Saturday, August 9, 2008


 An article by the James Waldrop Chapter of the DAR:

    The US Constitution:  Secret Meetings in 1787

"I consider the difference between a system founded on the legislatures only, and one founded on the people, to be the true difference between a league or treaty and a constitution."

-James Madison, at the Constitutional Convention, 1787


The Articles of Confederation was drafted in 1777 during the American Revolution. The Articles were, in effect, the first constitution of the United States.  The men of the Continental Congress who passed the Declaration of Independence were the same who passed the Articles of Confederation.  The Articles were quickly found to be inadequate.  

While they provided for a Congress who could declare war or peace among other things, it was apparent the individual states retained the bulk of the power.  The new government could ask the states for money but there was no means to collect from states who were either unwilling or unable to pay.  The federal government quickly plunged into debt.  The new government had no means to enforce treaties without the states' support.  George Washington warned in 1786:  "There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to."

Several conventions were called at irregular periods.  After the dismal failure of the Annapolis Convention in 1786, the delegates who had attended reported to their states that all states should be present to discuss the Articles and to see how the defects in the system could be addressed. It was also suggested the the second Monday in May 1787 be the start date of this convention in Philadelphia.  

The official call from the Congress went out to the states in February 1787.  On the appointed day, only a few states' delegates had shown up.  The quorum of seven states would not be reached until later in May.  For four months, the delegates discussed, debated and sometimes argued on how the Articles were to be revised.  

The summer of 1787 was hot.  The State House was comparatively cool when entering from the baking streets. The East chamber was large, forty-by-forty, with a twenty-foot ceiling  Tall, wide windows were on two sides, covered by slatted blinds to keep out the summer sun. Gravel had been strewn on the streets outside to deaden the sound of wheels and horses passing.  There was an air of secrecy about the meetings.  There was even a discreet diner at the table of Benjamin Franklin who would move the dinner topic to another subject when Franklin would start to relay stories of the day to his guests.

After many heated debates over a six week period, a compromise would be reached on the subject of equal representation.  One by one, the points would be debated, and one by one, the delegates began to compromise and come together.  While the delegates would never completely agree on all points of the Constitution, 39 of them did agree to sign it in September 1787.
Ann Eldredge
submitted by CB Glover


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