The Constitution

The Constitutional Convention is a major transition point in American history between the Revolutionary era and the birth of national republican government. The delegates who met in Philadelphia in 1787 not only fashioned a new form of government to replace the Articles of Confederation, but also submitted their handiwork to the citizens of the individual states for ratification. Long debates marked both stages of this process. On one side were ranged those who argued that survival depended on increasing the efficiency and strength of central government; their opponents, worried more about potential abuses, sought to reserve as much power as possible to the states, where government was closer to the people. The question of military force, in the form of an army, navy, and militia, was a central topic in these debates. In the end, compromise produced a uniquely American solution derived from colonial modifications of a European heritage: a federal system of checks and balances that divided responsibility between the states and the national government, a separation of the latter's powers into executive, legislative, and judicial branches, and a clear subordination of the military to the elected government.

Although the delegates who assembled in Philadelphia were acutely aware of the immediate threat raised by Shays' Rebellion, they were determined to lay the foundations for a government that could endure over time. They understood that their work would be judged in the light of history, and used that discipline as a guide. More importantly, however, they understood the nature of American society and took a remarkably pragmatic approach to resolving problems. During the Convention, John Dickinson typified this approach when he warned his colleagues that "Experience must be our only guide; Reason may mislead us." Specifically, the delegates' study of history indicated that each of the three "pure' systems of government-monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy-when allowed to operate by itself had revealed serious flaws. By drawing on their English heritage and colonial experience, however, the delegates concluded that a mixture of the three, supported by a large and economically secure middle class, might provide a workable solution. As South Carolina's Pierce Butler later pointed out, the Founding Fathers set about developing a government that was practical, not one designed for discussion in Europe's philosophical circles.

The representatives met in Independence Hall, in the room where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. The Convention was slated to open on 14 May 1787, but for various reasons a quorum was not achieved until the 25th. The intervening time was not wasted. The Virginia delegation, under the leadership of James Madison and Governor Edmund Randolph, used the delay to hold daily meetings and prepare a draft document known to history as the Virginia Plan. By 25 May the delegations from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina had arrived, along with individual representatives from Massachusetts and Georgia. Other delegates continued to trickle in until 23 July, when New Hampshire's elected representatives took their seats. Only Rhode Is-


The Birch View of Philadelphia in 1800
"The Birch View of Philadelphia in 1800" portrays the city much as it must have appeared to the Framers. (Watercolor, 1800, Independence National Historical Park.)

land failed to send delegates. On 10 July two of the three delegates from New York departed, leaving Hamilton alone and technically unable to cast a ballot for the state. During the course of the Convention there were two recesses (3-4 July and 26 July-6 August). For the rest, the delegates met six days a week, usually working from ten in the morning until three in the afternoon. Given the fact that so many were old friends, much of the more important work of compromise and persuasion tended to occur in social meetings apart from formal Convention sessions.

The Convention used most of the first week to organize. On the 25th the delegates unanimously chose Washington as president. During his career Washington won unanimous election to three offices, the other two as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army and as President of the United States. He was somewhat dubious of the honor now bestowed by the Convention since the presiding officer could not participate actively in the debates. Yet despite his reservations, Washington played an exceptionally important role, setting the tone of the proceedings and guiding the body through periods of tense discussion. On Hamilton's recommendation, the delegates next hired William Jackson, a former Army staff officer, as the Convention's secretary. Completing arrangements, a committee on rules and procedures adapted those used in the Continental Congress, including the provisions that each state delegation cast a single ballot and that the states vote in geographical order from north to south, the same order the Continental Army had used for parade-ground formations. The delegates insisted on maintaining secrecy over their deliberations, reasoning that only within a completely free atmosphere could they speak their minds honestly and without fear of outside pressure. Secrecy would also allow them to change their votes and conduct the bargains necessary for compromise and unity.

On 29-30 May the Virginians presented their Plan in the form of fifteen resolutions. This tactic, Madison's handiwork, gave the nationalists an important advantage by setting out an agenda for discussion. Instead of merely amending the Articles of Confederation, the stated purpose of the Convention, the Virginians proposed a completely new system. Their plan called for a national government of three branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) with a bicameral (two-house) legislature. It vested strong power in the national government and required that state officials take an oath


to uphold the new Constitution. To ensure that the final form of the Constitution expressed the will of the people, the Virginians also called for ratification by state conventions chosen by special elections.

Immediately following submission of the Virginia Plan, South Carolina's Charles Pinckney submitted a plan of his own. Developed along the lines of the Virginia proposal, Pinckney's plan called for a less rigidly centralized national government. The Convention, following the same tactics used by the Continental Congress in debating Richard Henry Lees independence resolution in 1776, promptly voted to refer both plans to a Committee of the Whole. This standard parliamentary technique provided a more open forum for debate under the less formal committee rules. When Washington turned the gavel over to the committee chairman, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, the president was free to join in the discussion. The Committee of the Whole spent most of the time until 13 June debating these proposals, agreeing by majority vote on the first day to devise a new national government containing three separate branches.

The first indication of a division appeared when the delegates considered how to apportion representation in the new legislature. The more outspoken nationalists, frequently those representing the larger states, wanted to change the provision of one vote per state, allowing population to control the number of seats, and the number of votes per state, in each house. The smaller states objected so strenuously to this proposal that by 13 June it was clear to all that some sort of compromise was needed. On that date the Committee of the Whole reported out a series of nineteen resolutions embodying an amended version of the Virginia Plan. This report indicated that despite serious disagreements, a majority in the Convention accepted the notion of a new national government, and that an increasing number were beginning to accept the idea that power should be invested in the people at large, through more proportional representation.

On 14 June William Paterson of New Jersey asked for a day's delay to present an alternative plan drawn up by himself, Connecticut's Roger Sherman, and other delegates from small states. This proposal, known later as the New Jersey Plan, took the form of nine resolutions designed to strengthen the Articles without abandoning the essential character of the United States as a league of separate and equal states. Although the national legislatures powers would be expanded significantly, each state would still retain a single vote. Although proposing a less radical solution than the Virginia Plan, the small-state proposal nevertheless did significantly alter the balance of power within the nation in favor of the central government.

The Convention promptly committed the New Jersey Plan, along with the amended Virginia Plan, to the Committee of the Whole so that the two could be compared. Debate in committee lasted until 19 June. On the 18th Hamilton made one of his rare speeches. He deliberately outlined an extreme position (a national government totally dominant over the states) to establish the boundaries of the debate. As expected, his notion was promptly rejected, but the next day, by a vote of seven states to three, with Maryland divided, the Committee of the Whole accepted Virginia's modified plan over New Jersey's.

The Convention then debated the same issues in regular sessions during the third week of June. It reached a number of compromises about the mechanics of the representation process, but no consensus on fundamental issues. Tempers began to flare in the early summer heat as debate centered on representation and the powers vested in the legislature under the Virginia Plan. As early as 29 June a majority of states agreed to proportional representation in the lower house, but a. deadlock occurred on 2 July over the upper house. To break the impasse, the Convention established a new committee with membership drawn from each of the eleven states in official attendance.1 On 5 July that committee reached a compromise. The basic idea of the compromise had been suggested as early as 2 June by Dickinson, and repeated by others in the weeks that followed. It based representation in the lower house on population (including three-fifths of the slaves) while giving each state an equal vote in the upper house. This suggestion provided a way to break the deadlock, although much additional work was required to arrive at specific numbers acceptable to all.

On 11 July discussion turned to slavery, introducing the second major representational issue. The heat engendered by this point should have been expected, since in 1776 an argument over Jefferson's condemnation of slavery had nearly doomed the Declaration of Independence. On 12 July Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania suggested tying representation to taxation, while deferring consideration of the institution of slavery until a later date. This solution proved acceptable and allowed discussion to shift to the details of apportioning the lower house. The Great Compromise, begun on 5 July, held on 16 July in a final vote by a tally of five states to four, with Massachusetts split.

Although a consensus had been achieved on key issues, many minor points of contention remained. At the same time, the balanced federal organization outlined in the Great Compromise now allowed the delegates from

1. For membership on this and all Convention committees, see Appendix B.


the smaller states to express their own nationalist sentiments more vocally without fearing that they might jeopardize the interest of their state. So much progress was achieved that on 26 July a select Committee of Detail began preparing a draft document incorporating the results of the sessions held thus far while the delegates took a recess to escape the city's heat and humidity. The results of this committees effort was a seven-page document consisting of a preamble and twenty-three articles drawn liberally from various state constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, and the Pinckney Plan, and incorporating the basic text of the amended Virginia Plan. It assigned names to the offices and branches of the national government (President, Congress, House of Representatives, Senate, Speaker, Supreme Court) and coined many of the phrases, such as "We the People" made famous in the final document. The committee also recommended that a favorable vote of nine states in ratification conventions would be sufficient to put the new Constitution into effect. This in itself represented a major break from previous arrangements. Both the Articles and the Constitutional Convention required unanimity for approval, as had the vote for independence. During these discussions in late July those favoring a strong central government, relying on the leadership of Madison, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and Gouverneur Morris, proved the dominant voice, while Elbridge Gerry emerged as the leader of the opposition.

When the Convention reconvened on 6 August, copies of the committee's work, printed with wide margins for notes, awaited the delegates. The number and scope of the changes wrought by the committee triggered five weeks of detailed, line-by-line debate. Given the sheer number of issues, speeches became shorter and the spirit of compromise gained strength, although the delegates also displayed a tendency to lose patience with minority objections. Most potentially explosive issues were resolved through compromises, including national control over the militia and explicit restrictions on the states in areas such as maintaining their own armies and navies, issuing money, entering into treaties, and granting titles of nobility. Sometimes compromise merely postponed a decision that would eventually require a constitutional amendment. In the case of slavery, the failure to achieve a just solution at the Convention would lead, after many further attempts at compromise in succeeding years, to resolution only through a bloody civil war.

On 31 August a few remaining issues were officially turned over to the Committee on Postponed Matters, consisting of one representative from each state. It refined much of the previous draft, in the process providing a means for electing the President that made him


William Paterson
William Paterson (1745-1806). (Oil, by James Sharples, Sr., 1794, United States Supreme Court.)

more independent of the legislature and, in consequence, increased his powers.

By the close of business on 8 September the review of the draft prepared by the Committee on Postponed Matters was essentially completed, and the amended draft document was turned over to the Committee on Style. The five members of that committee spent from 8 until 12 September reworking the language of the draft (in the process cutting the twenty-three articles in the earlier draft to seven), with Gouverneur Morris playing the role of chief stylist, much as Jefferson had shaped the Declaration and Dickinson the first draft of the Articles. Morris followed their precedent and used his literary license in subtle rewordings that strengthened the document's nationalist sentiments. For example, he dropped a listing of the states at the beginning of the Preamble, and inserted after "We the People" the words, "of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union." This terminology made it clear that the authority behind the new government would be derived directly from the people, not from the states as separate entities, as had been the case under the Articles.

One last matter of business remained. By a vote of ten to zero the delegates agreed to omit a bill of rights. This decision proved to be a costly liability during the ratification process that was about to begin, for much criticism would focus on the lack of such an explicit list of popular liberties. The remaining days of the Convention's sessions were devoted to minor editorial corrections in the final wording of the document.

The system of checks and balances forged on the anvil of political compromise at the Convention came into focus most significantly when the delegates turned their attention to military affairs. Most shared the views expressed by the three men who exercised direct national responsibility for military matters under the Articles: Secretary at War Knox, Colonel Harmar, and Arthur St. Clair, the former Continental general now serving as president of Congress. Informed opinion in 1787 identified three threats to national security: civil insurrections like the one that had occurred in western Massachusetts during the previous year, Indian attacks aided and abetted by the British on the frontier, and, more remotely, invasion by European powers. The delegates in Philadelphia set about providing the new national government with means to face these three possible threats.

Like Knox, Harmar, and St. Clair, a majority of the delegates had been involved in the prosecution of the War of Independence, either on the battlefield, in Congress, or in state governments. That formative influence provided a crucial frame of reference during the discussion of military affairs. Delegates were not dealing in


First page of the Constitution
First page of the Constitution. (Photograph, National Archives and Records Administration.)


Last page of the Constitution showing the forty signatures
Last page of the Constitution showing the forty signatures. (Photograph, National Archives and Records Administration.)


Elbridge Gerry
Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814). (Oil, by James Bogle after John Vanderlyn, 1861, Independence National Historical Park.)

theory but reflecting personal experiences. They assumed that security in its broadest context provided the fundamental reason for any government's existence; they feared military dictatorship; and they recognized that a more effective governmental system than the one used between 1775 and 1783 had to be found. Given the precedents of American history, however, the delegates had to consider two different approaches to the development of military forces. One, reflecting the experiences of the Continental Army, held that the nation needed a trained, full-time military force capable of defeating an organized enemy on the battlefield; the other emphasized the traditional role of the citizen-soldier militiaman defending his home and region during short-lived emergencies. Seeking as broad a consensus as possible, the Convention chose to employ elements of both.

The Virginia and Pinckney Plans introduced on 29 May had cited the need for explicit national authority over the means for defense against both external and internal threats. Randolph cited Revolutionary experiences to prove that the Articles denied the central government both the ability to deter war and the authority to prosecute war efficiently. He argued that the Revolution had demonstrated conclusively that a regular army was needed to defend the nation without the economic disruption brought about by large-scale mobilization of the militia. Most of the delegates agreed with Randolph, a Continental Army veteran then serving as Virginia's governor (and therefore as commander of its militia). The New Jersey Plan, introduced on 15 June, did not challenge Randolph's assumptions and also vested broad powers over military operations in the national government. The general consensus on military issues held until the Convention began the line-by-line analysis of the work of the Committee of Detail.

Arguments surfaced on 17 August when Elbridge Gerry challenged the clauses enumerating the powers of the national government. The committee's draft had allowed the government to "subdue rebellion" when a state legislature called upon it for assistance. Charles Pinckney, Gouverneur Morris, and John Langdon argued that the federal government should be able to act unilaterally in domestic disturbances since circumstances could easily arise when a state was unable or unwilling to issue the required call. Objections to this proposed change as an excessive concentration of power came from Luther Martin, John Francis Mercer, and Gerry, with the latter warning of the dangers of "letting loose the myrmidons of the United States on a state without its own consent." Oliver Ellsworth then proposed a modification which suggested that the state legislature issue the appeal "when possible." This wording passed, a majority of the delegates apparently agreeing with Morris that the national legislature, as the representative of the people, could safely be trusted with "such a power to preserve the public tranquility."

A second debate on the same day related to the power "to make war." Charles Pinckney objected to vesting that responsibility in the legislative branch, arguing that it moved too slowly and did not always stay in session. If the power were to be placed there, he argued, it should be in the hands of the Senate, where action could be swifter and where each state would have an equal voice so that the bigger states could not drag the smaller ones into a war they did not support. Pierce Butler, Madison, Roger Sherman, and Gerry all pursued Pinckney's ideas, but they drew a distinction between declaring war and conducting actual operations. At their suggestion, the wording was changed to emphasize that the legislature would deal only with the former. By a vote of seven states to two, the words "declare war" were substituted for "make war."

One last discussion took place the following day when Gerry and Martin sought to insert an explicit limit on the number of regular troops that could be maintained in peacetime, using once again the rhetoric about the dangers of a "standing army." Judging by accounts left by several of the delegates, Washington glowered at Gerry, sparking a rush by veterans to object to the


amendment. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Hugh Williamson, John Langdon, and Jonathan Dayton all restated the need to deter war by preparing for it in peacetime and argued that the proposed Constitution contained more than enough safeguards to prevent military despotism. The full Convention then rejected the amendment by a unanimous vote of eleven states to none.

These minor debates constituted the entire substantive discussion of the "Army Clause." Even Gerry, probably the most extreme anticentralist in attendance, did not object to the premise that the central government could establish a small peacetime military force. The precedent set by the Continental Congress three years earlier when it had created Harmar's regiment clearly served as a factor in this consensus. More importantly, the aggressive nationalist leadership within the Convention had emerged from the Revolution with such a goal firmly in mind, as reflected in the attempt by Washington and Hamilton to have a military peace establishment enacted into law as early as 1783.

On 18 August the discussion shifted to the "Militia Clause" a much more emotional issue. George Mason, himself a militia officer, although never on active duty, pushed for federal regulation of the militia. Citing a key lesson from the Revolution's campaigns, he pointed to the need to standardize the militia's weapons, organization, and tactics so that they could operate effectively in combat. Mason also stressed that an effective militia force would reduce the requirement for a large regular army.

In the opening round of debate only Gerry and Martin, repeating their view about a standing army, opposed the basic concept of some central control. Others, mostly veterans with a nationalist background, simply explored various approaches to shared control of the militia. The first possibility discussed was the proposals advanced by Washington, Steuben, and Knox for a national, select militia force. Ellsworth and Sherman both raised objections, the former arguing that creation of such a body would inevitably lead to the erosion of the common militia, the latter pointing out that in addition to their federal missions the militias also had state responsibilities. Mason then proposed a modification of his motion that would make explicit reference to the dual missions. The whole issue was then referred to committee for further study.

On 21 August this committee reported out with a wording for the militia clause that reflected the basic federalism of the draft Constitution as a whole, splitting authority between the central government and the states in a system of checks and balances. It gave the national body the power to pass "laws for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, reserving to the states respectively the appointment of officers and the authority of training the militia according to the discipline prescribed by the United States." Two days later the Convention began consideration of this proposal. The veterans, led by Rufus King, took great pains to explain the meanings of three key terms used in the clause. "Organizing" related only to the technical matter of specifying how many men would form each type of unit and what their ranks would be; "arming" related to specifying types and calibers of weapons, not their issuance; and "disciplining" referred to the establishment of drill manuals and other doctrinal materials, not to courts martial or related procedures. Once again Martin and Gerry raised objections. They charged that surrendering any authority over the militia would fatally undermine state rights. Madison, Randolph, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Dayton, and Langdon answered with charges that the existing system, which Gerry wanted to keep, had proven itself ineffectual, and they refuted the notion that a federally monitored militia posed a threat. The only way that a militia of citizen-soldiers could be corrupted would be if the militiamen themselves, as citizens, willingly sacrificed their own liberties. If this condition came to pass,


Gerry's opponents reasoned, no document could prevent disaster. Two minor word changes were considered in an attempt to mollify Gerry, but both were rejected by a majority grown increasingly impatient with constantly rehashed arguments. The delegates then voted on the original committee motion in three parts. The first, covering the right to make laws regarding the militia, passed nine states to two, with only Connecticut and Maryland opposing. The second, relating to the appointment of officers, required two separate votes. First an amendment offered by Madison, which attempted to reserve the power to appoint general officers to the Congress, was defeated after Sherman pointed out that this undermined the basic compromise, and then the original wording passed unanimously. The third gained the approval of seven states; Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia voted against it because they objected to granting training responsibility to state governments.

The votes of 23 August ended discussion of military matters. As finally written and ratified, the Constitution raises military issues in five sections located in Articles I (legislative branch) and II (executive branch), mostly in the former. Sections 6 and 7 of Article I prevent regular officers from serving in Congress while retaining their commissions and assign responsibility for initiating military revenue bills to the House of Representatives. Section 10 of the same article prohibits any state from maintaining troops or warships in peacetime without the consent of Congress, or from waging war unless that state is actually invaded or in imminent danger of invasion. Section 2 of Article II makes the President the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and of militiamen while in federal service. The heart of the Constitution's military provisions rests in the enumerated powers given to Congress in Section 8, Article I, including the key right to "provide for the common Defense." The actual wording follows rather closely on the August debates over the military clauses.

In its totality, the Convention arrived at a very important set of decisions concerning military matters with relatively little disagreement. The delegates were able to resolve the thorny issue of potential abuses of power by inserting the Army, Navy, and militia into the same carefully structured set of checks and balances that applied throughout the Constitution. To promote efficiency, it placed the regulars under the national government, at the same time providing for a dual system of defense by dividing responsibility over the much larger militia establishment with the states. While the national government might employ the militia for the common defense, that authority was checked by the states, which retained authority to appoint their militia officers and to supervise the peacetime training of citizen-soldiers. The Founders were able to create a standing army, the hobgoblin of the Anglo-Saxon world for more than a century, by establishing much tighter civilian control over the armed forces than existed in any contemporary European country. A civilian President served as Commander in Chief; the Senate had to concur in the appointment of all senior officers; and the House of Representatives controlled financial resources. Furthermore, Mason's inclusion of a provision for limiting appropriations for the military to two years made the legislature a full partner with the executive in military matters.

Late in the afternoon on 15 September the draft Constitution received the unanimous approval of the state delegations. On Monday, 17 September, the Convention, with forty-one of the fifty-five members present, reassembled one last time for the formal signing. Secretary Jackson probably read the finished document, then a speech by Benjamin Franklin was read urging any doubters to sign on behalf of their states, not themselves, to make approval unanimous. In the end thirty-eight of those present signed; only Randolph, Mason, and Gerry did not. Dickinson, who was ill and not present, had his name affixed by George Read of Delaware. Washington, as president of the Convention, signed first, just as Hancock, the president of the Continental Congress, had signed the Declaration of Independence. The remaining delegates then signed in strict congressional voting order, under Washington. Washington, however, had signed in the middle of the page, and when the delegates ran out of space they began a second column of signatures at the left margin. Hamilton signed as only an individual, for he was not empowered to sign for his state. About four in the afternoon the last signatures were affixed, including that of Secretary Jackson, who authenticated the document. The papers of the body were then turned over to Washington for safekeeping, and the Convention adjourned sine die (indefinitely).

Secretary Jackson transmitted the signed document to Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, on 20 September. Six days later that body, which included about a dozen delegates recently returned from the Philadelphia Convention, began debate. A majority decided on 28 September to forward it to the states for ratification with a noncommittal letter of transmittal. In deliberate contrast to the adoption of the Articles, approval-as provided by the Convention-could come only through the action of special conventions, thus justifying the Preambles claim that the people of the United States, not simply the states, had created the new government. The delegates, however, had little assurance that their work would be well received at home. These tough, pragmatic politicians had shied away from abstract philosophy. Their work, built upon a century and


a half of colonial experience, was a blueprint for a federalism that represented a compromise solution to a host of government problems.

Attention quickly focused on the state-by-state struggle between proponents (the Federalists) and opponents of the new system. Once again the nationalists, those proposing a change in government, had the initiative. Their opponents, who came to be called the Antifederalists, were more loosely organized. They could count on the leadership of only a handful of Convention delegates (Luther Martin and John Francis Mercer of Maryland, Robert Yates and John Lansing of New York, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts) and few other figures of national stature: Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee in Virginia, Samuel Chase of Maryland, and Governor George Clinton in New York. These men called on the voters to reject the Constitution because of its "defects," but they offered no comprehensive alternative. They tended to be inherently suspicious of any concentration of power. They feared a stronger national government because it was further removed from the people than the state governments and because of the potential they saw for abuse of power. Following the same logic, the Antifederalists also opposed the creation of a peacetime army and sought to limit the nation's military to the existing state-controlled militias. Their arguments were couched in terms used a century earlier in England against the Stuarts and in the American Revolutionary era against Parliament.

Working under the leadership of those delegates who had signed the Constitution, the Federalists quickly established a network to coordinate the strategy for the ratification effort. Washington, still the hero of the Revolution to a grateful public, lent his considerable prestige and played a key behind-the-scenes role. Others contributed pamphlets and speeches and acted as floor managers for the Constitution in the state conventions. Federalist leaders devised a two-part strategy. To respond to the public's legitimate concerns over the new government, they embarked on a long-range public education program, emphasizing issues on which consensus was possible. Three themes with broad public appeal were quickly identified: national security, poor economic conditions under the Articles, and national pride. As experienced politicians, the Federalist leaders also knew that supporters of the Constitution already formed a majority in some states. By taking advantage of that situation and of their ability to delay votes in states with strong initial opposition to the Constitution, the Federalists planned to create a sense of momentum to swing undecided voters. Furthermore, they concentrated their efforts in the four states whose approval was deemed


John Jay
John Jay (1745-1829). (Oil, by Gilbert Stuart, 1795, National Gallery of Art.)

essential to the viability of the new nation because of their size, population, and wealth: Pennsylvania, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York.

Initiative and excellent leadership in the middle states enabled the Federalists to establish the desired momentum. Delaware's signers, especially Dickinson and Bassett, were the first to deliver. On 7 December 1787 their state's convention. ratified by unanimous vote. New Jersey (18 December) and Georgia (2 January) provided two more clean sweeps within a month. Pennsylvania (46-23, on 12 December) and Connecticut (128-40, on 9 January), although not unanimous, ratified by wide margins. These five states proved relatively easy; the remaining ones tested the Federalists' tactical skiffs.

Massachusetts posed the first major test. Gerry, although not a member of the ratification convention, led the opposition. Skillful maneuvering by Rufus King and Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts won the popular John Hancock and Samuel Adams over, and on 6 February the Federalists were able to eke out a narrow margin of victory (187-168). Focusing on the importance of the general issue, they defused specific objections by proposing an innovative compromise. With their support, Massachusetts' approval of the Constitution included a request for the swift adoption of amendments, including a bill of rights. All of the remaining states, except Maryland, would follow a similar path.

Maryland (on 28 April) and South Carolina (on 23 May) became the seventh and eighth states to ratify, both by wide margins. The stage was now set for the crucial ninth state that would turn the Constitution into the official law of the land. During June of 1788 three state conventions were in session: New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York. The New Englanders (57-47) approved on the 21st; the Old Dominion (89-79) five days later. Neither knew of the other's decision when the votes were taken, and each thought that it had become the deciding vote. Both Federalist victories were narrow ones, and each was obtained only after promises to support amendments to the Constitution were made.

New York, where Governor Clinton was an immensely popular figure, had long been recognized as a bastion of Antifederalist strength. Although the Constitutional Convention had set only a nine-state requirement for ratification, New York's support was clearly indispensable to the survival of the new federal government, and the Federalists regarded their effort to educate the public in that state as critical. Hamilton, with the assistance of Madison and to a lesser extent John Jay, set about writing a series of eighty-five essays, under the pen name "Publius" for publication in various New York City newspapers. These articles were intended to be a point-by-point refutation of Antifederalist arguments about the Constitution, extolling the positive potential of a federal government while reminding readers of the weaknesses of the Articles. Known collectively as The Federalist Papers, they remain one of America's greatest works of political theory. "Publius" paid particular attention to security issues, defending both the army and militia clauses by demonstrating that the military under the Constitution was a servant and protector of the people, not a European standing army. Thanks to the impact of the essays and skillful parliamentary maneuver, the Federalists won a narrow (30-27) ratification vote on 26 July, but only after agreeing to support thirty-two requests for amendments.

The last two states to ratify followed much later. North Carolina approved by a lopsided 194-77 on 21 November 1789 after the First Congress had already introduced a bill of rights. It actually took two separate conventions to achieve this approval. When the vote in the first convention seemed ready to defeat ratification by a wide majority, the Federalists maneuvered to have the convention adjourn without a formal vote to gain time to win over the electorate. The last of the thirteen states, Rhode Island, finally accepted the federal system on 29 May 1790 on the closest vote of all (34-32). It took the threat of secession by the largest towns and economic pressure from the national government to achieve this grudging concession.


Federalist tactics succeeded. When the First Congress assembled in 1789, the winners, in keeping with promises made during the ratification process, set about adding a bill of rights to the Constitution. As leader in the House of Representatives, Madison initiated the legislation as specified by Article V, and by September Congress had approved a set of twelve amendments and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten survived the process, and the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution on 15 December 1791. Most defined specific liberties, such as freedom of religion, speech, press, and other traditional Anglo-American concepts widely discussed in the eighteenth century, including a prohibition on quartering troops in private homes (Third Amendment).

Only the Second Amendment contained any substantial statement relating to military power. Its reference was quite specific: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Eighteenth-century Americans understood the precise meaning of those few words and tied them directly to the basic militia clause in Article I of the Constitution. Creating a "well regulated" militia-that is, one with adequate organization, weapons, and training, uniform across the nation-ensured that, when mobilized, the militiamen could effectively carry out combat functions. This point had been fully articulated during the drafting of Article I. Mason and other advocates of the Second Amendment knew that during the last years of the Revolution many militia units had virtually disintegrated because they lacked sufficient arms. The amendment reinforced the original militia clause by stating this fact explicitly.

Over the years historians have been fascinated with the question of how the Constitution came to be written and ratified. An early, somewhat simplistic, explanation presented the Founding Fathers as a group of wise and virtuous men concerned only with providing greater freedom to their fellow Americans. Early in the twentieth century some scholars began to challenge this popular view. Concentrating on economic issues, they painted a picture of men of property devising a charter that protected their interests. Over the past several decades this view has proved unsatisfactory. Today's more complex interpretation attempts to correlate ideological background with local issues, economics, relative ages, and the formative experience of the participants. Antifederalists as a group tended to be somewhat older men, first exposed to high-level civic affairs during the decades prior to Lexington, and committed to a more literal interpretation of Enlightenment texts. The Federalists, on the other hand, had often first entered political life during the Revolution itself. In the late 1780s most of these men were just reaching full maturity. A basic tenet of this latest interpretation suggests strongly that ex-continentals were particularly prone to become Federalists while militiamen often sided with the opposition. A study of the men who went to Philadelphia in May 1787, and especially of the signers, indicates that this idea too needs further refinement.

Actually more than seventy individuals were nominated as delegates by the state legislatures. Some stayed away for personal reasons; others, because they did not wish to change the Articles. Actual delegations ranged in size from New Hampshire's two men to Pennsylvania's eight. Not all of the fifty-five who attended remained throughout the deliberations. Twenty-nine had nearly perfect attendance records and ten others missed relatively short stretches. Of the remaining sixteen, four put in only token appearances.

Although Jefferson's depiction of the Convention as an "assembly of demigods" may be overblown, the Founding Fathers were in fact a distinguished group and not atypical of the top leadership available in the nation. As could be expected in a deferential society, wealthy and well-educated men dominated the membership of the Convention. Forty-four had been, or were still, members of the Continental Congress. Most had been active in the Revolutionary movement: eight had signed the Declaration of Independence, and thirty had served on active military duty. Of the latter, seventeen were Continental Army veterans, while thirteen had taken to the field with militia units. Virtually every member had served in state or local offices. This commonality of experience allowed these men to understand each other's motives and viewpoints, a factor that enabled the Convention to survive the heated debates that ensued. Despite wide differences in background, temperament, and age (that ranged from Jonathan Dayton's 26 to Benjamin Franklin's 81 years), they shared a basic commitment to the concept of a single, unified nation. Their common experience also made them keenly aware of the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation and determined to improve upon them.

Distinctions between service in the Continental Army or militia are deceptive. For example, George Mason, who held high rank in the Virginia militia but never participated in active campaigns, expressed sentiments on constitutional issues that closely paralleled those of delegates Edmund Randolph and John Lansing, men with very brief service as Continental staff officers. They all refused to sign the Constitution. John Langdon, William Few, and Charles Pinckney, on the other hand, were militiamen with extensive combat records. In 1787 they could be found espousing ideas very similar to those of long-term Continental officers and fellow signers such as Hamilton, Dayton, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. In short, the length and nature of


a man's service, not simply the type of commission he held, influenced his attitude toward government. Those who had experienced the trauma of campaigning alongside men from other states in a hard war were likely to draw the same pointed lessons from those days and to view the Constitution in a similar light. It was these same veterans who would help guide the new republic.


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