortably cool. And, after some little time spent in the consideration of details, on the 1tth of July, the great compromise of the Constitution was adopted. There was no other that compared with it in importance. Its most significant features were that in the upper house each State should have an equal vote and that in the lower house representation should be apportioned on the basis of population, while direct taxation should follow the same proportion. The further proviso that money bills should originate in the lower house and should not be amended in the upper house was regarded by some delegates as of considerable importance, though others did not think so, and eventually the restriction upon amendment by the upper house was dropped.”141 Historian Carol Berkin wrote: “Some delegates might have willingly shored up the powers of the state governments in order to balance the broad powers of the national legislature. But the compromise that gave the states their Senate stronghold was as far as this convention of nationalist-oriented delegates was willing to go.”142

On July 2, a committee was appointed to devise a compromise to the representation questions. As James Madison wrote in his notes, Roger Sherman argued: We are now at a full stop, and nobody he supposed meant that we shd. break up without doing something. A committee he thought most likely to hit on some expedient.”143 The committee proposed a lower house of sixty-five representatives to based on population and a second branch with two senators per state. On July 16, five states vote for the compromise report of the Grand Committee. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Most historians consider July 16, 1787, the decisive day in the Constitutional Convention. That was the day on which the Connecticut Compromise was adopted, which gave each states, however large or small, equal representation in the Senate.” Wood noted: “Madison was convinced that retaining any semblance of state sovereignty in the new national government would vitiate it and ultimately destroy it. That’s why the convention’s rejection of his proposal for proportional representation in both houses of Congress and the adoption of the Connecticut Compromise on July 16 so deeply depressed him and other national-minded delegates. So alarmed were they by what they correctly saw as their defeat...that they caucused the next day to decide whether or not to withdraw from the convention.”144 Max Farrand wrote: “With the adopting of the great compromise a marked difference was noticeable in the attitude of the delegates. Those from the large States were deeply disappointed at the result and they asked for an adjournment to give them time to consider what they should do. The next morning, before the Convention met, they held a meeting to determine upon their course of action. They were apparently afraid of taking the responsibility for breaking up the Convention, so they finally decided to let the proceedings go on and to see what might be the ultimate outcome.”145 Forrest McDonald wrote: “All of the ardent advocates of a purely national system – including Madison, Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Charles Pinckney, King, and Gorham – were adamantly opposed to the compromise.”146 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Depressed as Madison may have been on July 17 over defeat of his congressional veto over state laws, he had not given up hope that some kind of revisionary power on harmful legislation might be salvaged.”147 Historian John C. Miller wrote: “No members of the Convention were more eager than Madison and Wilson to give the federal government a negative upon state laws in all cases whatsoever; and Madison agreed with Hamilton that it was better to prevent the passage of a state law than to declare it void after it had been passed....With some justice, therefore, a member of the Constitutional Convention compared the nationalists’ strategy to ‘the conduct of a number of jockeys who had thirteen young colts to break; they begin with the appearance of kindness, giving them a lock of hay, or a handful of oats, and stroaking them while they eat, until being rendered sufficiently gentle they suffer a halter to be put round their necks.’”148

The Constitution itself would be a blend and balance of powers that made no one completely happy. Historian Forrest McDonald noted that “the Constitution itself was somewhat anachronistic. That it thwarted the general will was a matter of design. To be sure, the precise blend of powers at the national/federal level, the distribution of powers among different levels of government, and the provisions for choosing officials in different branches for different periods of time were products of negotiation and compromise; but they also reflected the Framers’ goal of preventing self-government from degenerating into majoritarian tyranny. The constitutional order could be described as republican only by employing a new definition of a term that had always been broad and imprecise. It could not be described as democratic except through a violent distortion of the language, for that term had a more specific meaning; nor could it be properly described even as a representative democracy, for parts of it represented nobody and other parts did not represent the demos.”149 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “This new understanding of the relation of the society to government now enabled the Federalists to explain the expansion of a single republican state over a large continent of diverse groups and interests.”150

After deciding on a bicameral legislature and the method of its election, the delegates had to assign powers to the houses. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “Madison insisted that if the legislatures were to elect the second branch, ‘we must either depart from the doctrine of proportional representation; or admit into the Senate a very large number of members, both of which Madison found unacceptable. On the latter point, Madison said: ‘The example of the Roman Tribunes was applicable. They lost influence and power, in proportion as their number was augmented.’ Dickinson, who knew his Roman history quite as well as Madison did, countered that if Madison’s reasoning were sound, ‘it would prove that the number of the Senate ought to be reduced below ten,’ the highest number the ‘Tribunitial corps’ had ever reached. Whether because of Dickinson’s persuasiveness or because of predisposition — probably both were involved – all eleven state delegations voted in favor of Dickinson’s motion that the second branch be elected by the legislatures.”151 Max Farrand wrote: “It having been agreed to proceed upon lines of somewhat radical reform, the questions with regard to the nature and extent of the reorganization became important. As involving fundamental principles, the subject of the composition of the legislature quite naturally provoked the most discussion. That the legislature should consist of two houses was readily and unanimously accepted.”152 McDonald wrote: “The fourth significant new grant of power was the power ‘to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution’ the enumerated powers. Some such clause was indispensable, given the decision to itemize the powers of Congress; and in the convention only Gerry, Randolph, and Mason expressed objections to it. In the contests over ratification, however, opponents of the Constitution would repeatedly charge that the cause amounted to an unlimited grant of power to Congress; but then, after ratification, they reversed themselves and, to justify a narrow interpretation of the powers of Congress, insisted that the word ‘necessary’ meant indispensably and absolutely required, which was a test of constitutionality that almost no enactment would be able to pass.”153

Presidency - Executive Powers

Designing an effective but limited executive was central to the convention’s role. The lack of an executive was a key weakness of the Articles of Confederation. Historian Bruce Chadwick wrote that Washington’s experience in dealing with the Continental Congress led him to believe in the need for “a separate, civilian administrative branch of government to operate all federal agencies, separate from Congress but with Congressional overseers. Those agencies had to be responsible to people in a chain of command leading up to division heads and a national executive of some kind (the U.S. president) just as departments in the army were run by the commander-in-chief.”154 Jack N. Rakove wrote that “the ideal of executive leadership that the framers favored remained, in a sense, apolitical. They saw the president not as a leader who would mobilize governing coalitions but as an executive who would rise like a patriot king above party, free from the habits of intrigue and corruption that the lessons of history ascribed to both Stuart kings and Georgian ministers.”155 Lincoln scholar William Lee Miller wrote that “the framers in their miraculous summer of Philadelphia did not think particularly clearly about the ‘executive’ they were creating. They knew there were supposed to be three branches of the government – Montesquieu had said so, and the state governments set up since 1774 had moved in that direction – but their experience with ‘executive’ was mostly negative. Legislatures were what the framers knew, and legislatures were what they celebrated and examined in the most detail; the legislature, in which popularly elected representatives engaged in mutual deliberation, was at the heart of the republican form of government that they were seeking to plant here on a new continent.”156

During August 1787, noted historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, “The delegates...moved away from the proposal made by the Committee of Detail that would have had the president serve one seven-year term. Delegates had already toyed with the idea of extending that term to eleven, fifteen, or even twenty years. Gouverneur Morris warned that this was a recipe for creating a despot of America,’ who would have the armed forces behind him if he should refuse to quite office. The delegates ultimately opted for a short presidential term and reelection.”157 Aristocracy and monarchy were the designated demons of the 1780s and 1790s – devoutly to be deflected. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The most common attitude [toward monarchy] was doubtless close to the one that Washington expressed. No person had resisted monarchy more firmly than Washington had, but by early 1787 he was willing to admit that ‘the utility; – nay necessity of the form’ might become evident in time. He was convinced, however, ‘that the period is not arrived for adopting the change without shaking the Peace of this country to its foundation. He shared with many a belief that monarchy might be staved off for a while – and with God’s blessing, forever – if the convention would act promptly to create a strong and stable national government in which a powerful executive could check the excesses of the legislative. Madison also expressed this view, adding that ‘if no effectual check be devised’ to restrain the excesses of the state legislatures, ‘a revolution of some kind or other would be inevitable.’ Gouverneur Morris echoed the sentiment: ‘the way to keep out monarchical Govt. was to establish such a Repub. Govt. as wd. make the people happy and prevent a desire of change.’”158

One key decision required little debate. The Confederation government had persuaded the delegates of the need for a single powerful executive. Max Farrand wrote: “There was a general agreement in the Convention that there should be a separate executive. The opinion also developed quite early that a single executive was better than a plural body, but that was as far as the members could go with any degree of unanimity. At the outset they seemed to have thought that the executive would be dependent upon the legislature, appointed by that body, and therefore more or less subject to its control. But in the course of the proceedings the tendency was to grant greater and greater powers to the executive; in other words, he was becoming a figure of importance. No such office as that of President of the United States was then in existence. It was a new position which they were creating. We have become so accustomed to it that it is difficult for us to hark back to the time when there was no such officer and to realize the difficulties and the fears of the men who were responsible for creating that office.” Farrand wrote: “It was a new officer whom they were creating, and he loomed all the larger in their eyes that from the very limitations of their experience they were compelled to think of him in terms of monarchy, the only form of national executive power they knew.”159 The delegates “would never have created such a potent executive office if they had not been sure that Washington would become its first holder,” wrote historian Gordon Wood. “In 1788 Americans could not imagine anyone other than Washington as president.”160

The Founders had real concerns about American virtue that guided their deliberations. The assumption that George Washington would occupy the presidency made discussions easier. Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Eight months after the Convention adjourned, the South Carolina delegate Pierce Butler recorded an observation that has misled some casual interpreters of the origins of the presidency. Acknowledging that its powers were ‘greater than I was disposed to make them,’ Butler doubted that ‘they would have been so great had not many of the members cast their eyes toward General Washington as President; and shaped their Ideas of the Powers to be given to a President, by their Opinions of his Virtue.’ Many framers and other Federalists certainly thought Washington’s election would prove crucial to the fate of the Constitution. But Butler’s observation hardly squares with the tangled record of proposals, tentative decisions, reconsiderations, and reversals from which the presidency finally, and belatedly, emerged.”161

The president was to be the national equivalent of a state governor with which the daughter familiar. They wanted to assure that the executive branch would be independent of the legislature. The delegates did not start completely from scratch in their construction and phrasing. Max Farrand noted: “The phraseology of the various state constitutions is so similar that it would be a wearisome and unprofitable task to attempt to determine the indebtedness of the committee to the different ones, but it is of interest that the New York constitution of 1777 seems to have been used more extensively than any other. In preparing his plan, Charles Pinckney had made extensive use of the articles of confederation and of the state constitutions, but of the constitution of New York in particular. Partly through the medium of his plan and partly through the document itself, the New York constitution was of great service, and especially in connection with the executive. Although the executive was to be called ‘The President of the United States’ and was to be given the title of ‘His Excellency,’ the office was modelled on that of the state governors. In the specification of his powers and duties, and in the provision that in case of his death or removal he should be succeeded by the president of the senate, the committee followed closely the procedure in New York.”162

The advocates of a strong executive had been strong critics of the weaknesses of the Confederacy. Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Among the delegates gathering at Philadelphia in May 1787, the greatest enthusiasts for an energetic executive were those framers most closely allied with [Robert] Morris and Jay: Hamilton, Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris. By contrast, Madison’s thinking on the executive had evolved little since 1785. Only weeks before the Convention met, he confessed to Washington that he had ‘scarcely ventured to form my own opinion either of the manner in which it ought to be constituted or of the authorities with which it ought to be cloathed.’”163 Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: “Hamilton endowed the President with monarchical powers because his function, as Hamilton conceived it, was essentially monarchical. In the British government, the monarch served as a check upon the democracy of the House of Commons and the aristocracy of the House of Lords: by this means, it was said, the balance was maintained between the two great conflicting groups in society, the many and the few.”164

Harder than describing the presidency was deciding how to choose the president. Much discussion revolved around how the president should be chosen. Jack N. Rakove wrote: “The framers considered three basic modes of election, and each proved vulnerable to serious criticism. The most obvious alternative was to give the choice to the national legislature, which had the advantage of placing the decision in the nation’s most knowledgeable leaders....The first alternative to this mode was election by the people, which Morris, Wilson, and Madison boldly endorsed on principle....The third option was to establish an electoral college, an idea first raised by Wilson on June 2, revived by Rufus King, and then revised further when Gerry and Ellsworth proposed to have the state legislatures appoint twenty-five electors.”165 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The electoral college was a half-baked invention devised as a compromise solution to an immediate problem, and as such, it worked.”166 McDonald wrote of the Electoral College: “On Friday August 31 a committee composed of one delegate from each state was appointed in an effort to resolve all unsettled questions, and it was in that committee that Pierce Butler came up with a method of electing the president that almost satisfied almost everybody.”167

Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: “In creating the Electoral College, the members of the Convention did not believe that, except in the case of General Washington, the electors themselves would make the final choice of a President. Because of sectional and state loyalties – every state was expected to put forward a favorite son – it seemed improbable that a majority of the Electoral College would be able to agree upon a candidate. In that event, it would devolve upon the Senate – the body to which the Convention at first assigned this function – to select the President and Vice-President from among the five highest candidates. The real President-maker, therefore, would not be the Electoral College but the Senate.”168

The delegates can hardly be criticized for their failure to anticipate all the ways the Electoral College could function at variance with their intentions. Scholar Max Farrand wrote: “Apparently no one anticipated the formation of political parties which would concentrate the votes upon one or another candidate. It was rather expected that in the great majority of cases – ‘nineteen times in twenty,’ one of the delegates said – there would be several candidates and that the selection from those candidates would fall to the Senate, in which all the States were equally represented and the small States were in the majority. But since the Senate shared so many powers with the executive, it seemed better to transfer the right of ‘eventual election’ to the House of Representatives, where each State was still to have but one vote. Had this scheme worked as the designers expected, the interests of large States and small States would have been reconciled, since in effect the large States would name the candidates and, ‘nineteen times in twenty,’ the small States would choose from among them.”169

Judicial Branch

The judicial branch of the government was almost a constitutional afterthought. The court had a bad reputation in colonial America. Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The delegates devoted less time to forming the judiciary – and less attention to careful craftsmanship – than they had expended on the legislative and executive branches. In part the judiciary received minimal consideration because it was regarded as the least powerful and least active branch of government. In part, too, it could be disposed of with little contention because the delegates were in general agreement as to the principles that should be embodied in forming it.”170 Geoffrey Seed noted: “All were agreed that there should be a judicial branch, and the important issue of inferior federal courts in the states was, as we have seen, deliberately put aside. The extent of the jurisdiction of the national judiciary was an issue that aroused little controversy, largely because the most important powers were implied rather than expressly defined – as in the case of judicial review.”171

Jack Rakove wrote: “The great significance of the supremacy clause lies, of course, in its fundamental importance to the doctrine of judicial review of legislation. No account of this doctrine that slights its connection to federalism can do justice to the great question that is often treated as the crucial issue of American constitutional history: Whether judicial review was originally intended or understood to be part of the Constitution. As the debate over the council of revision made clear, the framers did intend judicial review to apply to the realm of national legislation, where it would help maintain boundaries among the branches of national government....the supremacy clause marked an attempt to incorporate a principle of judicial review into all the state governments by the unilateral fiat of the Constitution.”172

Oliver Ellsworth wrote that “if the United States go beyond their powers, if they make a law which the Constitution does not authorize, it is void; and the judicial power, the national judges, who to secure their impartiality are to be made independent, will declare it to be void. On the other hand, if the states go beyond their limits, if they make a law which is an usurpation upon the general government, the law is void, and upright independent judges will declare it to be so.”173

Writing & Finishing

“August was special-interests month: while agreeing on the general form and substance of a constitution, the delegates haggled and traded, like so many fishmongers, over special features to protect their own interests or those of their groups or sections,” wrote historian Forrest McDonald. “ It was concerning these matters that private agreements had determined the doings of the committee.”174 The Constitution took 16 weeks to deliberate and write and less than a year to ratify. In retrospect, it was quick work. “It is the handiwork of daily meetings among a few dozen men in heavy clothes, cooped up six days a week for most of four months in a stifling Pennsylvania State House with windows shut tight against the swarming flies of a neighboring livery stable,” wrote historian Bernard Weisberger. “But far from carrying the stamp of divine inspiration, the ‘grand convention’ of 1787 was bound by human limitations. Its fifty-five members shared a commitment to a stronger nation but were also pleading the special interests of the individual states and classes they represented. The debates, especially among a talented few, were amazingly learned and civil. But there were also moments of hot temper and sulky deadlock, and at least twice there were threatened walkouts when only compromise staved off a breakup.”175 The delegates were breaking the mold of history with their deliberations. As Jefferson would write in 1789: “The example of changing a constitution by assembling the wise of the state, instead of assembling armies, will be worth as much to the world as the former examples we had given them. The constitution, too, which was the result of our deliberation, is unquestionably the wisest ever yet presented to men.”176

The Committee of Detail had the important job of collating and integrating the decisions of the convention. Beginning on July 26, the committee was given ten days to complete its work while the convention stood adjourned and the rest of the delegates relaxed. South Carolina’s John Rutledge was chairman of the five-member committee, but he seems to have done relatively little of its work. More prominent were Virginia’s Edmund Randolph and Pennsylvania’s James Wilson. Max Farrand wrote of the Committee of Detail that “documents in the handwriting of Wilson, presenting portions of the Randolph draft further developed, together with extracts carefully taken from the New Jersey plan and extracts from the plan of Charles Pinckney. These disjointed parts were then apparently worked over by Wilson and fitted together into a single harmonious document. This may have been done alone or with the assistance of the rest of the committee.”177 Constitutional scholar Leonard W. Levy wrote: “On July 26, the Convention had adjourned until August 6 to permit a Committee of Detail to frame a ‘constitution conformable to the Resolutions passed by the Convention.” The committee introduced a number of significant changes, such as the explicit enumeration of the powers of Congress, and without recommendations from the Convention decided on a preamble. Edmund Randolph left a fragmentary record of the committee’s decision that the preamble did not seem a proper place for a philosophic statement of the ends of government because ‘we are not working on the natural rights of men not yet gathered into society’ but upon rights ‘modified by society and interwoven with what we call...the rights of states.’”178 Historian Jeff Broadwater noted: “When the convention reassembled on Monday, 6 August, Rutledge placed the committee’s report on the secretary’s table. The report, a draft constitution of twenty-three articles, was read aloud, and each delegate received a seven-folio-page printed copy with ample margins for notes and revisions. After hearing the report, the delegates adjourned for the day.”179 Max Farrand noted: “Wilson and the committee of style had done their work remarkably well. Out of what was almost a hodge-podge of resolutions they had made a presentable document, but it was not a logical piece of work. No document originating as this had and developed as this had been developed could be logical or even consistent. That is why every attempted analysis of the constitution has been doomed to failure. From the very nature of its construction the constitution defies analysis upon a logical basis.”180

Pennsylvania’s Gouverneur Morris effectively wrote the final draft of the Constitution. South Carolina’s William Pierce observed that “Morris is one of the Genius's in whom every species of talents combine to render him conspicuous and flourishing in public debate: - He winds through all the mazes of rhetoric, and throws around him such a glare that he charms, captivates, and leads away the senses of all who hear him. With an infinite stretch of fancy he brings to view things when he is engaged in deep argumentation, that render all the labor of reasoning easy and pleasing. But with all these powers he is fickle and inconstant, - never pursuing one train of thinking - nor ever regular. He has gone through a very extensive course of reading, and is acquainted with all the sciences. No Man has more wit, - nor can any one engage the attention more than Mr. Morris."181 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “The wealthy financier with social pretensions was an excellent choice. He shared Jefferson’s flair for stirring collects (hence ‘We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union....’) but eschewed Jefferson’s tiresome litanies. Rather, Morris adhered to the maxim of Edmund Randolph, who said the keys to drafting fundamental laws were to ‘insert essential principles only’ and ‘use simple and precise language. But neither was Morris above substituting a semi-colon for a comma in order to run a sentence restricting the powers of Congress into one granting it indiscriminate powers to promote ‘the general welfare.’ (Sherman, the crabbed clerk of the Founding Fathers, caught the ‘error’ and changed it back.)”182 Ron Chernow wrote: “As its chief draftsman, Morris shrank the original twenty-three articles to seven and wrote the great preamble with its ringing opening....”183 Unquestionably, Morris was an elitist. According to Max Farand, he was also “probably the most brilliant member of the Pennsylvania delegation and of the convention as well. Sharp-witted, clever, startling in his audacity, and with a wonderful command of language, he was admired more than he was trusted, for he was inconsistent and he was suspected of being lax in morals as well as lacking in principles.”184 Morris also built in flexibility. Forrest McDonald wrote: “Morris made a number of passages a little ambiguous, so they appeared to say one thing but could, if the occasion arose, be read to mean something else. In a few instances Morris audaciously put in a clause that he wanted, even though the delegates had actually voted against it earlier and had forgotten that they had done so.” McDonald wrote: “That Morris did a superb job is evident to anyone who takes the trouble to read the document. It is brief, to the point, and clear. Moreover, it is graceful; though it is nothing but a description and definition of the powers of government in America, it contains passages that almost poetic.”185

But not everyone was pleased with the document as it evolved. Surprisingly, one of the sharpest dissidents was Virginia’s George Mason, who proposed a number of unsuccessful actions to change the draft constitution – including a proposed bill of rights which came so late in the process that it was quickly dismissed. . “Despite his obvious frustration,” wrote historian Jeff Broadwater, “Mason refused to try every available tactic to delay or defeat the Constitution. Seemingly still convinced the document could be salvaged, Mason, at the end of August was no more a threat to the Constitution than some of its staunchest promoters.”186 Writing Thomas Jefferson, James Madison observed that “Col. Mason left Philadelphia in an exceeding ill humour indeed.”187 Jeff Broadwater wrote: “Mason, Elbridge Gerry, Luther Martin, Charles Pinckney, and a handful of other delegates began meeting in mid-August to plan a strategy to derail the committee recommendation that the two-thirds requirement for navigation acts be dropped....But Mason could not convince all of his fellow southerners that the rule of a simple majority in matters of economic regulation presented a threat to southern interests.”188

Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Taken together, this use of committees and the terse quality of debate convey the impression of a Convention moving restlessly toward conclusion, tying up loose ends, and trying to assuage the concerns of individual members without allowing their special pleas to impede the flow of proceedings. The final weeks were also spent resolving implications of the earlier preoccupation with the apportionment of representation.” Rakove wrote: “After this committee presented its draft Constitution on Wednesday, September 12, the Convention considered a final flurry of widely varying amendments. A number of these emanated from the three dissenters who now indicated they were unlikely to sign the Constitution: Mason, Randolph, and Gerry. Some of their proposals were treated respectfully and even approved, in a final bid for their support; others, especially those coming from the maverick Gerry, were brusquely dismissed. Even at the proverbial eleventh hour, with everyone anxious to adjourn, potentially important issues were raised and noteworthy changes made.”189 Max Farrand wrote: “There was a tendency to ride rough-shod over those whose temperaments forced them to demand modifications in petty matters. This precipitancy gave rise to considerable dissatisfaction and led several delegates to declare that they would not sign the completed document. But on the whole the sentiment of the Convention was overwhelmingly favorable.”190

Signing the Document

The Constitution was signed by the delegates on September 17, 1787. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “The convention had started out with fifty-five delegates appointed. Some never showed up, some left during the proceedings. There were forty-two present at the end, with thirty-nine signing, representing twelve states. Thus sixteen signatures out of fifty-five were missing, almost 30 percent; and yet the enacting clause, composed by Gouverneur Morris and proposed by Benjamin Franklin, includes the ‘unanimous.’”191 Benjamin Franklin composed a speech to be read at the signing ceremony by fellow Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson. “I confess that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it; for having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change my opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error.”192 Franklin continued: “But though many private persons think almost as highly of their infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady who in a dispute with her sister said: ‘But I meet with nobody but myself that is always in the right.’” As Wilson read Franklin’s words:

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain French lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said ‘I don’t know how it happens, Sister, but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right"--Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."
In these sentiments, sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults—if they are such—because I think a general government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered; and I believe, further, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administered. 193

Looking at the chair that George Washington had occupied as presiding officer. “I have...often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that is a rising, and not a setting sun.”194 As Franklin left the building, he was asked by a Philadelphia woman, “Well, Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy.” The aged printer responded: “A republic...if you can keep it.”195 Responding to a colleague who said that the Constitutional Convention had produced a good document, Gouverneur Morris responded: “That depends on how it is construed .”196 Other delegates were less optimistic but more supportive. Historian John C. Miller wrote of Alexander Hamilton: “Even though he disdained to claim any paternity for the poor starveling that the Convention was about to send forth into the world – ‘no man’s ideas,’ he said, ‘were more remote from the plan than his were known to be’ – he did not refuse to sign the birth certificate. On the contrary, he told the Convention that he would support it before the country as zealously as though it were his own work. Whatever private doubts and misgivings the delegates might feel toward the frame of government they had created, Hamilton advised them to look upon it as a choice ‘between anarchy and convulsion on one side, and the chance of good to be expected from the plan on the other.’ On the ground that a vote against the Constitution was a vote in favor of anarchy and convulsion, he urged the delegates to sign unanimously.”197

The convention’s work required the approval of the Congress meeting in New York and transmittal instructions to the states. In his letter transmitting the new constitution to the Confederation Congress, Washington wrote: “In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensible.”198

In Congress, James Madison was key to quick progress that fall. “Several factors combined to help move the Constitution through the Congress,” wrote political scientist Robert A. Goldwin. “Undoubtedly the most important was the incurable weakness of the confederation and its Congress. A ‘great majority’ in Congress was predisposed to support almost any plan the Convention might propose, so long as it provided for government stronger than the confederation. That predisposition was a direct consequence of the weakness, bordering on impotence, of the Continental Congress.” Goldwin wrote: “The pro-Constitution forces offered to give up a vote of congressional approval, which they did not want anyway, and accept instead unanimous agreement simply to transmit the Constitution, on condition that [Richard Henry] Lee’s amendments not be entered in the Journal and, in fact, that none of that week’s proceedings be entered in the Journal.”199 Historian Richard Labunski wrote: “If Madison had not been in New York, the Constitution would likely have made it through Congress unscathed.” Madison determined to stay there despite pleas that he return to Virginia to defend the new Constitution.200 Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote that the convention delegates “decided, again after heated exchanges, not to take a chance with the state legislatures but to bypass them and instead seek state approval from popularly elected conventions in each state.” Goldwin wrote: “The Congress could transmit or refuse to transmit the Constitution to the states, but that was the only choice it was offered – take it or leave it. And the state legislatures were called on to order elections to elect delegates to the ratifying conventions, but they were offered no other role. The delegates went even further and called on those assemblies to cooperate fully in facilitating ratification, arranging for presidential and congressional elections, and organizing the many steps required of the old institutions to get the new government established and running.”201

For Federalists, the ratification was all or nothing. They could not afford to allow states pick and choose what in the documents they approved or rejected. Historian Daniel Farber wrote: “The permanence of ratification is supported by at least on significant piece of direct evidence. In a letter to Hamilton during the ratification process. Madison expressed his view that ratification must be permanent. He was concerned about proposals to reserve an express right to withdraw. Madison maintained that ‘a reservation of a right to withdraw if amendments be not decided on under the form of the Constitution within a certain time, is a conditional ratification...it does not make N. York a member of the New Union, and consequently...she could not be received on that plan’ He based this on the principle that contracts must be reciprocal, so New York’s commitment must match that of the other states. ‘The Constitution,’ he continued, ‘requires an adoption in toto, and for ever.’”202

At this point, state governments seemed uncharacteristically deferential. Jack N. Rakove wrote: “The deference that provincial leaders showed toward Congress indicates that they were unprepared to assert that their authority rested solely on the popular support of their constituents. This deference extended to the crucial realm of constitution-making itself. Far from asserting their unilateral right to end the state of nature by restoring legal government, the colonies initiated the drafting of new constitutions only after receiving the permission of Congress – at first individually and then through its general resolutions of May 10 and 15, 1776.”203 Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “The massive underlying problems looming ahead for the prospect of ratification were the widespread confusion, uneasiness, suspicion, and hostility to the new plan of government in many places throughout the country, all of which would surely be manifested in every representative body – the Congress, the state legislatures, or ratifying conventions chosen by the people.”204


Neither writing nor ratifying the Constitution came easily. The Constitution was an exercise in collective wisdom. A decade of constitution-writing at the state level had given key founders the opportunity to compare their reading to their experiences. Historian Robert Goldwin observed that by 1787, “Americans were the most experienced and accomplished self-governing citizens in the world at the time. Before and after independence, Americans had been governing themselves through representative assemblies for more than 150 years, under colonial charters they had modified and constitutions they had made for themselves. American politicians were the world’s leading practitioners of the processes of constitutional democracy.”205 The genius of the ratification process was that it sparked a great American discussion about the nature of government and citizen fears about government authority. Historian Marie B. Hecht noted: “The public became aware of the contents of the secretly composed Constitution as quickly as newspapers throughout the country could obtain copies and publish them. The document became the immediate object of passionate controversy, particularly since, to most, a completely rewritten, original Constitution was a total surprise.”206

The Constitution’s framers wanted a yes or no vote, up or down vote. They did not want to reopen the process to revisions. They knew their work could be criticized and improved. They wanted Americans to recognize their work as substantially better than the status quo. Historian Carol Berkin noted: “From the beginning the supporters of the Constitution did have one advantage: a political savvy born of experience. They knew how to create a positive impression and put, as modern Americans would say, the right ‘spin’ on events and decisions.”207 Rakove wrote: “The framers thus left Philadelphia fearful that their new concept of ratification, so useful a device to circumvent the Confederation, could be wielded against the Convention itself.” He wrote that “Madison had no intention of allowing Congress to tamper with the text of the Constitution. If any amendments were adopted, he warned, the Constitution would go forward as an act of Congress, thereby triggering the Confederation requirement for unanimous state ratification.”208 Even the anti-Federalists in effect accepted the new rules which placed the fate of Constitution in the hands of conventions rather than state legislatures. Historian Clinton Rossiter noted: “The campaign for ratification of the Constitution was, in the nature of things political and geographic in the young Republic, really twelve separate campaigns – or, counting alienated Rhode Island, thirteen.”209 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote that “the resort to popular sovereignty in 1787-88 marked the point where the distinction between a constitution and ordinary law became the fundamental doctrine of American political thinking. Far from being less legal than the other charters that had gone before it, the Constitution established a more profound criterion of legality itself.”210

“Perhaps the nationalists’ most brilliant tactic in the battle of ideas ahead of them, however, was their decision to call themselves ‘Federalists’ and their cause, ‘Federalism.’ The men behind the Constitution were not, of course, federalists at all,” wrote historian Carol Berkin. “They were advocates of a strong national government whose authority diminished the independence of the states.”211 Most of the country’s big names aligned with ratification. Historian Bruce Chadwick wrote that George “Washington made his views emphatically clear while publicly convincing most observers that he had participated in the deliberations only minimally. But those at the Convention knew the truth, as James Monroe wrote Thomas Jefferson at the end of the deliberations: ‘be assured that [George Washington’s] influence carried this government.’ Washington did reveal his backroom politicking for a strong presidency in an initial draft of his first inaugural address, but quickly discarded it: ‘Although the agency I had in forming this system, and the high opinion I entertained of my colleagues for their ability and integrity may have tended to warp my judgment in its favor....’”212

Historian Bernard Bailyn observed that the Federalists “had to reach back into the sources of the received tradition, confront the ancient, traditional fears that had lain at the heart of the ideological origins of the Revolution, and identify and reexamine the ancient formulations that stood in the way of the present necessities: take these ideas and apprehensions apart and where necessary rephrase them, reinterpret them – not reject them in favor of a new paradigm, a new structure of thought, but reapply them and bring them up to date. They did not leave the cave, they corrected it. They would have been astonished to hear that they were initiating a change from something scholars would alter call ‘civic humanism’ or ‘classical republicanism’ to another, something that would be called ‘liberalism’ or that they were chiefly interesting in preserving patrician rule derived from the older tradition. They were neither more nor less determined to protect private property as a foundation of personal freedom and to advance economic enterprise than their predecessors and opponents, and they were no less committed to the need for disinterested ‘virtue’ in government. Both they and their opponents were working within the broad pattern of political thought inherited from the early days of the Revolution, but the urgencies the federalists felt led them to reassess the impediments to the creation of a national state which they found embedded in that enveloping tradition.”213

Admittedly, there was a certain amount of hypocrisy in the way the Constitution was ratified as principles yielded to practical politics. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “the proponents of the Constitution found themselves in the subsequent public debates compelled to stress over and over the popular and ‘strictly republican character of the new federal government. Men who only a few months earlier had voiced deep misgivings about popular rule now tried to outdo their opponents in expressing their enthusiasm for the people. ‘We, sir, idolize democracy,’ they said in answer to popular critics of the Constitution.”214 Hamilton was a pragmatist. Historian James Roger Sharp wrote that “although disappointed with the completed Constitution, Hamilton worked mightily to secure its ratification. At the end of his public career in 1802, he expressed his ironic ambivalence when he wrote a friend that ‘perhaps no man in the United States has sacrificed or done more for the present Constitution than myself; and contrary to all my anticipations of its fate, as you know from the very beginning, I am still laboring to prop \ the frail and worthless fabric.”215

The choice of a ratification procedure was almost as important as the document itself. Max Farrand wrote: “A proposal for nine states was finally accepted. It was risking too much to allow the new constitution to depend upon the approval of congress which might be fatally delayed. It was discourteous to ignore congress altogether.”216 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “The Constitution was submitted to state conventions for several reasons. One was political: the revised procedure simplified ratification. Another was theoretical: as Madison pointed out during the first week of the convention, a constitution that was ratified by the legislatures could be construed as being only a treaty ‘among the Governments of Independent States,’ and thus it could be held that ‘a breach of any one article, by any of the parties, absolved the other parties’ from any further obligation.’”217

During the Constitutional Convention, Washington wrote: “To please all is impossible, and to attempt it would be vain. The only way, therefore, is....to form such a government as will bear the scrutinizing eye of criticism, and trust it to the good sense and patriotism of the people to carry it into effect.”218 Washington’s own support for ratification was covert but widely understood. He wrote friends: “I wish the constitution which is offered had been made more perfect, but I sincerely believe it is the best that could be obtained at this time; and, as a constitutional door is opened for amendment hereafter, the adoption of it under the present circumstances of the union is, in my opinion desirable.”219 Political scientist Glenn A. Phelps wrote: “Washington had good reason to support the Constitution. It contained much that did meet with his cordial approbation.”220 Phelps argued that Washington preserved the public form of neutrality while privately taking strong action to back ratification: “Washington was remarkably partisan during the ratification struggle. His commitment to classical republican theory explains both his strong aversion to partisanship and, paradoxically, his willingness to engage in partisan behavior on behalf of the Constitution.”221 Biographer Ron Chernow wrote: “Although he admitted to defects in the charter, he tended to regard supporters as righteous and reasonable, opponents as wrongheaded and duplicitous.”222

Meanwhile, Madison became a fireman putting out brushfires that threatened to destroy the new Constitution before ratification . Richard Brookhiser noted: “One fire had to be put out immediately. The convention had asked that the Constitution be ‘laid before’ Congress, then ‘submitted’ to the states. But some in Congress proposed submitting it with amendments. This was a mischievous suggestion. The Constitution, ‘when altered,’ wrote Madison, ‘would instantly become the mere act of Congress,’ rather than the special creation of the convention. It would then require the approval of all thirteen states, like any other amendment to the Articles of Confederation.”223 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Madison...appropriated an argument developed to challenge the legitimacy of the state constitutions and transformed it into a principle of federalism. He clearly believed that the authority of a constitution depended on the form of its promulgation. Popular ratification provided more than a symbolic affirmation of popular sovereignty; it promised to render a constitution legally superior to ordinary acts of government that also expressed popular consent through mechanisms of representation.”224 Biographer Geoffrey Seed wrote of James Wilson: “In his support of popular ratification of the Constitution he was partly motivated by expediency, as he was convinced that reasons of narrow self-interest would prevent ratification if it were left to the politicians either of state legislatures or even of the existing Congress. But in addition he believed not only in the good sense of the people when faced with an issue of this kind, but also in their right to decide a matter so important to them. Not that he advocated anything resembling a referendum. What he proposed was that conventions be chosen by the people of each state, and that the question of ratification be submitted to these democratically elected bodies. He was convinced that the power of argument would ensure the adoption of new Constitution, in itself an indication that he himself was unconscious of anything in it which might be unacceptable to the majority of the people.”225

The delegates had found a virtue in necessity. They gambled, but with a mission. Jack Rakove wrote: “The principle of constitutional ratification thus carried the incidental benefit of licensing the delegates to consider whatever measure the public good demanded, regardless of the prevailing expectations and even their formal credentials. ‘When the salvation of the Republic was at stake,’ Randolph declared, ‘it would be treason to our trust, not to propose what we found necessary.’ Whatever risks the framers took by proposing too radical a constitution would be mere errors of political judgment, not tyrannical acts of usurpation. The fact that the Convention could not simply promulgate a constitution on its own authority thus had an immensely liberating effect on its deliberations.”226

Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote: “The entire political nation was galvanized in the debate. Literally thousands of people, in this nation of only approximately one million eligible voters, participated in one way or another. There were some fifteen hundred official delegates to the twelve state ratifying conventions, where every section, every clause and every phrase of the Constitution was raked over. There was a multitude of newspaper commentaries, sermons, letters, broadsides, and personal debates on the Constitution; they turned up in even the most remote corners.”227 Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: “Only fifty-five men worked on the Constitution and only sixty thousand or so (about one and one-half percent of the U.S. population) voted in favor of it. But those numbers do not mean the majority’s will was thwarted.”228 Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin contended that “the new Constitution was ratified by a very narrow margin and probably would have been defeated had it been submitted to a nationwide popular referendum; that the procedure adopted for ratification of the Constitution was a conscious violation of the requirements of the Articles of Confederation; that the word unanimous preceding the signatures in the text of the Constitution was deliberately misleading, concealing the fact that many of the delegates to the convention were not among the signatories; that although there was a widespread demand for amendments, most of the states expressed no concern for adding provisions protecting freedoms of religion, press and speech...”229

The ratification process was a drama on multiple stages. Bailyn wrote: “The issues are subtle, the details are often puzzling and intriguing, the movement of events complex. And the actors are remarkable. On one side, Madison, Wilson, Ellsworth, Hamilton, Jay, Iredell, the Morrises, Sherman; on the other, the junta of immensely articulate Pennsylvania antifederalists and their counterparts north and south – Melancton Smith, Luther Martin, James Winthrop, George Mason, Patrick Henry, Elbridge Gerry – the list of truly interesting actors in this drama seems endless. Part of the fascination comes from seeing these minds at work, formulating and reformulating, shifting, dodging, lunging.”230 It was a battle not only for government structure; it was a battle for the legacy of the American Revolution. Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote: “The Constitution won acceptance partly because there were plain men...who saw its virtues but also because men who were not so plain bent every effort to get it ratified. They not only talked finely and glossed over smoothly, but they used every political trick in the book Where they thought reason and patience were called for, they used them; but where they though vilification, slander, invective, and downright deception would help, they were not squeamish about using them either.”231

The interplay of the antagonists contributed to a better examination of the details of the document and the political theory behind it. Historian Herbert J. Storing wrote: “It is hardly too much to say that among the ‘front-line’ debaters, the Anti-Federalists criticized the Constitution and the Federalists criticized the Anti-Federalists.”232 Both groups claimed to be the true heirs of the American Revolution. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “the Federalists did not believe that the Constitution repudiated the Revolution and the principles of 1776. They answered the Anti-Federalists not by denying the principle of sovereignty but by relocating it in the people at large. In doing so they forged an entirely new way of thinking about the relation of government to society. It marked one of the most creative moments in the history of political thought.”233 Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote: “The hardheaded realism was the essence of the federalists’ response to the opposition. Point by point they took on the objections based on inherited notions and probed their applicability in the American situation.”234

There was a positive part of the Federalists’ arguments and another part that was less transparent. In a speech on behalf of ratification in Pennsylvania, James Wilson argued that the American states were destined to enjoy “the glory and happiness of diffusing this vital principles throughout the constituent parts of government.”235 According to Gordon S. Wood, the Federalists “had no desire to argue the merits of the Constitution in terms of its social implications and were understandably reluctant to open up the character of American society as the central issue of the debates. But in the end they could not resist defending those beliefs in elitism that lay at the heart of their conception of politics and their constitutional program. All of the Federalists’ desires to establish a strong and respectable nation in the world, all of their plans to create a flourishing commercial economy, in short, all of what the Federalists wanted out of the new central government seemed in the final analysis dependent upon the prerequisite maintenance of aristocratic politics.”236

The Federalists prevailed because they had the better arguments and the better-argued arguments and the better arguers. The Federalists were also more skillful politicians than their opponents. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “Considering the Federalist desire for a high-toned government filled with better sorts of people, there is something decidedly disingenuous about the democratic radicalism of their arguments, their continual emphasis on the popular character of the Constitution, their manipulation of Whig maxims, their stressing of the representational nature of all parts of the government, including the greatly strengthened executive and Senate. In effect they appropriated and exploited the language that more rightfully belonged to their opponents.”237 And they did so effectively because the alternative – failure so unacceptable.

Opposition of the Anti-Federalists

“The Antifederalists, like most Americans, believed that if the government were truly to represent the people, the principal power should rest in the popular branch,” wrote Historian Jackson Turner Main. “There was, however, some disagreement as to whether this branch of government should be all-powerful or restrained by a coequal upper house and executive.” Main argued that “mistrust of power was characteristic of American political thought during this period. Long before the doctrine was applied to the Constitution, it was frequently expressed by men who became Antifederalists.” Main wrote of the Antifederalists that “it should be made clear at once that they were not antifederal at all. In reality they were determined to preserve the Confederation, and the name, far from being their own choice, was imposed upon them by their opponents, the so-called ‘Federalists.’ That attachment to them of a word which denotes the reverse of their true beliefs, and which moreover implies that they were mere obstructionists, without any positive plan to offer, was part of the penalty of defeat.”238 Max M. Edling wrote: "The problem that has faced scholars who have interpreted the struggle over ratification as a struggle over democracy is that it does not accord with what Antifederalists said in newspapers, in pamphlets, and at conventions during the ratification during the ratification debate."239 Moreover, Main observed: “Antifederalism was not a single, simple, unified philosophy of government. It was rather a combination, a mixture of two somewhat different points of view adhered to by two different groups of men. It was, first, the doctrine of those who preferred a weak, central government...The second ingredient of antifederalism was provided by the smaller property holders, in particular by the small property holders...Because the small property holders were a majority in Revolutionary times, they wanted a government dominated by the many rather than the few, and they therefore favored democratic ideas.”240

The Federalists were afraid of a government without sufficient power to rule effectively. The Antifederalists were afraid of a government with too much power to interfere in citizens’ lives. Historian Carol Berkin wrote: “What Anti-Federalists did share was a pervasive suspicion, a belief that the Constitution was the end product of a carefully laid conspiracy by a cabal of ambitious men. From the beginning some members of the Confederation Congress had warned that ‘plans have been artfully laid, and vigorously pursued’ to change the nation’s republican government into a ‘baleful aristocracy.’”241 The Antifederalists were at a tactical and strategic disadvantage. Jack N. Rakove wrote: “The three nonsigners hardly formed the disciplined nucleus of leaders Anti-Federalists needed to overcome their initial tactical disadvantages.”242 Historian Garry Wills wrote that Antifederalists “were often men of established power within their states, who did not want to yield that power to a federal apparatus. They talked of defending the individual by interposing the state’s power against any rival.”243 Rakove wrote that “the Anti-Federalist case ironically owed as much to the language of mixed government as to the maxims of separated powers.”244 Rakove wrote: “Anti-Federalists writers quickly grasped the uses to which the plan of ratification might be put if the conventions ignored the restrictions under which they were to operate.”245

The starting point for ratification opponents was restraining government and distrust of its powers. Historian Richard Labunski wrote: “As soon as the Constitution began appearing in newspapers, there was an immediate and visceral outpouring of disparagement and disapproval of the plan because, among other reasons, it lacked specific protection for individual liberty. The delegates at the Philadelphia convention who had not believed a bill of rights was needed were startled by the intensity of the criticism directed at their work.”246 Bernard Bailyn wrote: “The whole system, the ‘Federal Farmer’ insisted – and with him almost every other antifederalist – should be ‘bottomed’ on a bill of rights that declared the people’s ‘unalienable and fundamental rights’ in such a way as to set limits to the power of government and to serve as an alarm when legislators and rulers overreached their proper bounds.”247 Indeed, the strongest argument against ratification was the absence of a bill of rights. It was a curious omission since Virginia had been a leader of the development of a state bill of rights under the leadership of George Mason. The absence of a bill of rights not only turned Mason against the Constitution, but turned George Washington against Mason. Washington biographer Willard Sterne Randall noted: “Mason quickly grew irritable at Philadelphia convention. ‘I begin to grow heartily tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city,’ he wrote his son. He projected this distaste onto the entire process of replacing a small loose government with a larger, stronger national system.”248

The Antifederalists were also upholders of state sovereignty. Historian Jackson Turner Main wrote: “A fundamental conviction of nearly all Antifederalists was that the Constitution established a national, not a federal, government, a consolidation of previously independent states into one, a transfer of sovereignty in which the states, once sovereign, would retain but a shadow of their former power.”249 Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote that “the Antifederalists were not simply poorer politicians than the Federalists; they were actually different kinds of politicians. Too many of them were state-centered men with local interests and loyalties only, politicians without influence and connections, and ultimately politicians without social and intellectual confidence.”250 Historian Forrest McDonald wrote: “In their befuddled state, the anti-Federalists had two vital weaknesses. One was that only half their men were disciplined party stalwarts; the other half were men of sound heart and feeble intellect who sincerely believed that all would be well if only certain liberties were guaranteed on paper.”251 The Antifederalists strength was in their anti-governmental, anti-elitist, pro-democratic message. Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote “that “the Antifederalists were not only directly challenging the conventional belief that only a gentlemanly few, even though now in America naturally and not artificially qualified, were best equipped through learning and experience to represent and to govern the society, but they were as well indirectly denying the assumption of organic social homogeneity on which republicanism rested.”252 Max M. Edling wrote: "In the debate over ratification, one aspect of the Antifederalist critique of the Constitution sprang out of their fear that if adopted it would undermine the power of, if not even abolish or destroy, important local and popular institutions. Thus, Antifederalists feared for the future of the jury trial and the militia if the Federalists would come to power. But they were also very concerned about the future of the state governments, and especially about the future of the legislatures, which after the Revolution had become the most important branch of government. In their eyes, the Constitution made the national government supreme and reduced the states to subordinate government bodies."253

?The objections of the Antifederalists, however, were too diverse and insufficiently focused. Jack Rakove wrote: “Once Anti-Federalists set about devising worst-case analyses of seemingly innocuous clauses, they could not easily separate their most telling criticisms from the wilder charges that Federalists were all too happy to ridicule.” Rakove wrote: “Whereas Federalists could ring the changes on such simple themes as the vices of the Confederations and the chaos that would ensue if the states insisted on conditional amendments, Anti-Federalists had no comparable formula for reducing their multiple objections to a cohesive program of opposition.”254 However, noted Wood, “Whatever else may be said about the Antifederalists, their populism cannot be impugned. They were true champions of the most extreme kind of democratic and egalitarian politics expressed in the Revolutionary era.”255

“In spite of the bitter fights that preceded ratification, the differences between Federalists and anti-Federalists were primarily differences of opinion about means, not fundamental differences of principle,” noted historian Edward S. Morgan. “ Both sides wanted an effective national government. Both sides wanted to guard that government against tyranny. Their disagreement was over the question whether the proposed of powers would be an adequate guard. The anti-Federalists thought not, and the amendments they recommended were digested by James Madison...to become the first ten amendments, usually called the Bill of Rights. These amendments in no way threatened the workability of the new government. Had Madison and his friends had the foresight to include them in the original documents, ratification would have been much easier. Instead, it was obtained by the narrowest of margins and by methods that cannot be defended.”256

Federalist Papers

The Federalist papers showcased the genius of their two primary authors – Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Hamilton and Madison would both prove better advocates for the Constitution in ratification than they were advocates for their own proposals in the Constitution. In so doing they had to mask their own reservations about the final Constitution. “The precise moment at which Hamilton conceived the idea of publishing a series of articles that would explain in detail the articles of the Constitution and try to persuade people to support it is not known,” wrote Hamilton biographer Marie B. Hecht. “James Madison recorded that the idea for the essays was Hamilton’s and that he approached him, John Jay, William Duer and Gouverneur Morris as collaborators. Madison and Jay accepted. Morris was unwilling because he was too busy, and William Duer submitted some sample efforts that were ‘intelligent and sprightly,’ Madison said but not suitable for Publius’s serious purpose.”257 (Duer ultimately would disgrace himself with his speculative activities during and after his service assistant secretary of the Treasury and would die in debtors’ prison.)

New York’s John Jay wrote four articles for the Federalist Papers but was sidelined by rheumatism. Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote that “Jay only hinted at his concerns in private letters; in public he supported the Constitution without reserve. He wrote to Adams that the Constitution is ‘much better than the one we have, and therefore we shall be gainers by the exchange, especially as there is reason to hope that experience and the good sense of the people will correct what may prove inexpedient in it.” He wrote to Jefferson, who had more doubts about the documents, that ‘the majority seem to be in favor of it, but there will probably be a strong opposition in some of the states,’ particularly New York.” Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote: “In the first of his Federalist essays, Jay stressed the importance of keeping the states and regions together in one union. Like a lawyer writing a brief, he started with a question: ‘whether it would conduce more to the interest of the people of America that they should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one federal government, that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies, and give to the head of each, the same kind of powers which they are advised to place in one national government.’ As in most briefs, the questions was somewhat unfair, since most Antifederalists were not arguing that the United States should split into separate sections. But it was a key argument of Jay and other Federalists that rejection of the Constitution would inevitably lead to such a division.”258

The ever prolific Hamilton wrote 51 of the 85 papers and Madison the remaining 29. It was a prodigious effort. Jack N. Rakove wrote that “whether or not The Federalist exhibited ‘a split personality’ – the left brain of Madison contending with the right brain of Hamilton – there can be little doubt that even amid the hectic circumstances of its composition, the two authors repeatedly infused in their contributions their own distinctive ideas about the fundamental issues of republicanism and federalism. Not by chance did they divide their labors as ‘Publius’ so that each addressed the topics that absorbed him most deeply – Hamilton in his treatment of taxation, executive power, and the judiciary; Madison in his essays on republicanism and representation.” Rakove wrote that “precisely because Madison and Hamilton knew how extensive a network of compromises and partial solutions shaped the final text, they also knew that the Constitution could be accurately described only in its details, and that the very process that produced it belied the sinister motives Anti-Federalists attributed to its framers. It was their involvement in drafting the Constitution that enabled them to understand and thus explain why ‘the Convention must have been compelled to sacrifice theoretical propriety to the force of extraneous considerations’ and ‘forced into some deviations from that artificial structure and regular symmetry which an abstract view of the subject might lead an ingenious theorist to bestow on a Constitution planned in his closet or in his imagination.”259

Hamilton and Madison went into action in the weeks following the convention. “As the fall of 1787 continued,” wrote historian Richard E. Labunski, “Madison wrote letters to supporters and encouraged them to discuss with as many people as possible the arguments in favor of ratification. In mid-November, he sent Washington the first seven essays of The Federalist and all but admitted that he was one of the authors of the essays written under the name 'Publius.' He asked Washington to send the papers to his 'confidential correspondents' at Richmond so they could be reprinted there."260 Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: “Hamilton’s opposition to all measures that seemed likely to impair the powers of the central government became even more strenuous after his return to New York.”261 Hamilton wrote George Washington in early July: “In my passage through the Jerseys and since my arrival here I have taken particular pains to discover the public sentiment and I am more and more convinced that this is the critical opportunity for establishing the prosperity of this country on a solid foundation —I have conversed with men of information not only of this City but from different parts of the state; and they agree that there has been an astonishing revolution for the better in the minds of the people. The prevailing apprehension among thinking men is, that the Convention, from a fear of shocking the popular opinion, will not go far enough — They seem to be convinced that a strong well mounted government will better suit the popular palate than one of a different complexion. Men in office are indeed taking all possible pains to give an unfavourable impression of the Convention; but the current seems to be running strongly the other way.”262

Historian Gordon S. Wood wrote: “For the Federalists the historic distinction between rules and people, governors and representatives, was dissolved, and all parts of the government became rules and representatives of the people at the same time. ‘The proposed Government,’ said John Jay, ‘is to be the government of the people – all its offices are to be their offices, and to exercise no rights but such as the people commit to them.’”263 Historian Bernard Bailyn wrote: “The great achievement of the authors of the Federalist papers is not merely that they replied in detail to specific dangers that critics saw in the Constitution and explained in detail how the new government should, and would, work, but that they did so without repudiating the past, without rejecting the basic ideology of the Revolution.” It was not a systematic political ideology but a series of papers meant to confront various objections to the structure and intent of the new Constitution. Bailyn wrote: “Far from an integrated, systematic treatise on basic principles of political theory produced in calm contemplation, the Federalist papers were polemical essays directed to specific institutional proposals written in the heat of a fierce political battle which every informed person knew would determine the future of the new nation.”264 Nevertheless, argued historian Clinton Rossiter, the papers were “despite all its blemishes, the one product of the American mind that is rightly counted among the classics of political thought.”265 The Founders and the authors of The Federalist were not inventing government from scratch. Rather, they were primarily codifying government in a new American format. Rossiter wrote: “The intellectual tensions of The Federalist and its creators are in fact an honest reflection of those built into the Constitution it expounds and the polity it celebrates. The wonder must always be, not that Publius spoke some of the persistent truths of politics in an offhand manner and with a hoarse voice, but that, in the circumstances of the case, he spoke as coherently as he did. He managed to do this principally because the thoughts of his creators, while hastily written down, had not been lightly conceived. They were, indeed, the product of years of learned study and hard experiences. Many of Hamilton’s main points in The Federalist had already been made again and again in the writings and speeches of the seven or eight years that led to October 27, 1787.”266

Washington read The Federalist essays and praised Madison and Hamilton for their work: “When the transient circumstances and fugitive performances which have attended this Crisis shall have disappeared, That Work will merit the Notice of Posterity; because in it are candidly and ably discussed the principles of freedom and the topics of government, which will always be interesting to mankind so long as they shall be connected in Civil Society.”267 Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote that “what gave The Federalist its enduring value was that its interpretation of the Constitution was adopted by the federal judiciary. Generations of commentators upon the Constitution – John Marshall, Daniel Webster, Joseph Story among them – ranked The Federalist second only to the Constitution itself; and in determining the jurisdiction of the national government and the powers of the various departments of that government, they followed Hamilton, Madison and Jay with implicit confidence. In the hands of Chief Justice John Marshall, “Publius’” interpretation of the Constitution was invested with all the sanctity pertaining to an exposition of the views of the Founding Fathers themselves.”268 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote that “the original commentary of 1787-88 arguably possesses a unique authority that later interpretations can never equal even as they produce the legal doctrines and political practices that determine how the constitutional system has actually evolved and functioned. In this view, the ratifiers were not interpreting the Constitution merely to decide whether it would take effect; they were also investing their notions of its meaning in the document itself, thereby obliging later interpreters to treat those understandings as binding sources of authority.”269 The Federalist papers became perhaps even more important after the fact than they were in the debates during the ratification process.


Speed was a paramount concern for pro-ratification Federalists. They needed an early victory in a large state to give momentum to the ratification process. Jack Rakove wrote: “On September 17, moments after the Convention adjourned for the last time, the Pennsylvania delegate Thomas FitzSimons took the literal first step toward ratification of the constitution. From the legislative chamber on the main floor of the statehouse, he climbed forty-two stairs to the hall where the Pennsylvania assembly was also sitting to inform its members that their delegation stood ready to report at the first opportunity. His was no impromptu errand. In late August Gouverneur Morris had urged the Convention ‘to hasten their deliberations to a conclusion’ so that this session of the assembly could arrange the immediate election of a ratifying convention. Any delay was dangerous, Morris warned; the more ‘the people have time to hear the variety of objections’ the Constitution would evoke, the more ‘doubtful’ its fate would be.”270 One Philadelphian observed: “I cannot imagine why the people in this city are so verry anxious to have it adopted instantly before it can be digested or deliberately considered. If you were only here to see and hear these people, to observe the Means they are using to effect this purpose, to hear the tories declare they will drw the Sword in its defence, to see the Quaquers runing about signing declarations and Petitions in favor of it before the[y] have time to examine it, to see gentlemen runing into the Country and neibouring towns haranguering the rabble. I say were you to see and hear these things as I do you would say with me that the verry Soul of confidence itself ought to change into distrust....I think the measures pursued here is a strong evidence that these people know it will not hear an examination and therefor wishes to adopt it first and consider it afterward.”271

Pennsylvania acted quickly – the legislature calling for a ratifying convention on September 28. Delegates were elected on November 2, and deliberations began on November 20. Federalists wanted to minimize the Anti-Federalist influence from more rural areas. James Wilson, who had been relatively quiet at the Constitutional Convention the previous summer, took the role of the convention’s leading defender. Future Governor Thomas McKean also supported the Federalist position. “The Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention gave Wilson his first opportunity other than that offered very inadequately by the Federal Convention of expressing his far-reaching views about the nature and powers of the judicial branch of the federal government,” wrote Wilson biographer Geoffrey Seed. “His reply to the Antifederalist objection that under the constitution judicial powers were coextensive with legislative powers was forthright and unequivocal.” Seed wrote: “It is very often asserted that it was Wilson who was mainly responsible for the ratification by Pennsylvania of the Constitution. Certainly the part he played in the ratifying convention was a dominant one, but is doubtful whether it was decisive, as the elections to the convention returned a very clear majority of supporters of the Constitution.”272 In a speech before the Pennsylvania convention, James Wilson said: “I am not a blind admirer of this plan of government, and that there are some parts of it which, if my wish had prevailed, would certainly have been altered....If there are errors, it should be remembered that the seeds of reformation are sown in the work itself, and the concurrence of two-thirds of the Congress may at any time introduce alterations and amendments. Regarding it, then, in every point of view, with a candid and disinterested mind, I am bold to assert that it is the best form of government which has ever been offered to the world.”273

ilson stressed the importance of the new Constitution to the establishment of a national identity: “As we shall become a nation...I trust that we shall also form a national character; and that this character will be adapted to the principles and genius of our system of government; as yet we possess none – our language, manners, customs, habits and dress, depend too much upon those of other countries. Every nation in these respects should possess originality.” As Wilson described the economic condition of the country under the Articles of Confederation: “Devoid of power, we could neither prevent the excessive importations which lately deluged the country, nor even raise from that excess a contribution to the public revenue; devoid of importance, we were unable to command a sale for our commodities in a foreign market; devoid of credit, our public securities were melting in the hands of their deluded owners, like snow before the sun, devoid of dignity, we were inadequate to perform treaties on our own part, or to compel a performance on the part of a contracting nation.”274 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Wilson’s speech marked the first notable effort by any framer to move beyond broad generalities and consider the Constitution on substantive grounds. Wilson did not offer a comprehensive review of the Constitution, but concentrated instead on rebutting the criticisms of the minority assemblymen: the omission from the Constitution of a bill of rights and an explicit guarantee of trial by jury in civil cases, its provision for a standing army, the ‘aristocratic’ character of the Senate, its tendency to ‘annihilate’ the states, and its grant to Congress of powers of direct taxation.”275 On December 12, 1787, the convention voted 46-23 in favor of ratification. Delaware beat Pennsylvania to ratification by five days and New Jersey followed six days after Pennsylvania.


Massachusetts began meeting on January 9, 1788. It was the second key test for ratification. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote : “The Federalists were prevailing because they were better organized, they had better speakers and writers to influence the elections of delegates, they controlled the press and made good use of it, and they moved too fast for the opposition to be able to organize. But the trend was not to continue. In Massachusetts, the sixth state, the opponents were able to make a stand for the first time.”276 Historian Jack Rakove wrote that Massachusetts “federalists adopted a position elsewhere associated with their opponents because it promised to attract the marginal votes required for ratification. Once the authority of the convention to propose amendments was affirmed, they preferred to see the grounds of further debate ‘totally shifted’ so that the critical issue became the likelihood that Hancock’s proposals would be ‘universally accepted.” Rakove wrote that Federalists sought “to avoid even the appearance of procedural rigidity. The convention quickly accepted a motion from Caleb Strong proposed, first, that the Constitution ‘should be discussed and consideration with moderation, candor, and deliberation’ and ‘by paragraphs, until every member shall have an opportunity to express his sentiments; and second, that they would ‘debate at large the question’ of ratification ‘before any vote is taken expressive of the sense of the Convention, upon the whole or part thereof.’277 Max Farrand wrote: “The sentiment of Boston, like that of Philadelphia, was strongly Federalist; but the outlying districts, and in particular the western part of the State, where Shays’ Rebellion had broken out, were to be counted in the opposition. There were 355 delegates who took part in the Massachusetts convention, a larger number than was chosen in any of the other States, and the majority seemed to be opposed to ratification. The division was close, however, and it was believed that the attitude of two men would determine the result. One of these was Governor John Hancock, who was chosen chairman of the convention but who did not attend the sessions at the outset, as he was confined to his house by an attack of gout, which, it was maliciously said, would disappear as soon as it was known which way the majority of the convention would vote. The other was Samuel Adams, a genuine friend of liberty, who was opposed on principle to the general theory of the government set forth in the Constitution.” I stumble at the threshold,’ he wrote. ‘I met with a national government, instead of a federal union of sovereign states.’ But, being a shrewd politician, Adams did not commit himself openly and, when the tradesmen of Boston declared themselves in favor of ratification, he was ready to yield his personal opinion.”278

Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that in Massachusetts the Federalists “borrowed a tactic from New England’s popular game of ninepins: they bowled over one potential adversary whose fall then toppled the next. Thus, Paul Revere was quietly hired to stage a mass meeting of mechanics and artisans and present ‘their’ pro-Constitution petition to Sam Adams. Adams felt obliged to hearken to the voice of ‘his’ people. That in turn made Governor John Hancock teeter. The Federalists closed the deal by promising to support a bill of rights after ratification and hinting to Hancock he might be just the man to serve as Washington’s vice president.”279 Rufus King, a Constitution supporter who was in the process of moving from Massachusetts to New York, wrote James Madison that the Anti-Federalists “opposition seems to arise from an Opinion, that is immoveable, that some injury is plotted against them, that the System is the production of the Rich, and ambitious; that they discern its operation, and that the consequences will be, the establishment of two Orders in the Society, one comprehending the Opulent & Great, the other the poor and illiterate. The extraordinary union in favor the Constitution in this State, of the wealthy and sensible part of it, is a confirmation of their Opinion; and every Exertion hitherto made to eradicate it has been in vain.”280 By 187-168, Massachusetts ratified the Constitution on February 6, 1788.

The precedent set by Massachusetts influenced subsequent ratification struggles. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote that at the Massachusetts convention, “Hancock stepped down from the chair and from the floor proposed that the convention ‘assent to and ratify the said Constitution’ without conditions, and that it simultaneously recommend a set of amendments to the First Congress, to be enacted according to the amending provisions in Article V of the Constitution.”281 Robert Allen Rutland wrote: “The proposed amendments found the various party leaders viewing the maneuver with mixed feelings. Madison thought that the introduction of amendments was a blemish on the ratification but that they were ‘in the least offensive form.’ Washington believed that the presence of amendments and the small majority heightened the impact of ratification on the Antifederalists. ‘As it is, it operates as a damper to their hopes, and is a matter of disappointment and chagreen to them all.’ When Jefferson heard of the recommendatory amendments he completely revised his opinion on ratification. Instead of his previous thought that nine states should ratify while four held our for amendments, he now confessed that the ‘plan of Massachusetts is far preferable, and will I hope be followed by those who are yet to decide.’”282


Virginia was key to obtaining the needed majority for the ratification. However, historian Jackson Turner Main wrote of Virginia: “In no other state was the situation so complicated; in no other state was there so striking a division among the political, social, and economic leaders. From the beginning, many of the most prominent men were either decidedly hostile to the constitution or at best lukewarm and anxious for amendments.” Main noted that many prominent Virginians were doubtful but skeptical: Edmund “Randolph, who fluctuated between Federalism and antifederalism, was far from being the only Virginian who hesitated....Washington wrote plaintively, ‘It is a little strange that the men of large property in the South, should be more afraid that the Constitution will produce an Aristocracy or a Monarchy, than the genuine democratical people of the East.”283

The deliberations of the Virginia convention would occupy most of June 1788. It would be a titanic struggle. Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote: “Fortunately for the Federalists, however, the greatest of Virginia’s political giants were with them, and they kept the contest pitched at a higher level than in any other state. Though Washington declined to serve in the ratifying convention, he was known to favor adoption. George Wythe was for it; Madison was for it; Edmund Pendleton was for it, and so revered by his neighbors that they sent him to the convention even though they were against the Constitution themselves.”284 George Washington is supposed to have said: “Should the State reject this excellent Constitution, the probability is, an opportunity will never again offer to cancel another in peace – the next will be drawn in blood.”285

The convention shaped up as a battle between the cool, nationalist logic of James Madison and the hot, populist rhetoric of Patrick Henry. By the convention, Randolph once more was a supporter of ratification while his old ally George Mason was a confirmed opponent. Randolph biographer John Reardon wrote that “Mason would occasionally seize the opportunity to publicly chide Randolph for his inconsistencies by noting the differences between his past and present views of the Constitution.”286 Historian Richard Brookhiser wrote: “On the second day of the ratifying convention, George Mason moved that the Constitution be debated clause by clause. This was a godsend for Madison, for no one was as immersed in the document’s ins and outs as he. Repeatedly he called Henry and other opponents to order. ‘I hope that gentlemen, in displaying their abilities on this occasion...will condescend to prove and demonstrate....Let us not rest satisfied with general assertions of dangers, without examination.’”287 Historian Kevin R. Gutzman noted: “The following day, June 4, the real fireworks began. After some preliminaries,....Patrick Henry asked that the clerk to read the acts of assembly appointing Virginia delegates to the Annapolis and Philadelphia conventions. His implication was that the delegates to those conventions had gone beyond the powers confided to them by the General Assembly.”288

Patrick Henry, George Mason and James Monroe were the leaders of the opposition in Virginia. George Mason, the opposition’s most accomplished political theorist, took the lead in articulating why the Constitution should not be ratified. Mason biographer Robert A. Rutland wrote that before departing Philadelphia that “Mason met with local politicians who agreed with him that the Convention had added to, rather than solved, their problems. He must have then showed them the list of objections he had scribbled on the blank portions of the printed final committee report. They began with the powerful charge: there is no Declaration of Rights. Therein lay the principal weakness in the new governmental machinery – adequate power, but uncertain control of it. The president would in time become ‘a tool of the Senate’ or else a cabinet would spring up to guide the government, a cabinet would spring up to guide the government, a cabinet that might well ‘be induced to join in any dangerous or oppressive measures, to shelter themselves, and prevent an inquiry into their own misconduct in office,’ Mason was equally certain that a federal judiciary would destroy state courts and make legal action ‘tedious, intricate & expensive...enabling the rich to oppress & ruin the poor.’ Commercial monopolies favoring the North would appear if the Constitution were to be ratified. There was an ominous final judgment: the Constitution in operation would begin with a moderate aristocracy and eventually turn into an outright monarchy, or at least ‘a corrupt oppressive aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in one or the other.’”289 Biographer Jeff Broadwater wrote: “Republicanism, more than states’ rights, provided the rationale for Mason’s opposition....As had many revolutionary-era leaders, Mason had come to fear the tyranny of majorities, especially local majorities manipulated by demagogues.”290

James Monroe took a lesser role, having been convinced earlier of the Constitution’s deficiencies. Monroe was the country’s most ardent advocate for residents of the country’s transmontane region and for their access to navigation and commerce on the Mississippi River. He worried that the new Constitution would jeopardize such rights – as they had been jeopardized by John Jay’s negotiations with Spain in the mid-1780s. Monroe worried that the new Constitution gave the new federal government too extensive powers, especially the power to establish a standing army. Moreover, argued Monroe, “I shall always believe that the exercise of direct taxation by one body, over the very extensive territory contained within the bounds of the United States, will terminate either in anarchy and a dissolution of government, or subversion of liberty.”291

The anti-Federalists’ most dangerous opponent was Patrick Henry, always a powerful moral orator. Kevin R. Gutzman wrote that Henry’s “oratory was at once sermonic and fiery.”292 Historian Jack N. Rakove noted: “For all their power, Henry’s speeches did little to advance the cause of amendments; nor could his listeners assume that amendments were his true goal, though occasionally he agreed with Mason on ‘the absurdity of adopting this system, and relying on the chance of getting it amended afterwards.’” As Henry posed it, the true issue was whether Virginia could entrust its vital interests to a more powerful national government dominated by the northern states.”293 Henry biographer Henry Mayer wrote: “The Federalists had tried hard to divide the two, portraying Henry as the implacable demagogue while courting Mason, along with Governor Edmund Randolph, as a reasonably moderate critic who would subordinate his objections to the demands of unity. In October, Mason had indeed sounded malleable, but the long campaign had hardened his opposition, and he reacted stiffly to the recurring charges that his objections stemmed from personal distemper rather than political principle. Mason and Henry grimly contemplated the rising sentiment for the ploy of ‘ratifying first and amending afterwards.’”294

Historian Richard Labunski wrote: “Henry and his fellow delegates would vigorously debate many of the most important issues arising from the proposed plan: the powers of the new government and the impact on the states; the lack of a bill of rights; the threat posed by federal judges with lifetime tenure; the future of slavery; access to the Mississippi River and other trade issues; the power of the president and the Senate to negotiate and approve treaties; the authority of the federal government to impose taxes; the size of the House of Representatives; and the power of the president. T hey also debated one of the most important and divisive issues: Should Virginia require that amendments protecting individual rights be added to the proposed Constitution as a condition of the state’s ratification?”295

Madison and his fellow Federalists laid out their case on Friday, June 6. Madison “cautioned the delegates not to be misled by unsupported criticisms of the proposed plan, saying, in effect, that they should reject broad challenges to the Constitution unless supported by proof grounded in a reasonable interpretation of its words,” wrote historian Richard Labunski. Madison observed that Henry ‘told us, that this Constitution ought to be rejected, because it endangered the public liberty...Give me leave to make one answer to that observation – Let the dangers which this system is supposed to be replete with, be clearly pointed out. If any dangerous and unnecessary powers be given to the general Legislature, let them be plainly demonstrated and let us not rest satisfied with general assertions of dangers, without examination.”296

The Virginia ratifying convention focused on the absence of a bill of rights. Historian Richard Labunski wrote: “On Monday, June 9, when Madison was absent, Patrick Henry shocked the convention by announcing that one of Virginia’s most respected political figures opposed the Constitution. He did not mention Thomas Jefferson by name at this point but described him as ‘an illustrious citizen of Virginia, who is now in Paris.’ Then Henry proclaimed that ‘This illustrious citizen advises you to reject this Government, till it be amended. His sentiments coincide entirely with ours.’ As if the delegates and audience had forgotten the contributions Jefferson had made to Virginia and the nation, Henry added, ‘His character and abilities are in the highest estimation – He is well acquainted in every respect, with this country.”297 Henry declared: “You ought to be extremely cautious, watchful, and jealous of your liberty; for if instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever.”298

Historian John J. Reardon wrote: Madison and Mason carried much of the burden of arguing their respective positions. The delegates must have listened in sheer admiration as two acknowledged constitutionalists quietly and dispassionately discussed the merits and deficiencies of the new instrument of government with only an occasional rhetorical flourish. Two generations of Virginians, made partners by the Revolution, locked in brilliant debate. It stood in sharp contrast to the verbal histrionics of Randolph and Henry.”299 Future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, then a still a relatively young lawyer was one of those who supported Madison’s positions.

Deliberations in Richmond came to a head on June 24. Historian Kevin R. Gutzman wrote: “Having sat virtually silent through a couple of days’ discussions, Madison here gave a sort of valedictory address. Picking up on themes that he, Hamilton, and Jay had developed in The Federalist (notably in Hamilton’s No. 1 and Jay’s No. 2, but elsewhere as well), Madison noted the world-historic significance of the moment. ‘Nothing has excited more admiration in the world,’ he pontificated, ‘than the manner in which free Governments have been established in America. For it was the first instance from the creation of the World to the American revolution, that free inhabitants have been seen deliberating on a form of Government, and selecting such of their citizens as possessed their confidence, to determine upon, and give effect to it.’ If the state constitutions excited foreigners’ respect, Madison said, completing the task of devising a suitable federal system would impress them even more.”300

Historian Jeff Broadwater wrote: “Divided among themselves, Virginia’s Anti-Federalists never explained in convincing terms how a national consensus behind previous amendments could be reached, and it hurt their cause. Washington’s influence, the pace of ratification in other states, and the Federalists’ willingness to support subsequent amendments created a pro-ratification majority.”301 On June 26, 1788, Virginia’s convention voted 89-79 to ratify the Constitution after voting 88-80 against requiring prior amendments to the Constitution. Historian Harlow Giles Unger argued that the victory was “[l]argely because of Madison’s abrupt shift in support of the Bill of Rights.”302 Madison biographer Irving Brant wrote: “Every delegate present recognized the victory of the Constitution as Madison’s victory and Patrick Henry’s defeat. David has slain Goliath. The greatest orator of revolutionary America had been overcome by a quiet reasoner, weak of voice and further weakened by fever and fatigue.” Brant wrote that Madison “won by placing every disputed issue before the convention in terms so clear and logical, offered with such sincerity and fairness, that they prevailed over the oratory, the distortions, and exaggerated alarms of Henry, Mason, and Grayson.”303 The decision was close. Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “Had the balance of parties tipped a few delegates the other way, had Henry and Mason been more of one mind (and voice), or had Federalists acted a less conciliatory part, the Richmond convention might have done what Madison feared. Instead the high-handed behavior of the two leading Anti-Federalists, and perhaps the anti-unionist tenor of Henry’s speeches, worked to the Federalists’ advantage, keeping their slight majority intact while Henry and Mason despaired of wooing wavering Federalists.”304 Noted historian Richard Brookhiser: “After the vote, Washington, assuming a maternal role, invited Madison to unwind at Mount Vernon. ‘Moderate exercise, and books occasionally, with the mind unbent, will be your best restoratives.’”305 Under the direction of George Wythe, a convention committee compiled about 40 amendments, about half of which were concerned with rights that might be enumerated.

Historian John J. Reardon noted: “As news of Virginia’s ratification spread northward, news of New Hampshire’s ratification was being carried south. The newest state in the infant nation had the distinction of being the ninth state to ratify, the requisite number for the Constitution to go into effect. Virginia came next, and then all eyes turned toward New York where the opposing factions were engaged in a bitter and closely contested struggle and where Virginia’s favorable vote was considered highly important.”306

New York State

From the beginning of the ratification effort, it was recognized that New York, which had played little role in the previous summer’s deliberations in Philadelphia, would play an important role in the success of ratification. “The newspapers here begin to teem with vehement and virulent calumniations of the proposd govt,” Madison wrote Washington in October 1787.307 New York was destined to play an important role in ratification of the Constitution for four reasons according to historian Clinton Rossiter: “First, the position of this rich and growing state on the Atlantic seaboard, which made it, perhaps even more than Pennsylvania, the keystone of the Union; second, the power of the political forces centered around the sturdy person of Governor [George] Clinton and opposed to the Constitution; third, the way in which these forces were concentrated in the upstate counties and the forces favoring ratification in and around New York City; and fourth, the way in which chance, purpose, and cross-purpose conspired to place the moment of decision in New York at the end of the timetable of ratification.”308

“The Antis are firm and I hope and believe will remain so to the End,” wrote Clinton in June 1788, adding: “Even if all twelve of the other states ratify the Constitution, New York ought not to.”309 Clinton underestimated Hamilton, who had played a negligible role in Philadelphia, but determined to play a leading role when the convention met in Poughkeepsie in the late spring of 1788. Historian Jackson Turner Main noted: “Only in New York was there an Antifederal ‘party’ in the sense connoted by that word – that is, an organization with a central committee of sorts which raised money, distributed propaganda, and corresponded with leaders within the stated and in other states. This degree of organization owed its existence to the party machinery built by Governor Clinton and his assistants, which had dominated the state during the whole Revolutionary period. Long before the Constitution became an issue, candidates for office were running as Clintonians or anti-Clintonians on well-understood though informal, unwritten platforms and were voting in the legislature with remarkable consistency.”310

Historian Jackson Turner Main wrote: “The result of the election was an overwhelming victory for the Antifederalists. Carrying the entire state except for New York City, Kings, Richmond, and Westchester, they had a majority of forty-six to nineteen in the convention. Of this majority of forty-six to nineteen in the convention. Of this majority many were willing to vote for ratification if amendments were guaranteed, and were therefore susceptible to Federalist persuasion; more important to the outcome, however, was the course of events elsewhere.” Main wrote: “what had most weight with the Antifederalists was the thought of the possible consequences if New York failed to ratify.”311 Hamilton biographer Marie B. Hecht wrote that at Poughkeepsie “Hamilton’s arguments were a repetition of his utterances as Publius, but his eloquence was inspired in part by animosity against Clinton and his former [Constitutional Convention] colleagues, Lansing and Yates.”312 Miller wrote: “To procure the ratification of the Constitution by New York, Hamilton banked heavily upon favorable action by the New Hampshire convention, which was meeting concurrently with New York’s. So confident was he that New Hampshire would ratify and that this action would break the ranks of the New York Antifederalists that he arranged for a post rider to bring the good news from New Hampshire to Poughkeepsie.”313 Historian Jack N. Rakove wrote: “The proceedings at Poughkeepsie divided into two segments. From June 17 until July 2, the delegates followed the usual procedure of debating the Constitution, clause by clause, with the notable departure of allowing amendments to be introduced seriatim. Though a report of New Hampshire’s ratification arrived on June 25, Anti-Federalists held course for a week more until a courier arrived bearing the news from Virginia. At this point Federalists completely yielded the floor, allowing Anti-Federalists to finish their survey of the Constitution and introduce their entire list of amendments. During fully three ensuing weeks of maneuvering, different groups of Anti-Federalists attempted to agree upon their strategy while consulting with Federalists leaders who found themselves negotiating the terms on which their antagonists would pursue amendments.”314 Historian John P. Kaminski noted: "By the end of the first week of the convention, Federalists perceived that 'a considerable Majority' of the delegates wanted amendments previous to New York's adoption of the Constitution. Federalists thought that Clinton and a few other leaders 'would, if they could find Support, go further; and hazard Every thing rather than agree to any System which tended to a Consolidation of our Governments."315

Hamilton’s tactical leadership was invaluable to the Federalist cause. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “Hamilton made several masterful moves as the Federalist leader. First, the Federalists joined the Anti-Federalists in electing Governor Clinton, unanimously, as president of the convention, thus establishing a disarmingly harmonious atmosphere while minimizing the popular governor’s participation in debate. Second, they proposed, and the Anti-Federalists agreed, that there would be no vote until the Constitution had been discussed clause by clause. What Hamilton had in mind was to delay as long as possible a decision by the overwhelming majority against him, in hopes that word would come that Virginia, or New Hampshire, or both had ratified, which is of course what did happen within two weeks.”316

Speed had been important to giving the Federal cause momentum in Pennsylvania. Delay was key in defeating anti-Federalist opposition in Virginia and New York. Rakove wrote: “In New York, as in Virginia, the long delay in holding the convention worked to the Anti-Federalists’ disadvantage.”317 In order to scare opponents of the Constitution, Hamilton raised the specter of a separate New York City, but he never outright alienated or demonized anti-Federalists. He sought, rather, to wear them down. Hamilton biographer John C. Miller wrote: “Despite the strong feeling excited by the debate, the delegates displayed remarkable moderation and good temper. Although a riot occurred in Albany on July fourth between the rival parades of Federalists and Antifederalists, and eighteen participants were carried off the field, the convention members celebrated the glorious day by dining at separate taverns and drinking toasts to the accompaniment of volleys of artillery. Both on and off the floor of the convention, Hamilton conducted himself with rare courtesy and consideration for the opinions of those with whom he disagreed.”318 Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “After victory it would be necessary to have the allegiance of everyone, not just those who voted for ratification. By not alienating the defeated minority, by leading in a fashion appropriate to constitution making, the Federalist leaders solidified the unity of the Union.”319

Explanatory amendments were allowed by Hamilton as the price of approval. Jack Rakove wrote: “Three considerations enabled the Federalists to concede this point so easily. First most of the proposed ‘explanatory’ amendments fell under the broad rubric of a bill of rights; few reached issues of the structure and authority of the federal government, and where they did, Hamilton and other Federalists persuaded the majority to transfer such proposals to the list of ‘recommendatory’ amendments. Though many Federalists still argued that a bill of rights was at best redundant and at worst dangerous, by now they could surmise that one would be added to the Constitution regardless of New York’s action. The fact that the proposed explanatory amendments employed the advisory verb ought rather than the mandatory shall may also have made such a declaration acceptable. Third, Federalists accepted explanatory amendments precisely because they were only that. Conditional amendments would have the result of removing New York from the Union; explanatory amendments would do nothing more than affirm principles that might later prove inconsequential to the actual conduct of government.”320

Hamilton’s Federalist colleague, future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay, was key to rallying support at the New York ratifying convention. Jay biographer Walter Stahr wrote: “Hamilton himself conceded that his many speeches did not have much effect, nor was he very effective in lobbying, because he was not particularly trusted. It was Jay, well-known and well-trusted, who was most effective in the quiet after-hours lobbying with the Antifederalists. Jay used both threats and promises: the threat that New York City would secede from the state; the promise that the Federalists would work together with the Antifederalists to secure the desired amendments to the Constitution. And it was Jay, who, at the eleventh hour, drafted the side letter which sealed the bargain between the two sides.”321 Virginia’s ratification was important news in Poughkeepsie, where William Livingston arrived on the afternoon of July 2 to deliver it to cheers from the Federalists in the convention. “Still,” noted Marie B. Hecht, “the Antis, relying on their numerical superiority, continued the clause-by-clause reading, with an eye to making amendments. Hamilton commented to Madison that ‘our arguments confound but do not convince. Some of the leaders [Antifederalist] however appear to me to be convinced by circumstances and to be desirous of retreat. This does not apply to the Chief who wishes to establish Clintonism on the basis of Antifoederalism.’”322

The process was exhausting, but on July 26 Hamilton and Jay led the ratifying convention in New York to a 30-27 victory. Miller wrote: “Largely as a result of his assiduous work behind the scenes, the Clintonians agreed to ratify the Constitution with the understanding that a circular letter should be sent to the other states urging the calling of a second Constitutional Convention to consider the question of amendments. Thirty-two amendments were recommended for the consideration of the proposed convention, and with this agreement the Constitution was ratified.”323 Constitutional scholar Leonard W. Levy argued that “the Constitution was ratified only because crucial states, where ratification had been in doubt, were willing to accept the promise of a bill of rights in the form of subsequent amendments to the Constitution. State recommendations for amendments, including those of the Pennsylvania minority, received nationwide publicity, adding to the clamor for a bill of rights.”324 As punishment for his support of the Constitution, James Madison’s bid to become a senator from Virginia was blocked by Patrick Henry. Madison’s friend, James Monroe, then opposed Madison’s bid to win election to Congress. By a margin of 1308-972, Madison overcome that opposition in an election on February 2, 1789. In much of the state, however, Henry’s anti-Federalists were successful in winning election to Congress.

North Carolina.

New York’s vote left only North Carolina and Rhode Island outside the new union. Max Farrand wrote: “Had the convention which met on the 21st of July in North Carolina reached a vote, it would probably have defeated the Constitution, but it was doubtless restrained by the action of New York and adjourned without coming to a decision. A second convention was called in September, 1789, and in the meantime the new government had come into operation and was bringing pressure to bear upon the recalcitrant States which refused to abandon the old union for the new. One of the earliest acts passed by Congress was a revenue act, levying duties upon foreign goods imported, which were made specifically to apply to imports from Rhode Island and North Carolina. This was sufficient for North Carolina, and on November 21, 1789, the convention ratified the Constitution.”325 Historian Jackson Turner Main wrote: “During the year following the rejection of the Constitution, Antifederalist strength slowly diminished. Ratification by eleven states ended all hope of a new convention, and attempts to act in concern with the New York opposition subsided before the new Congress met. .”326 The Constitution was ratified 194-77.

Aftermath & Thomas Jefferson’s Reaction

The Declaration of Independence had represented the American vision of virtue. The U.S. Constitution represented the American vision of practicality and necessity. Americans were creating a new and unprecedented national covenant. John Adams called the Constitution “the single greatest effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.”327 Historian Max Farrand wrote: “Neither a work of divine origin, nor ‘the greatest work that was ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man,’ but a practical, workable document is this constitution of the United States. Planned to meet certain immediate needs and modified to suit the exigencies of the situation, it was floated on a wave of commercial prosperity, and it has been adapted by an ingenious political people to meet the changing requirements of a century and a quarter.”328 Historian Edmund S. Morgan wrote: “The members of the convention were certainly human, which is to say they were complex, unpredictable, paradoxical, compounded of rationality and irrationality, moved by selfishness and by altruism, by love and by hate and by anger – and by principle. If the convention succeeded, it was not simply because the members possessed a common economic or class interest but because they held common principles, principles learned in twenty years of British tyranny and American seeking, in colonial assemblies, in state legislatures, and in Congress. Their work has often been described as a bundle of compromises, and so it was, but the compromises were almost all on matters of detail. They could afford to give and take where they disagreed, because there were so many important things about which they did agree.”329 The Constitution was not, however, necessarily a document that had automatic popular approval. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin noted that “if there had been a direct popular referendum throughout the United States, ratification without prior amendments would probably have been defeated.”330

Still, the debate was instructive – at home and abroad. Historian Charles Cerami wrote: “Not only America, but the whole modern world took an increasing interest in this gathering debate. Intellectuals abroad felt like more than mere observers. Many Europeans behaved like participants and often weighed in on the much-discussed subject of what makes the Constitution unique. Among the wide variety of opinions, one suggested the American presidency has the perfect attributes for success: he cannot in the normal course of business be removed by the legislature, as the British prime minister. He is more like an old-fashioned king, except that his short term of office forestalls his power for mischief.”331

Philadelphia physician Benjamin Rush observed on July 4, 1788: “I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as perfectly satisfied that the union of the states, in its form and adoption, is as much the work of divine providence as any of the miracles recorded in the old and new testament were the effects of a divine power. ‘Tis done! We have become a nation.”332 The delegates had triumphed against the odds. Political scientist Robert A. Goldwin wrote: “High hopes – that is the main reason why nations decide to seek a new constitution, despite the dangers and the difficulties that constitution making always begets. Add to this a second reason. A new constitution is sought because the old constitution has failed. If the consequences of that failure are sufficiently widespread and harsh, they bring a nation to the point of trying to reconstitute itself.”333

Although not a participant, Thomas Jefferson had strong opinions about the new Constitution from his vantage point in Paris. Historian Andrew S. Trees wrote: “For Jefferson, the Revolution and even politics were matters of the heart, of pulsations of warm blood rather than rational calculation.”334 Jefferson scholar Michael Knox Beran, wrote: “Jefferson called the convention ‘an assembly of demigods.’ But he had contributed almost nothing to the previsionary labors that went into the momentous act of constitution making. He had not pushed himself to think through the problems.”335 Dolley Madison, later the wife of James Madison, wrote: “Thomas Jefferson was not in America pending the framing of the Constitution, whose information in all that occurred in the Convention, and of the motives and intents of the framers, was derived from Mr. Madison, whose opinions guided him in the construction of that instrument, was looked up to many as its father and almost unanimously as it only true repositor.”336

Jefferson wrote a friend: “As to the new Constitution I find myself nearly a Neutral. There is a great mass of good in it, in a very desirable form: but there is to me a bitter pill or two.”337 Historian Joseph J. Ellis observed: “Jefferson did not have a consistent or cogently constructed position on the ultimate questions of constitutional sovereignty.”338 Jefferson’s attitudes toward Constitutions were consistent with his attitudes toward building. Speaking of Jefferson’s house in Philadelphia, biographer Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. wrote “The attention that Jefferson devoted to the finishing of a house that he was expecting to rent for only a few years was extraordinary but fully in harmony with his habit of seeking to establish himself in comfortable, convenient, and pleasing surroundings wherever he lived.”339 Ellis added: “Unlike Madison, who had a deep appreciation for the Constitution as an artful arrangement of juxtaposed principles and powers with abiding influence over future generations, Jefferson tended to view it as a merely convenient agreement about political institutions that ought not to bind future generations or prevent the seminal source of all political power – popular opinion – from dictating government policy.”340

In November 1787 Jefferson wrote of the Constitution: “There are very good articles in it; & very bad. I do not know which preponderate. What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate eligible for a longer duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: & what we have always read of the elections of Polish kings should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life. Wonderful is the effect of impudent & perservering lying.”341 The same day, Jefferson wrote John Adams to “confess there are things in it which stagger all my dispositions to subscribe to what such an assembly has proposed. The house of federal representatives will not be adequate to the management of affairs either foreign or federal. Their President seems a bad edition of a Polish king. He may be reelected from 4. years to 4. years for life. Reason and experience prove to us that a chief magistrate, so continuable, is an offer for life.”342 In December 1787, Jefferson pushed the case for “rotation office...most particularly in the case of the President. Experience concurs with reason in concluding that the first magistrate will always be re-elected if the Constitution permits it.”

In the same letter, Jefferson pressed Madison for a Bill of Rights, writing “that a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, & what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”343 In March 1789, Jefferson wrote: “What I disapproved from the first moment also was the want of a bill of rights to guard liberty against the legislative as well as executive branches of the government, that is to say to secure freedom in religion, freedom of the press, freedom from monopolies, freedom from unlawful imprisonment, freedom from a permanent military, and a trial by jury in all cases determinable by the laws of the land.”344 Two days later, Jefferson responded to Madison’s defense of the absence of a bill of rights in the Constitution. Speaking of “subordinate governments: “The declaration of rights will be the text whereby they will try all the acts of the federal governments[.] In this view it is necessary to the federal government also; as by the same text they may try the opposition of the subordinate governments...Experience proves the inefficacy of bill of rights. True. But tho it is not absolutely efficacious under all circumstances, it is of great potency always, and rarely inefficacious. A brace the more will often keep up the building which would have fallen with that brace the less. There is a remarkable difference between the characters of the Inconveniences which attend a Declaration of rights, & those which attend the want of it. The inconveniences of the Declaration are that it may cramp government in it’s useful exertions. But the evil of this is short-lived, trivial & reparable. The inconveniences of the want of a Declaration are permanent, afflicting &* irreparable. They are in constant progression from bad to worse. The executive in our governments is not the sole, it is scarcely the principal object of my jealousy. The tyranny of the legislatures is the most formidable dread at present, and will be for long years. That of the executive will come in it’s turn, but it will be at a remote period.”345

On June 29, 1824 Jefferson wrote New York’s Martin Van Buren: “General Washington was himself sincerely a friend to the republican principles of our Constitution. His faith, perhaps, in its duration, might not have been as confident as mine; but he repeatedly declared to me, that he was determined it should have a fair chance for success, and that he would lose the last drop of his blood in its support, against any attempt which might be made to change it from its republican form. He made these declarations the oftener, because he knew my suspicions that Hamilton had other views, and he wished to quiet my jealousies on this subject. For Hamilton frankly avowed that he considered the British Constitution, with all the corruptions of its administration, as the most perfect model of government which had ever been devised by the wit of man; professing however, at the same time, that the spirit of this country was so fundamentally republican, that it would be visionary to think of introducing monarchy here, and that, therefore, it was the duty of its administrators to conduct it on the principles their constituents had elected. I had meant to have added some views on the amalgamation of parties, to which your favor of the 8th has some allusion; an amalgamation of name, but not of principle. Tories are Tories still, by whatever name they may be called.”346

“The secret of great government, Victor Hugo declared, consists in knowing precisely how much of the future can be introduced into the present,” wrote historian Don E. Fehrenbacher. “By this measure, as well as by numerous others, the Constitution of the United States is one of the supreme achievements in the history of government. Its strength and utility after nearly two centuries testify to the wisdom of the men who framed it, and in some degree to their capacity for introducing the future into the present.” Fehrenbacher added that “any reading of The Federalist Papers, which were in part an effort to predict how the Constitution would work in practice, will discover evidence that the Founding Fathers did not always penetrate the distant future in construing their handiwork.”347

George Washington defined the presidency and the government that evolved during that presidency. He also lent the new government his credibility and his gravitas. Political scientist Glenn A. Phelps observed: “Washington quite simply was revered and respected far more than the as yet untested Constitution.” Phelps wrote: “Washington took the Constitution seriously...Washington was a president concerned with constitutional limits; but he was in no sense a weak president.”348 Benjamin Franklin told d a French friend in 1789 “Our Constitution is in actual operation. Everything appears to promise that it will last. But in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.”349

Alexander Hamilton would define how the new government used its financial authority. Historian E. James Ferguson wrote: “Since Congress was admittedly weak, they were prepared to concede a duty on imports and perhaps an excise tax, but little more. The Philadelphia Convention was generally expected to propose that Congress regulate trade and to recommend appropriate taxes. The Nationalists at the Convention struck boldly for their full objective, however, and proposed to give the central government unlimited taxing power. As George Mason observed: “Whether the Constitution be good or bad, the...clause clearly discovers that it is a national government, and no longer a Confederation...The assumption of this power of laying direct taxes does, of itself entirely change the confederation of states into one consolidated government.’”350

James Madison in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” In the years after the American Revolution, leading Americans like James Madison concluded that men were not angels and that a more effective national government was necessary and desirable. Georgia representative William Pierce observed that Madison “always comes forward as the best informed man of any point in debate.”351

Abraham Lincoln wrote: “Of strange, discordant, and even, hostile elements, we gathered from the four winds, and formed and fought the battle through, under the constant hot fire of a disciplined, proud, and pampered enemy.”352


  1. (Letter from Benjamin Rush to Elias Boudinot, July 9, 1788).
  2. (Letter from Benjamin Rush to Richard Price, May 25, 1786).
  3. (Letter from George Washington to Alexander Hamilton, March 31, 1783).
  4. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 396, 463.
  5. Horace Elisha Scudde, Noah Webster, p. 122.
  6. Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, p. 171 – 45.
  7. (Letter from George Washington to John Jay, August 15, 1786).
  8. Max Farrand, Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, March 25, 1787).
  9. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, March 15, 1784).
  10. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, pp. 319-320.
  11. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 359.
  12. Darren Staloff, Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson, p. 165.
  13. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 12.
  14. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 3.
  15. Roger G. Kennedy, Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause: Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase, p. 251.
  16. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 45.
  17. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 53.
  18. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, pp. 47,51.
  19. (Letter from Rufus King to Elbridge Gerry, April 30, 1787).
  20. Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington & American Constitutionalism, p. 143.
  21. John E. Ferling, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, p. 353.
  22. Stanley Elkins & Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism: The Early American Republic, 1788-1800, p. 44.
  23. Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, p. 179.
  24. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 49.
  25. John E. Ferling, The First of Men: A Life of George Washington, p. 359.
  26. Forrest McDonald, The American Presidency: An Intellectual History, pp.148-149.
  27. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 250.
  28. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, pp. 393, 362.
  29. Lance Banning, Jefferson & Madison: Three Conversations from the Founding, p. 63.
  30. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 50.
  31. Richard Brookhiser, James Madison, p. 83.
  32. The Records of the Convention of 1787, Volume II, pp. 94-95.
  33. Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846, p. 39.
  34. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 247.
  35. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 56.
  36. Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, pp. 41-42.
  37. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 105.
  38. Forrest McDonald, The American Presidency: An Intellectual History, p. 147.
  39. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 144.
  40. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, pp. 149-150.
  41. (Letter from George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, March 31, 1783).
  42. (Letter from George Washington to Benjamin Harrison, January 18, 1784).
  43. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 467.
  44. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 171.
  45. Andrew C. McLaughlin, “James Wilson in the Philadelphia Convention,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 12, No. 1, March 1897, p. 4.
  46. (Letter from George Washington to James Madison, March 31, 1787).
  47. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 276.
  48. (George Washington, Draft Inaugural Address, April, 1789).
  49. (Letter from Edmund Randolph to George Washington, December 6, 1786).
  50. (Letter from David Humphreys to George Washington, January 20, 1787).
  51. (Letter from John Jay to George Washington, January 7, 1787).
  52. Pauline Maier, Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788, pp. 4-5.
  53. Douglas Southall Freeman,Washington (Abridgment by Richard Harwell), p. 537.
  54. (Letter from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, May 30, 1787).
  55. Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency George Washington, pp. 176-177.
  56. (Letter from James Monroe to Thomas Jefferson, July 27, 1787).
  57. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 171.
  58. (Letter from James Madison to George Washington, April 16, 1787).
  59. Woody Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution, pp. 180-181.
  60. (Letter from George Washington Henry Knox, February 3, 1787).
  61. Fritz Hirschfeld, George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, p. 171 (Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser, May 14, 1787).
  62. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 68.
  63. (Letter from George Mason to George Mason, Jr., May 20, 1787).
  64. Ron Chernow, George Washington: A Life, p. 529.
  65. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, p. 150.
  66. (Edmund Randolph, May 29, 1787).
  67. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 58-59.
  68. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, pp. 65-66.
  69. (Letter from George Mason to George Mason, Jr., May 20, 1787).
  70. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution: A Chronicle of the Establishment of the Union, pp. 110-111.
  71. The Records of the Convention of 1787, Volume II, p. 85.
  72. Ron Chernow, George Washington: A Life, pp. 530-531.
  73. The Records of the Convention of 1787, Volume II, pp. 86-87.
  74. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, p. 91.
  75. Philip Dray, Stealing God’s Thunder: Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Rod and the Invention of America, p. 195.
  76. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 108.
  77. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 109.
  78. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 24.
  79. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 30, 1787).
  80. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, p. 297.
  81. Stuart Leiberger, Founding Friendship: George Washington, James Madison, and the Creation of the American Republic, pp. 72, 58, 73.
  82. Douglas Southall Freeman, Washington (Abridgment by Richard Harwell), p. 540.
  83. Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment, p. 157.
  84. Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, p. 157.
  85. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 61.
  86. Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders, p. 97.
  87. “Covenant and the American Founding,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs .
  88. http://www.jcpa.org/dge/articles/cov-amer.htm.
  89. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 110.
  90. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 220.
  91. Douglas Southall Freeman, Washington (Abridgment by Richard Harwell), p. 541.
  92. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, p. 198.
  93. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, pp. 39-41.
  94. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, pp. 304-305.
  95. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 4-5.
  96. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 225.
  97. The Records of the Convention of 1787, Volume II, p. 91.
  98. Robert G. Ferris and Richard E. Morris, The Signers of the Declaration, pp. 147-148.
  99. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 155.
  100. Andrew C. McLaughlin, “James Wilson in the Philadelphia Convention,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 12, No. 1, March 1897, p. 2.
  101. Geoffrey Seed, James Wilson, p. 76.
  102. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 81.
  103. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, p. 197.
  104. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 4.
  105. The Records of the Convention of 1787, Volume II, p. 89.
  106. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, pp. 153-154.
  107. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 116.
  108. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, pp. 169, 170, 316.
  109. Forrest McDonald, Alexander Hamilton: A Biography, p. 97.
  110. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, pp. 205-206.
  111. Lance Banning, Jefferson & Madison: Three Conversations from the Founding, p. 38.
  112. Robert E. Jones, George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader, p. 102.
  113. Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington & American Constitutionalism, p. 92.
  114. Robert E. Jones, George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader, p. 101.
  115. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, p. 147.
  116. (Letter from John Dickinson to Polly Dickinson, June 15, 1787).
  117. (John Dickinson, June 11, 1987).
  118. Andrew C. McLaughlin, “James Wilson in the Philadelphia Convention,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 12, No. 1, March 1897, p. 5.
  119. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 371.
  120. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 50.
  121. Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders, p. 113.
  122. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, pp. 131-132.
  123. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 221-222.
  124. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, p. 156.
  125. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, p. 181.
  126. Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders, p. 121.
  127. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 304.
  128. Forrest McDonald, The American Presidency: An Intellectual History, p. 179.
  129. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, p. 90.
  130. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, p.155.
  131. Andrew C. McLaughlin, “James Wilson in the Philadelphia Convention,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 12, No. 1, March 1897, p. 7.
  132. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 236.
  133. Andrew C. McLaughlin, “James Wilson in the Philadelphia Convention,” Political Science Quarterly, Volume 12, No. 1, March 1897, p. 6.
  134. (James Wilson, June 29, 1787).
  135. (James Wilson, June 6, 1787).
  136. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, p. 156.
  137. (James Wilson, June 25, 1787).
  138. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 280.
  139. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, pp. 88-89, 96.
  140. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 236.
  141. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, p. 300.
  142. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 108.
  143. Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, p. 120.
  144. (Roger Sherman, July 2, 1787).
  145. Gordon S. Wood, “Reading the Founders’ Minds,” New York Review of Books, June 28, 2007, p. 64.
  146. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, p. 122.
  147. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 236.
  148. Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, p. 160.
  149. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 173.
  150. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 291.
  151. Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History, p. 162.
  152. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 231.
  153. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 74.
  154. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 268.
  155. Bruce Chadwick, George Washington’s War: The Forging of a Revolutionary Leader and the American Presidency, p. 216.
  156. ack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 268.
  157. William Lee Miller, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman, p. 34.
  158. Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg, Madison and Jefferson, p. 161.
  159. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 183.
  160. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, pp. 133-134,162.
  161. Gordon S. Wood, “George Washington and the Presidency,” The New-York Journal of American History, Spring 2005.
  162. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 245.
  163. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 129.
  164. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 255.
  165. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 165.
  166. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 259.
  167. Forrest McDonald, Enough Wise Men: The Story of Our Constitution, p. 89.
  168. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 250.
  169. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 179.
  170. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution of the United States, p. 137.
  171. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 253.
  172. Geoffrey Seed, James Wilson, p. 72.
  173. Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 175.
  174. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, p. 359.
  175. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, pp. 287-288.
  176. Bernard A. Weisberger, America Afire: Jefferson, Adams, and the Revolutionary Election of 1800, pp. 13-14.
  177. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, March 18, 1789).
  178. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, pp. 125-126.
  179. Leonard W. Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights, p. 15.
  180. Jeff Broadwater, George Mason: Forgotten Founder p. 181.
  181. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 201.
  182. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Volume III, p. 92.
  183. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, p. 303.
  184. Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 240.
  185. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 21.
  186. Forrest McDonald, Enough Wise Men: The Story of Our Constitution, p. 90.
  187. Jeff Broadwater, George Mason: Forgotten Founder, p. 198.
  188. (Letter from James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, October 24, 1787).
  189. Jeff Broadwater, George Mason: Forgotten Founder, p. 195.
  190. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 84, 90.
  191. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution of the United States, p. 139.
  192. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 27.September 17, 2011.
  193. Jacob Needleman, The American Soul, p. 67.
  194. (Benjamin Franklin, September 17, 1787).
  195. E. H. Scott, editor, James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, p. 763.
  196. (James Madison, September 17, 1787).
  197. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 263.
  198. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 184.
  199. (Letter from George Washington to president of the Continental Congress, September 17, 1787).
  200. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, pp. 30, 33.
  201. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, pp. 20-22.
  202. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 19.
  203. Daniel Farber, Lincoln’s Constitution, p. 88.
  204. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 164.
  205. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 37.
  206. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, pp. 50-51.
  207. Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton, p. 135.
  208. Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, p. 174.
  209. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 107, 109.
  210. Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, p. 50.
  211. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 130.
  212. Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, p. 175.
  213. Bruce Chadwick, George Washington’s War: The Forging of a Revolutionary Leader and the American Presidency, pp. 467-468.
  214. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution p. 351-352.
  215. Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, p. 255.
  216. James Roger Sharp, American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis, p. 33.
  217. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 159.
  218. Forrest McDonald, Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, p. 279.
  219. James Morton Smith, Washington: A Profile, p. 125 (Douglas Southall Freeman, “To Avert ‘Some Awful Crisis’”).
  220. Robert E. Jones, George Washington: Ordinary Man, Extraordinary Leader, p. 103.
  221. Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington & American Constitutionalism, p. 113.
  222. Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington & American Constitutionalism, p. 119.
  223. Ron Chernow, George Washington: A Life, p. 543.
  224. Richard Brookhiser, James Madison, p. 61.
  225. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 102.
  226. Geoffrey Seed, James Wilson, p. 82.
  227. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 101.
  228. Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders, p. 107.
  229. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, p. 308.
  230. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 11.
  231. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, p. 322.
  232. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, pp. 149-150.
  233. Herbert J. Storing, ‘The ‘Other Federalist Papers: A Preliminary Sketch,” Political Science Reviewer 6, (1976), p. 215.
  234. Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History, p. 159.
  235. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, p. 358.
  236. (James Wilson, Speech at Pennsylvania Ratifying Convention, November 24, 1787).
  237. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 492.
  238. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 562.
  239. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788, pp. 13, 8, viii.
  240. Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State, p. 36.
  241. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788, pp. x-xi,,
  242. Carol Berkin, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, p. 176.
  243. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 113.
  244. Garry Wills, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, p. 354.
  245. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 273.
  246. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 113.
  247. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 25.
  248. Bernard Bailyn, Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, pp. 350-351.
  249. Willard Sterne Randall, George Washington: A Life, p. 434.
  250. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1781-1788, p. 121.
  251. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 486.
  252. Forrest McDonald, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790, p. 362.
  253. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, p. 492.
  254. Max M. Edling, A Revolution in Favor of Government: Origins of the U.S. Constitution and the Making of the American State, p. 41.
  255. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 146-147.
  256. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, p. 516.
  257. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, p. 155.
  258. Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton, p. 136.
  259. Walter Stahr, John Jay, Founding Father, pp. 248-249.
  260. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp.155-156.
  261. Richard E. Labunski, James Madison and the struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 37.
  262. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 177.
  263. (Letter from Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, July 3, 1787).
  264. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787, p. 546.
  265. Bernard Bailyn, To Begin The World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders, p. 112-113, 103.
  266. Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, p. 52.
  267. Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, p. 58.
  268. (Letter from George Washington to Chevalier de la Luzerne, February 7, 1788).
  269. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 208.
  270. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 149.
  271. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 94.
  272. (Letter from David Redick to General William Irvine, September 24, 1787).
  273. Geoffrey Seed, James Wilson, pp. 110, 86.
  274. Forrest McDonald and Ellen Shapiro McDonald, editors, Confederation and Constitution, 1781-1789, p. 193 (October 6, 1787).
  275. Geoffrey Seed, James Wilson, p. 119, 99, 90.
  276. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 143-144.
  277. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 30.
  278. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, pp. 120-121, 118.
  279. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, pp. 150-151.
  280. Walter A. McDougall, Freedom Just Around the Corner: A New American History, 1585-1828, p. 306.
  281. (Letter from Rufus King to James Madison, January 27, 1788).
  282. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 40.
  283. Robert Allen Rutland, The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791, p. 148.
  284. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1787-1788, pp. 223-224.
  285. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, p. 154.
  286. (Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser, November 14, 1787).
  287. John J. Reardon, Edmund Randolph: A Biography, p. 145.
  288. Richard Brookhiser, James Madison, p. 73.
  289. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 202.
  290. Robert A. Rutland, George Mason: Reluctant Statesman, p. 91.
  291. Jeff Broadwater, George Mason: Forgotten Founder, p. 207.
  292. Harlow Giles Unger, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness, pp. 79-81.
  293. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 203.
  294. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 123.
  295. Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic, pp. 397-398.
  296. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 93.
  297. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 93.
  298. Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights, p. 97
  299. (Patrick Henry, June 4, 1788).
  300. John J. Reardon, Edmund Randolph: A Biography, p. 145.
  301. Kevin R. Gutzman, James Madison and the Making of America, p. 232.
  302. Jeff Broadwater, George Mason: Forgotten Founder, p. 237.
  303. Harlow Giles Unger, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness, p. 82.
  304. Irving Brant, The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison, pp. 218-219.
  305. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 124.
  306. Richard Brookhiser, James Madison, p. 75.
  307. John J. Reardon, Edmund Randolph: A Biography, p. 149.
  308. (Letter from James Madison to George Washington, October 17, 1787).
  309. Clinton Rossiter, Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution, p. 51.
  310. (Letter from George Clinton to Abraham Yates, June 24, 1788).
  311. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 234.
  312. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 237-238.
  313. Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton, p. 158.
  314. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 213.
  315. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 125.
  316. John P. Kaminski, George Clinton: Yeoman Politician of the New Republic, p. 152.
  317. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 45.
  318. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 127.
  319. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 212.
  320. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 53.
  321. Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution, p. 126.
  322. Walter Stahr, John Jay, Founding Father, p. 265.
  323. Marie B. Hecht, Odd Destiny: The Life of Alexander Hamilton, p. 159.
  324. John C. Miller, Alexander Hamilton: Portrait in Paradox, p. 214.
  325. Leonard W. Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights, p. 32.
  326. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution, pp. 158-159.
  327. Jackson Turner Main, The Anti-Federalists: Critics of the Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 247.
  328. (John Adams, quoted by Rufus King to Theophilus Parsons, February 20, 1788).
  329. Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, p. 210.
  330. Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, p. 134.
  331. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 48.
  332. Charles Cerami, Young Patriots, p. 265.
  333. Jon Meacham, American Gospel, God, The Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, p. 99.
  334. Robert A. Goldwin, From Parchment to Power: How James Madison Used the Bill of Rights to Save the Constitution, p. 2.
  335. Andrew S. Trees, The Founding Fathers: The Politics of Character, p. 5.
  336. Michael Knox Beran, Jefferson’s Demons: Portrait of a Restless Mind, p. 84.
  337. Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 276.
  338. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, December 21, 1787).
  339. Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 223.
  340. Noble E. Cunningham, Jr., In Pursuit of Reason: The Life of Thomas Jefferson, p. 150.
  341. Joseph J. Ellis, American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, p. 162.
  342. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to William S. Smith, November 13, 1787).
  343. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, November 13, 1787).
  344. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, December 20, 1787).
  345. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789).
  346. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, March 15, 1789).
  347. (Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Martin Van Buren on June 29, 1824).
  348. Cullom Davis, Charles B. Strozier, Rebecca Monroe Veach and Geoffrey C. Ward, editors, The Public and the Private Lincoln: Contemporary Perspectives, p. 121 (Don E. Fehrenbacher, “Lincoln and the Constitution”).
  349. Glenn A. Phelps, George Washington & American Constitutionalism, pp. 131, 138-139.
  350. (Letter from Benjamin Franklin to M. Leroy, 1789).
  351. E. James Ferguson, The Power of the Purse: A History of American Public Finance, 1776-1790, p. 290.
  352. Thomas Fleming, The Intimate Minds of the Founding Fathers, p. 364.
  353. (Abraham Lincoln,Speech at Chicago, July 10, 1858).
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