Constitutional Convention The Room Where It Happened By 1787, the United States was in crisis. The current form of government under the Articles of Confederation was mostly ineffective. Trade between states was a major problem as states placed tariffson goods from other states. There was no national executive, no real judicial branch (Congress acted as the judicial branch). The legislative branch consisted of a unicameral or one house congress. Congress was limited in its power so it didn't interfere with the powers to the individual states. In the spring of 1787, Alexander Hamilton, a prominent New York attorney, organized a convention to take place in Philadelphia's Independence Hall. The purpose of the convention was to discuss and fix the problems with the Articles of Confederation. Each state was invited to send delegatesto participate in the event. The Philadelphia Convention (later to be known as the Constitutional Convention) began on May 25, 1787. Twelve of the thirteen states sent delegates. The only state to boycott the convention was Rhode Island. In total, 55delegateswould play a role at various times in the convention. Thedelegateswho participated in the convention did not reflect the diversity then present in the nation. Many of thedelegateswere wealthy planters or lawyers. Many owned slaves. Since they could not participate in the political process, women, blacks, and Native Americans were not at the convention. People The leader of the convention was Revolutionary War hero, George Washington of Virginia. Washington was in charge of the debates, yet did not take part in the debates. Benjamin Franklin, representing his adopted state of Pennsylvania, was the oldestdelegatepresent at 81 years of age. James Madison, arguably the most prepareddelegate, took 6 copious notes during the confidential debates that followed. His role at the convention would eventually earn him the title, "Father of the Constitution". As thedelegatesdiscussed ways to repair the Articles of Confederation, it soon became clear that they were designing a new system of government, one better for the new United States. However, issues soon arose that created debate amongst thedelegates.
Plans of Government One of these issues dealt with the very nature of the new government. The states with larger populations favored James Madison's Virginia Plan. This plan consisted of a strong national government with three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial) and a bicameral (two house) legislative Congress with a Senate and a House of Representatives whose memberships would be based upon a state's population. Madison's plan also gave the national government the power to tax, a power that rested solely within the states under the Articles of Confederation. The less populated states, feeling threatened by Madison's plan, created another plan of government. The New Jersey Plan, written by William Patterson of New Jersey was also known as the Small State Plan. This plan mirrored one part of the Virginia Plan in that it called for a national government of three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial). However, the Legislative Branch would be unicameral (one house) with each state having only one vote. The states would keep the power to tax. Basically, the New Jersey (or Small State Plan) was very similar to the government under the Articles of Confederation. As the different plans split the convention into sides, Connecticut created a compromise plan known as the Great Compromise. This plan called for a government with three branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial). The Legislative Branch would be bicameral with a Senate (with equal representation for all states with two senators per state) and a House of Representatives (whose membership would be based upon a state's population). The Great Compromise was able to settle the debate in the convention and helped create the federal system of government under the United States Constitution. Slavery Slavery was a topic of debate that threatened the hopes of a new federal constitution and the very union itself. Many southern states wanted their slaves to be counted as part of their population. This would give slave-holding states an advantage in the House of Representatives and in the Electoral College. The debate was settled with the Three-Fifths Compromise which allowed slaves to be counted as 3/5 of a free white person when the population of a given state was counted for representation. Given the debates on the nature of our government and slavery, it is clear that compromise was the key to success at the Constitutional Convention. Once the document was signed on September 17, 1787, it was presented to the states forratification. Delaware was the first state to ratifythe document. Once it wasratifiedby the required ninth state (New Hampshire), the Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789. As a testament to the genius of those men, the government they created has lasted over 220 years.
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