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Constitution Formation Dates

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES

In September 1786, delegates from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the lack of uniform trade regulations under the Articles of Confederation. These delegates passed a resolution calling for delegates from all thirteen states to meet in May 1787, "to devise such other provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union."(52)

On Friday, 25 May 1787, the Federal Convention convened in the Assembly Room at the Pennsylvania State House on Chestnut Street, now known as Independence Hall. The Convention was scheduled to commence on the 14 May, but only delegates from Virginia and Pennsylvania were present on that day and the opening was postponed until 25 May.

The delegates to the Federal Convention were sent to the State House to redress the deficiencies of the then current government under the Articles of Confederation. Many of the delegates maintained that a strong national government was needed to replace the weak central government that existed under the Articles.

On Tuesday, 29 May, Edmund Randolph of Virginia presented to the Convention fifteen resolutions recommending changes to the government, commonly referred to as the Randolph Resolutions but formally titled the Virginia Plan. Randolph's own handwritten copy of the Virginia Plan does not survive. In the early stages of the Convention, delegates made their own copies of documents presented in Convention. During the final months of the Convention, important documents were printed and copies were furnished to each delegate. There are a four extant manuscript versions of the Virginia Plan, they include copies in the hand of James Madison, George Washington, David Brearly, and James McHenry (see Appendix G).(53) For the following two weeks, the convention met in a Committee of the Whole house reviewing and modifying the Virginia Plan.(54)

On 13 June, the amended Virginia Plan was presented to the delegates in Convention.(55) The resulting fifteen resolutions contained in the Virginia Plan outlined the structure and powers of all three branches of government. This plan called for a bicameral legislature, the upper house elected by the people while the members of the lower house would be chosen by the upper house. The executive, according to the plan, would be chosen by the legislature. Lastly, the plan outlined a national judiciary, of supreme and inferior courts, selected by the legislative branch. The judiciary had authoritative power in all questions involving the peace and harmony of the nation.

On 29 May, in addition to the Virginia Plan, the Convention received a draft of a federal government written by Charles Pinckney of South Carolina. Although the document, in Pinckney's hand, presented to the Convention on 29 May has never been located, there exists a summary outline and a document of abstracts from the original Pinckney Plan in the hand of James Wilson.(56) The Pinckney Plan did not receive the same consideration in the Committee of the Whole house as the resolutions offered by Randolph.

In convention on 14 June, William Paterson of New Jersey asked for a one-day adjournment. Paterson and the small state contingent needed time to complete their plan of government distinguished from the proposed Virginia Plan. On the following day, the Paterson Resolutions or New Jersey Plan were laid before the convention (see Appendix F).(57) Fearful of a strong central government, Paterson presented his plan which consisted of nine resolutions that called for a unicameral legislature and an equal vote in Congress for each state. Instead of presenting a unique plan of government, Paterson's Resolutions were a series of amendments to the existing government under the Articles of Confederation. On 18 June, Alexander Hamilton rose to make a lengthy speech to the Convention that outlined his views on a plan for government and suggested amendments to the Virginia Plan. Although Hamilton's ideas were not formally considered in Convention, several of the delegates made notes of his four to five hour discourse (see Appendix F).(58) The following day, the delegates voted seven to three rejecting the New Jersey Plan in favor of the Virginia Plan. The rejection of the New Jersey Plan did not quiet the efforts of the small states. In convention over the next month, the fifteen resolutions defined in the Virginia Plan were taken up one at a time. With the adoption of the Great Compromise on 16 July, the small states achieved an equal vote in one branch of the legislature. Consideration of the original fifteen resolutions contained in the Virginia Plan concluded on 26 July. The same day, a five-man Committee of Detail was chosen to prepare a report using the modified Virginia Plan consisting of twenty-three resolutions, the Pinckney Plan and the New Jersey Plan. The Committee consisted of Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, Edmund Randolph of Virginia, John Rutledge of South Carolina, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania. The Convention adjourned until August 6th, when the Committee of Detail would submit their report, which would ultimately be used as a guide for the final draft of the Constitution. There is no historical account of the workings of the Committee during the ten-day adjournment of the Convention. Only documents, such as James Wilson's drafts of the Constitution, have survived though they allow valuable insight into the operations of the Committee of Detail.

Max Farrand, editor of The Records of the Federal Convention, suggests that one individual on the Committee was selected to draft a preliminary outline of the Constitution. The outline, in turn, was used as a working copy for the remaining Committee members to pore over and discuss. Edmund Randolph, author of the Virginia Plan, was chosen to prepare the preliminary outline. Randolph's sketch, found in the papers of George Mason, outlined the resolutions discussed in the Convention and provided a brief introduction and conclusion to them. Next, Farrand suggests that the sketch was submitted to the entire Committee for discussion and revision. Concurrent with Randolph's work, Farrand believes Wilson had been working independently on his draft of the Constitution. Wilson's draft employed not only Randolph's Virginia Plan, but other plans discussed in Convention and existing state constitutions, as well as the Articles of Confederation. Wilson's draft was presented as a complete, readable document, unlike Randolph's plan which was introduced in outline form.(59)

At this point, Wilson's draft was examined by the Committee members, not in order to make stylistic changes but to verify the accuracy of its content. A small number of modifications were made to Wilson's draft by the chairman of the Committee, John Rutledge. The Committee, praised by the Convention delegates for their work, did take some creative license beyond what was agreed upon in Convention. One of the additions made by the Committee declared that no tax or duty shall be laid by the Legislature on articles exported from any State; nor on the migration or importation of such persons as the several States shall think proper to admit; nor shall migration or importation be prohibited.(60)

Prior to 6 August, Wilson created a second draft of the Constitution incorporating Rutledge's notations made on the first draft. Wilson's second draft with emendations (called a fair copy) was brought to the printers Dunlap and Claypoole on Market Street. A fair copy is a readable draft to be used by the printer to set the type at his shop. There exists in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania the first known printed version of the Committee's report that precedes the document handed to the delegates on 6 August. The seven numbered leaves and one blank leaf are entitled, "Rough Drt fedr Constitution." These leaves are believed to be the printer's proof sheets given to the Committee of Detail by Dunlap and Claypoole around 1 August 1787. Corrections on the copy are in the hand of committee member Edmund Randolph.(61)

On Monday 6 August, John Rutledge handed each of the delegates present at the Convention a printed copy of the committee's report. This printed report consisted of seven folio pages with wide margins, ample space for delegates to make notations. Approximately sixty copies of the Committee's report were printed.(62) This printed document incorporated the changes made by Edmund Randolph on the proof copy in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. There are sixteen extant copies of the printed report furnished to the Convention delegates by the Committee of Detail (see Appendix H).(63)

The draft Constitution appears in twenty-three sections numbered with roman numerals. A motion was made to adjourn until Wednesday, to provide delegates with time to thoroughly examine the report. The motion was defeated, the delegates adjourned for the day and reassembled the next morning. The report by the Committee of Detail was followed by arduous debate and compromise that ended on Saturday, 8 September with the appointment of a Committee of Style and Arrangement.

Madison's notes on the debates in the Federal Convention indicate that the Committee of Style's five members were chosen by ballot to "revise the stile of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the House."(64) The members of the Committee of Style and Arrangement were: Alexander Hamilton of New York, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Rufus King of Massachusetts, James Madison of Virginia, and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania. The Committee of Style and Arrangement was probably furnished with Convention president George Washington's annotated copy of the printed draft constitution of 6 August.(65)

Committee member William Samuel Johnson presented a report of the Committee of Style to the Convention on 12 September. The document was presented at the Secretary's table to be reviewed.

The copy of the Committee's report presented in Convention on 12 September does not survive. On that same day, printed copies of the Committee's plan were ordered to be furnished to the delegates. The next day, the delegates were presented a four-page printed broadside of the draft Constitution. Approximately sixty copies of the document were printed by Dunlap and Claypoole on 12 September. The draft Constitution consisted of seven articles and twenty-one sections. The Committee incorporated all the changes discussed in Convention and the delegates debated each paragraph of the revised draft over the next three days. There are fifteen extant copies of the printed document presented to the delegates by the Committee (see Appendix H).(66)

After all the sections of the Committee's plan had been debated and agreed upon, the final text of the Constitution was ordered to be engrossed on 15 September 1787. In his diary entry for 15 September, James McHenry stated, "The question being taken on the system agreed to unanimously-Ordered to be engrossed and 500 copies struck Adjourned till monday the 17th."(67)

On 17 September, the final day of the Convention, Secretary William Jackson did not enter the proceedings in the official journal. The events of the day rely on the accounts of James Madison and James McHenry. The engrossed copy, prepared by Jacob Sallus, assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, was read in Convention. Just prior to the final vote of adoption of the Constitution, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts asked if the ratio of representation in the lower house of Congress could be changed from one for every forty-thousand inhabitants to one for every thirty-thousand. Gorham's proposal was unanimously agreed upon and the engrossed Constitution was then signed by all the members present except for Elbridge Gerry, George Mason, and Edmund Randolph who refused to give their consent. At four o'clock the Convention adjourned and Secretary Jackson was ordered to carry the Constitution to Congress in New York. As a result, Dunlap and Claypoole needed to complete the final printing of the Constitution by the 10:00am departure of the New York stagecoach on 18 September.(68)

On 20 September, Jackson delivered the engrossed copy of the Constitution to Congress assembled in New York. On the same day, Jackson read the Constitution before Congress. It is not known whether the Constitution was read from the engrossed or a printed copy. Immediately after the Constitution was signed and the injunction on secrecy lifted, Convention delegates sent copies of the document to friends and fellow statesman. The Constitution appeared in five Philadelphia newspapers on the morning of 19 September. Dunlap and Claypooles' Pennsylvania Packet is recognized for the first public printing of the Constitution.(69)