On Friday May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention began.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania meeting and summer began together. Picture the Framers, in starched shirts and stiff collars. And their was no air conditioning in the sweltering summer heat.
During that time, 55 delegates, from 12 of the 13 States would heatedly argue, then compromise, in an effort to complete the Constitution. The meeting would go on all summer, until September 17 of that same year.
The delegates, later known as the Framers, these delegates soon decided to write a new constitution instead. The meeting had been called to revise the Articles of Confederation. The delegates were of exception quality, with Thomas Jefferson calling them “an assembly of demi-gods.”
Assembled in Independence Hall, the assembly soon organized and elected George Washington as the president of the convention. He was respected and known by most for his leadership during the revolution.
The delegates from Virginia were the first to offer a plan. On May 29, the Virginia Plan was presented by Edmund Randolph. This plan had been largely the result of James Madison’s copious notes and planning.
The Virginia Plan called for: Three separate branches of government – Executive, Legislative, and Judicial The Legislature was to be bicameral, with a Senate and House of Representatives
Membership in the House was to be based upon state elected representatives and upon population Membership in the Senate was to be chosen by the House from lists nominated by the States legislatures The members of Congress were also to be based on State wealth.
The Virginia Plan was obviously opposed by the smaller States and was not adopted. The plan also called for many other features that were not in the constitution as it was adopted. But many of the items in this plan were used.
The Virginia Plan would create an entirely new Constitution by scrapping the Articles. The Virginia Plan became the agenda for much of the convention. Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and New York found it to radical and soon presented their own plan.
The New Jersey Plan would use amendments to the Articles instead. The New Jersey Plan retained the unicameral Congress in the Articles. Each of the States would be equally represented in the Congress.
To the powers Congress already had, powers to closely regulate trade and impose taxes on the States were added. The plan also called for: A federal executive of more than one person. These executives would be chosen by Congress, but could be removed by States Governors.
Under the plan the federal judiciary would be a Supreme Tribunal appointed by the Executive. For weeks the delegates debated these points, over and over again. Delegates threatened to walk out, but in the end they reached a most important compromise.
The key arguments between the two plans centered on the question of how the States should be represented in Congress. Would representation be upon population, wealth, or State equality? This is where the compromise needed to be settled.
The debates were so heated that Benjamin Franklin implored God to settle the disagreements. Finally, the Connecticut delegation offered the Connecticut Compromise. The compromise agreed that the Congress would have two houses: The Senate would have equal representation. The House would have representation based on population.
The compromise had combined the basic features of both plans, but settled the biggest question. The Connecticut Compromise was so pivotal that it is often called the Great Compromise. Once this question had been answered, the counting of slaves in the population arose.
The debate over this question was fierce. The southern slave-holding States argued for counting of slaves. The northern States argued against the counting of slaves.
Finally, the Three-Fifths Compromise was agreed to by the Framers. So the Constitution counted each slave as three-fifths of a person in deciding representation in the House. To appease the northerners, a federal levied tax would also count the slaves in the formula.
One of the last issues to be settled was how foreign and interstate trade should be regulated. There was great fear that Congress might levy taxes on trade and also interfere with the slave trade. The solution came in the Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise.
The compromise made it so Congress was forbidden to: Tax the export of goods from any State. Act on the slave trade for 20 years minimum. Compromise was a big part of the final Constitution, but the bigger part was always the major issues that arose from needing government.
On September 8, 1787, the document went in to revision, meaning that all work was done, but for the way the Constitution was written in its final form. The Committee of Stile and Arrangement presented the final work to the delegates on September 17, 1787, for signing.
39 signatures were put to the finished Constitution of the United States of America. After a long, hot summer’s work, the final document was ready for ratification by the States.
This table outlines the major points that each of the important compromises contained in framing the Constitution.