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Stanley L. Klos - Neighborhood Recovery Act -


The United States Constitution of 1787:  A Brief History
By: Stanley L. Klos


In the summer of 1786 former veterans, merchants and money lenders deluged Congress daily, in person and with letters, to be remunerated their back pay, money and goods "loaned" to the United States for conducting the successful war effort against Great Britain. Even former Presidents took to the cause of patriots burdened with federal receivables but the federal treasury was empty. 

Inflation was rampant due to war reparations owed to Great Britain under the Treaty of Paris and there was no U.S. dollar as it was recalled five years earlier.  The States were also heavily in debt embroiled in border and trade disputes.   It was evident that the unicameral government adopted under the Articles of Confederation and recognized by Great Britain in the 1783 Treaty of Paris was collapsing.

 In September 1786, a conference was called by Virginia to discuss ways to facilitate commerce by establishing intrastate rules and regulations under the Articles of Confederation. The meeting was held in Annapolis but only five of the 13 States sent delegations.  The group led by nationalists John Dickinson (Chairman-DE), James Madison (Virginia) and Alexander Hamilton (New York) resolved on September 14th, 1786:

"Your Commissioners, with the most respectful deference, beg leave to suggest their unanimous conviction, that it may essentially tend to advance the interests of the union, if the States, by whom they have been respectively delegated, would themselves concur, and use their endeavours to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the appointment of Commissioners, to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next, to take into consideration the situation of the United States, to devise such further provisions as shall appear to them necessary to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union; and to report such an Act for that purpose to the United States in Congress assembled, as when agreed to, by them, and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures of every State, will effectually provide for the same." 

U.S. Foreign Secretary John Jay, then the most influential official in the federal government, agreed with the commission writing:

“… to vest legislative, judicial, and executive powers in one and the same body of men, and that, too, in a body daily changing its members, can never be wise. In my opinion those three great departments of sovereignty should be forever separated, and so distributed as to serve as checks on each other." 

Earlier in the summer, rebellious mobs stormed the courthouse in Northampton, Massachusetts to prevent the trial and imprisonment of citizen debtors. This precipitated outright rebellion and in September 1786, former Revolutionary War Captain, Daniel Shays and about 600-armed farmers stormed the courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Sixth USCA was at a loss on what to do because there was no money to raise federal troops to put down the Massachusetts rebellion.  The USCA adjourned before receiving and acting on the Annapolis Commissioner’s recommendations. 

The Seventh USCA was unable to form a 1786 quorum in November, December or in January 1787.  Shays, on January 25, 1787, led 2000 rebels to Springfield, Massachusetts to storm the arsenal.  Congress was still not in session and had no President or Commander-in Chief to lead a united federal government effort to put down the armed rebellion.

“…The Rebels formed and fired on our people, killed a Mr. Gleason of Stockbridge, a Mr. Porter of Barrington, and wounded three others. The fire was returned, which killed two and wounded five, among whom was their commander. At this instant, our troops in sleighs came up; but before the men could form, the Rebels broke and took to the woods. We have made prisoners of 25 of them, retook all our friends and their property...We have been very much harassed since out troops left this point. The malice of the Rebels can be equaled only by no order of beings but Devils.” - Connecticut Courant 1787

Despite this ominous beginning that many Americans thought marked the end of the “Perpetual Union,” 1787 would end as the most eventful and enlightened legislative year in United States history. 

The Seventh USCA began with only eight states assembling in New York City in February 1787.  This first order of business was to elect a new President of the United States with Shays’ latest attack on the Massachusetts arsenal occurring only nine days earlier. The election exemplified the dire crisis of the nation.

 Among the delegates of the USCA was Major-General Arthur St. Clair.  Three and half years earlier, an uprising of 500 federal soldiers stationed in Lancaster and Philadelphia marched on Independence Hall.  They surrounded the building with the third USCA in session demanding their back pay threatening to utilize their arms.  The President called for the Pennsylvania militia to intervene but the State government, also convening in Independence Hall, refused to issue the order fearing bloodshed. General St. Clair was called to the scene and with the help of delegate Alexander Hamilton they led the USCA’s delegates through the throngs of mutinous soldiers to safety.  The USCA reconvened in Princeton, N.J. several days later and never returned to Philadelphia. 

On February 2, 1787 the seventh USCA elected western Pennsylvania’s most honorable citizen Arthur St. Clair the ninth President of the United States, in Congress Assembled. The five states that had no representation in Congress, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, were notified of the St. Clair Presidency by Secretary, Charles Thomson.   Amazingly, few citizens of western Pennsylvania know of Arthur St. Clair and that his “installation holiday” has been bequeathed to Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog.

President St. Clair brought the report of the Annapolis Commissioners before the seventh USCA “… to render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union.” On February 21, 1787 USCA enacted legislation to “… render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union”   Specifically, the seventh USCA resolved:

“Resolved that in the opinion of Congress it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.”  

This historic resolution produced the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which called for it to convene on May 12, 1787. 

The USCA then turned to the matter of disposing of Western lands granted to the United States by Great Britain in the 1783 Treaty of Paris. After three years of hotly contested debates over the vast territory the time was right for the approval of an Ordinance by the USCA for the Northwest Territory. 

The treasury was utterly empty, the United States had defaulted on its loan payments to France opting to pay Holland or risk impressments of its ships. The USCA was in the right frame of mind to consider plans for bringing the Government lands into market as the Ohio Company of Associates,  represented by Manasseh Cutler, was willing to purchase 1.5 million acres for private development in what is now southeastern Ohio. Additionally, earlier in the month Delegate James Monroe’s committee on the western government proposed the replacement of Jefferson’s 1784 new states’ plan with a colonial system that would result in no less than three or more than five states.  

On the morning of July 9th, through the influence of President St. Clair and USCA Treasury Board assistant William Duer, Reverend Cutler was permitted to meet with the committee assigned the task of drafting a Northwest Ordinance.  Only Edward Carrington and Nathan Dane, two of the five members, were in New York as committee members James Madison and Rufus King were in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention.   In the afternoon, Congress appointed three new members, Richard Henry Lee, John Kean, and Melancton Smith to replace the three absent delegates. Together they sought Rev. Cutler’s input and then worked out a plan that would satisfy both Congress and the Ohio Company.  The following morning the plan was submitted to Cutler and the President.  Cutler added an educational provision which was revised by the committee and became part of Article III. Other revisions were made after input from the President.  Cutler, satisfied with the changes, did not remain in New York for the vote in Congress and left for Philadelphia that evening. 

The ordinance required seven votes to pass and the States were divided four South and five North. The reading by Chairman Nathan Dane on the 11th did not include the provision abolishing slavery.  Chairman Dane, the delegate from Massachusetts, who has been credited with drafting the ordinance thought it best to leave the anti-slavery language out so the southern delegations might focus more clearly on the favorable attributes of the ordinance.  On July 12th, the ordinance was read again by Dane but this time the anti-slavery provision was added.

In a strange twist of events on July 12th, as the bill was being debated on the floor, President St. Clair decided to take a three-day leave of Congress along with what surely would have been a yes vote from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Eight states remained, evenly divided and neither the President nor the Ohio Company was present to effectuate the required seven state passage of the ordinance. On Friday, July 13th the ordinance passed unanimously.  It has been charged that both Arthur St. Clair and Manasseh Cutler left New York to cover-up their back room dealings.  In rebuttal President St. Clair’s biographer writes:

“On the 13th of July he [President Arthur St. Clair]did not preside. He had gone the day before to New Jersey to visit a friend, and he did not return until two days after the passage of the Ordinance. Only eight States out of thirteen voted for that instrument: Pennsylvania was one of the five not represented. When St. Clair returned to New York, he was accompanied by General Irvine, one of his colleagues. In a letter  of the latter, written 19th July, and addressed to Colonel Richard Butler, he refers to the Ordinance which had passed two days before his return, and adds: " Who the I officers of that government will be I have not heard, nor inquired."

If the name of General St. Clair had been canvassed, or, if he had had any understanding with the New England people, as is alleged, it would have been known to a friend as intimate as General Irvine. But, furthermore, we have his own testimony, which is of the best, to sustain us. In a letter to the Hon. William B. Giles, he says that the office of Governor was, in a great measure, forced upon him by his friends, who thought there would be in it means to compensate for his sacrifices to his country, and provide for his large family. But it proved otherwise. He had " neither the taste nor genius for speculation in land; nor did he consider it consistent with the office." He declared the accepting of the Governorship the most imprudent act of his life, for he was then in possession of a lucrative office, and his influence at home was very considerable. But he had the "laudable ambition of becoming the father of a country, and laying the foundation for the happiness of millions then unborn."

The passage of the Northwest Ordinance under Arthur St. Clair's Presidency was rightfully praised, in the 19th Century, by U.S. Senator Daniel Webster:

“We are accustomed to praise lawgivers of antiquity ... but I doubt whether one single law of any lawgiver, ancient or modern, has produced the effects of more distinct, marked, and lasting character than the Ordinance of 1787.”  

In 1787, the world was now put on notice that the land north and west of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi would be settled and utilized for the creation of  "… not less than three nor more than five territories." Additionally, this plan for governing the Northwest Territory included freedom of religion, right to trial by jury, the banishment of slavery, and public education as asserted rights granted to the people in the territory. This ordinance was and still remains one of the most important laws ever enacted by the government of the United States and it begins:

“An Ordinance for the government of the Territory of the United States northwest of the River Ohio.

Section 1. Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled, That the said territory, for the purposes of temporary government, be one district, subject, however, to be divided into two districts, as future circumstances may, in the opinion of Congress, make it expedient. …"  

Specifically, this ordinance was an exceptional piece of legislation because Article V permitted the people North and West of the Ohio River to settle their land, form their own territorial government, and take their place as a fully fledged state, equal to the original 13. The Northwest Ordinance's Article V became the principle that enabled the United States rapid westward expansion, which ended with the inclusion of Alaska and Hawaii as our 49th and 50th states. This ordinance also guaranteed that inhabitants of the Territory would have the same rights and privileges that citizens of the original 13 States enjoyed.

Equally important Article VI provided that slavery and involuntary servitude were outlawed in the Northwest Territory.  This was a law that finally gave some merit to the Declaration of Independence's "... all men are created equal..." It took three years and a Congress led by Arthur St. Clair to pass this ordinance making the legislation one of the great documents in American History.

Theism was also openly expressed in the legislation as Article Three of the Ordinance stated:

“Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall be forever encouraged.”

This measure essentially legislated that religion and morality were indispensable to good government but it was not carried out by the federal government because the United States confederation was financially insolvent in 1788 and faded away in 1789. A new constitution was being debated in Philadelphia that eventually would lead to the separation of the Christian church from the federal system of government.  Several state governments adopted similar legislation and provided financial assistance to the churches in the West in the early 19th Century.  Today this 220 year old constitution often finds itself an opponent to States that support religion with public funding.

Meanwhile, in 1787 Philadelphia a reasonable quorum of States did not convention to “revise” the Articles of Confederation and ultimately form the new constitution until May 25th. On that day James Madison writes:


“Friday 25 of May … Mr Robert Morris informed the members assembled that by the instruction & in behalf, of the deputation of Pena. he proposed George Washington Esqr. late Commander in chief for president of the Convention. Mr. Jno. Rutlidge seconded the motion; expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous, and observing that the presence of Genl Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might otherwise be proper.

General (Washington) was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the chair by Mr. R. Morris and Mr. Rutlidge; from which in a very emphatic manner he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of (better qualifications), and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.”

The convention was attended by 12 States and produced an innovative new Plan of the New Federal Government. Volumes have been written on the convention that produced the current constitution of the United States of America and here are some highlights.  

President George Washington began the first session by adopting rules of order which included the provision of secrecy.  No paper could be removed from the Convention without the majority leave of the members.  The yeas and neas of the members were not recorded and it was the unwritten understanding that no disclosure of the proceedings would be made during the lives of its delegates.  At the end of the convention Washington ordered that every record be burned except the Journals which were merely minutes of which, he took personal possession.  “We the People” of the United States, therefore, knew very little about the Convention until the Journals were finally published in 1819.  It was not until the death of President James Madison that his wife, Dolley, revealed she possessed his account of the convention.  Dolley Madison she sold the journals to the Library of Congress in 1843. 

The delegates of the convention had no authority to scrap the Articles of Confederation and construct a new constitution in its place.  Throughout the proceedings this fact was addressed in debate and federally minded delegates led by George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pinckney all stood firm on formulating an entirely new constitution. To this end, the larger states (by population) were determined change the one state one vote system adopted under the Articles of Confederation.   The smaller states sought to preserve their sovereignty and equality in casting votes. The two sides, as they did in York Pennsylvania formulating the Articles of Confederation in 1777, clashed ten years later on this same issue of States rights over federalism. 

Edmund Randolph submitted the large states “Virginia Plan” that was primarily drafted by James Madison. There were other plans, most just seeking revisions to the Articles of Confederation.  Surprisingly, the 29 year old delegate from South Carolina, Charles Pinckney, provided a plan of a federal structure and powers that were more tangible than any other plan.  Pinckney's plan was actually a nascent form of the constitution that would be eventually be passed by the Philadelphia convention of States.  

The small States clashed with the large States over representation in the newly proposed bi-cameral legislature. They went into committee to develop their plan emerging only seeking to amend the Articles of Confederation’s one state one vote system. The improvements the proposed consisting of a federal executive and federal judiciary in addition to the USCA.  The federal government, under the small States’ “New Jersey Plan”  would remain a confederation with the requirement of at least nine states voting in the positive to enforce their decrees.  

There were many compromises in the Philadelphia convention but none was more crucial than how the representatives and senators would be numbered in the two newly proposed legislative houses. The large States sought that both houses’ members be selected based on population. The small States disagreed and lost the convention vote on this matter to the larger States which embittered many of the members. James Madison wrote of one small State delegate:

“Mr. L. MARTIN resumed his discourse, contending that the Genl. Govt. ought to be formed for the States, not for individuals: that if the States were to have votes in proportion to their numbers of people, it would be the same thing whether their representatives were chosen by the Legislatures or the people; the smaller States would be equally enslaved; that if the large States have the same interest with the smaller as was urged, there could be no danger in giving them an equal vote; they would not injure themselves, and they could not injure the large ones on that supposition without injuring themselves and if the interests, were not the same, the inequality of suffrage wd. be dangerous to the smaller States: that it will be in vain to propose any plan offensive to the rulers of the States, whose influence over the people will certainly prevent their adopting it: that the large States were weak at present in proportion to their extent: & could only be made formidable to the small ones, by the weight of their votes; that in case a dissolution of the Union should take place, the small States would have nothing to fear from their power; that if in such a case the three great States should league themselves together, the other ten could do so too: & that he had rather see partial confederacies take place, than the plan on the table.

This was the substance of the residue of his discourse which was delivered with much diffuseness & considerable vehemence.” 

On June 28, 1787 the small States gave an ultimatum to the convention that unless representation in both branches of the proposed legislature was on the basis of equality, one state one vote, they would forthwith leave the proceedings.  With tempers flaring Benjamin Franklin rose and called for a recess with the understanding that the delegates should confer with those whom they disagree rather than with those with whom they agreed.

This recess resulted in a crucial compromise of the convention.  The House of Representatives were to be elected by the people based on population thus providing more representation in the new federal government to the large states.  This House, however, was to be checked by the Senate where each state, regardless of size, would have two votes.  This solved the great convention crisis and the delegates would labor another two months to create, arguable, one of the most elastic forms of government in human history.  The new plan for the federal government that scraped the Articles of Confederation consisted of less than four thousand words.

The innovative Plan of the New Federal Government was passed on September 17, 1787 and rushed to New York by stagecoach.  The new constitution was presented to Congress along with a letter from the convention’s President, George Washington to President Arthur St. Clair:



WE have now the honor to submit to the consideration of the United States in Congress assembled, that Constitution which has appeared to us the most adviseable.

The friends of our country have long seen and desired, that the power of making war, peace and treaties, that of levying money and regulating commerce, and the correspondent executive and judicial authorities should be fully and effectually vested in the general government of the Union: but the impropriety of delegating such extensive trust to one body of men is evident—Hence results the necessity of a different organization.

It is obviously impracticable in the federal government of these States, to secure all rights of independent sovereignty to each, and yet provide for the interest and safety of all—Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest. The magnitude of the sacrifice must depend as well on situation and circumstance, as on the object to be obtained. It is at all times difficult to draw with precision the line between those rights which must be surrendered, and those which may be reserved; and on the present occasion this difficulty was encreased by a difference among the several States as to their situation, extent, habits, and particular interests.

In all our deliberations on this subject we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our Union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might have been otherwise expected; and thus the Constitution, which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensible.

That it will meet the full and entire approbation of every State is not perhaps to be expected; but each will doubtless consider, that had her interests been alone consulted, the consequences might have been particularly disagreeable or injurious to others; that it is liable to as few exceptions as could reasonably have been expected, we hope and believe; that it may promote the lasting welfare of that country so dear to us all, and secure her freedom and happiness, is our most ardent wish.

With great respect, we have the honor to be, SIR, Your EXCELLENCY'S most obedient and humble Servants,

George Washington, President.

By unanimous Order of the CONVENTION.


The President of Congress  


Plan of The New Federal Government, Printed by Robert Smith, September 1787  

Original Manuscript from the Stan Klos Collection.


The Convention delegates called for the Plan of The New Federal Government to be sent to the states for their consideration with only 2/3rds of their legislatures being required to discard the Articles of Confederation for the new constitution.   The convention overstepped its authority granted by the seventh USCA on February 21, 1787 by first, discarding the Articles instead of revising it and second, completely dismissing the modification requirements set forth in Article XIII of the federal constitution that stated:


“Every State shall abide by the determination of the United States in Congress assembled, on all questions which by this confederation are submitted to them. And the Articles of this Confederation shall be inviolably observed by every State, and the Union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State.”


The proposed obliteration of the Articles of Confederation by convention was to be accomplished without the unanimous approval by the States. It was a constitutional crisis that, to this day, has not been equaled in the United States save the southern succession of the 1860s.    


Only sketches of the great debate that ensued in the seventh USCA exist due to the veil of secrecy that surrounded the sessions. We do know from the notes of New York delegate Melancton Smith, which became available to the public in 1959, that most delegates believed they had the authority to alter the new proposed Constitution of 1787 before it was sent on to the States. James Madison, Rufus King, and Nathaniel Gorham argued to the contrary.


Since there was no Supreme Court the USCA was the final authority on the new constitution judicially as well as legislatively.  Richard Henry Lee would lead the “9-13 opposition” insisting on unanimous State convention ratification.  Lee also sought to amend the new constitution. Smith writes on Lee:

“RH LEE -- The convention had not proceeded as this house were bound; it is to be agreed to by the States & means the 13; but this recommends  a new Confederation of nine; the Convention has no more powers than Congress, yet if nine States agree becomes supreme Law. Knows no instance on the Journals as he remembers, opposing the Confederation the impost was to be adopted by 13.

This is to be adopted & no other with alteration Why so? good things in it; but many bad; so much so that he says here as he will say everywhere that if adopted civil Liberty will be in eminent danger.”

Rufus King, James Madison, and Nathaniel Gorham were delegates to both the Philadelphia Convention and the United States in Congress Assembled.  They maintained that Congress must keep the new constitution intact sending it on to the States without any changes or amendments despite the unanimous requirement in Article XIII.  Smith records Lee’s reaction to their position:

“Strangest doctrine he ever heard, that referring a matter of report, that no alterations should be made. The Idea the common sense of Man. The States & Congress he thinks had the Idea that congress was to amend if they thought proper. He wishes to give it a candid enquiry, and proposes such alterations as are necessary; if the General wishes it should go forth with the amendment.; let it go with all its imperfections on its head & the amendments by themselves; to insist that it should go as it is without amendments, is like presenting a hungry man 50 dishes and insisting he should eat all or none.”

Virginia delegate James Madison’s response was:

“The proper question is whether any amendments shall be made and that the house should decide; suppose altercations sent to the State, the Acts require the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention to report to them; there will be two plans; some will accept one & some another this will create confusion and proves it was not the intent of the States.”

Nathaniel Gorham who served as Deputy Chairman of the Philadelphia convention said of constitutional amendments:

“Thinks not necessary to take up by Paragraphs, every Gentn. may propose amendments; no necessity of a Bill of rights; because a Bill of rights in state Govts. was intended to retain certain powers, as the Legislatures had unlimited.  powers.” 

How wrong Mr. Gorham was as even the 10th Amendment passed many years later has failed the States’ enforcement of their “unlimited powers.” 

In addition to the discussions on whether or not USCA should alter or amend the Constitution the case, “If not altered how should it be submitted to the States?” was debated.    Smith reports on delegate Clark:

“Don’t like any proposal yet made; he cant approve it; but thinks it will answer no purpose to alter it; will not oppose it in any place; prefers a resolution to postpone to take up one, barely to forward a copy to the States, to be laid before the Legislatures to be referred to conventions.”

It was reported of Delegate Grayson:

“This is in a curious situation, it is urged all alterations are precluded, has not made up his mind; and thinks it precipitous to urge a decision in two days on a subject took four Months. If we have no right to amend, then we ought to give a silent passage; for if we cannot alter, why should we deliberate. His opinion they should stand solely upon the opinion of Convention.”

Delegate Clark argued:

“The motion by Mr. Lee for amendments, will do injury by coming on the Journal, and therefore the house upon cool reflection, will think it best to agree to send it out without agreeing.” 

James Madison and Rufus King’s opinions won out in the end and they were earnestly supported by President Arthur St. Clair who, surprisingly, was and remains the only foreign born President of the United States. On September 30, 1787 James Madison wrote George Washington on September debate in the United States in Congress Assembled on the new Constitution:

“It was first urged that as the new Constitution was more than an alteration of the Articles of Confederation under which Congress acted, and even subverted these articles altogether, there was a Constitutional impropriety in their taking any positive agency in the work.(1) The answer given was that the Resolution of Congress in February had recommended the Convention as the best mean of obtaining a firm national Government; that as the powers of the Convention were defined by their Commissions in nearly the same terms with the powers of Congress given by the Confederation on the subject of alterations, Congress were not more restrained from acceding to the new plan, than the Convention were from proposing it. If the plan was within the powers of the Convention it was within those of Congress; if beyond those powers, the same necessity which justified the Convention would justify Congress; and a failure of Congress to Concur in what was done, would imply either that the Convention had done wrong in exceeding their powers, or that the Government proposed was in itself liable to insuperable objections; that such an inference would be the more natural, as Congress had never scrupled to recommend measures foreign to their Constitutional functions, whenever the Public good seemed to require it; and had in several instances, particularly in the establishment of the new Western Governments, exercised assumed powers of a very high & delicate nature, under motives infinitely less urgent than the present state of our affairs, if any faith were due to the representations made by Congress themselves, echoed by 12 States in the Union, and confirmed by the general voice of the People. An attempt was made in the next place by Richard Henry Lee to amend the Act of the Convention before it should go forth from Congress. He proposed a bill of Rights ; provision for juries in civil cases & several other things corresponding with the ideas of Col. M---;---;.(2) He was supported by Mr. Meriwether (3) Smith of this State. It was contended that Congress had an undoubted right to insert amendments, and that it was their duty to make use of it in a case where the essential guards of liberty had been omitted.

On the other side the right of Congress was not denied, but the inexpediency of exerting it was urged on the following grounds. 1. That every circumstance indicated that the introduction of Congress as a party to the reform was intended by the States merely as a matter of form and respect 2. that it was evident from the contradictory objections which had been expressed by the different members who had animadverted on the plan, that a discussion of its merits would consume much time, without producing agreement even among its adversaries. 3. that it was clearly the intention of the States that the plan to be proposed should be the act of the Convention with the assent of Congress, which could not be the case, if alterations were made, the Convention being no longer in existence to adopt them. 4. that as the Act of the Convention, when altered would instantly become the mere act of Congress, and must be proposed by them as such, and of course be addressed to the Legislatures, not conventions of the States, and require the ratification of thirteen instead of nine States, and as the unaltered act would go forth to the States directly from the Convention under the auspices of that Body---;Some States might ratify one & some the other of the plans, and confusion & disappointment be the least evils that could ensue.

These difficulties which at one time threatened a serious division in Congress and popular alterations with the yeas & nays on the journals, were at length fortunately terminated by the following Resolution---;"Congress having recd. the Report of the Convention lately assembled in Philada., Resold. unanimously that the said Report, (4) with the Resolutions & letter accompanying the same, be transmitted to the several Legislatures, in order to be submitted to a Convention of Delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, in conformity to the Resolves of the Convention made & provided in that case."

This response, especially in number four, exemplifies James Madison’s legal position on why it was constitutional to circumvent Article XIII of the Articles of Confederation.   This author, however, would argue that George Washington’s signature on the new constitution carried more weight in the seventh USCA’s decision to send the new constitution onto the States unaltered then any legal arguments made by James Madison or his fellow delegates. The September 28, 1787 resolution of President Arthur St. Clair’s USCA is recorded as:

“Congress having received the report of the Convention lately assembled in Philadelphia: Resolved Unanimously that the said Report with the resolutions and letter accompanying the same be transmitted to the several legislatures in Order to be submitted to a convention of Delegates chosen in each state by the people thereof in conformity to the resolves of the Convention made and provided in that case.” 

Several states balked on approving the new constitution even after New Hampshire became the ninth state, on June 21, 1788, to ratify meeting the minimum state requirement.  The Eighth USCA on July 2, 1788 ordered:

“The State of New Hampshire having ratified the constitution transmitted to them by the Act of the 28 of Septr last and transmitted to Congress their ratification2 and the same being read, the president reminded Congress that this was the ninth ratification transmitted and laid before them, whereupon On Motion of Mr [Abraham] Clarke seconded by Mr [Pierpont] Edwards - Ordered That the ratifications of the constitution of the United States transmitted to Congress be referred to a comee to examine the same and report an Act to Congress for putting the said constitution into operation in pursuance of the resolutions of the late federal Convention.”


The committee consisted of Edward Carrington, Pierpont Edwards, Abraham Baldwin, Samuel Allyne Otis and Thomas Tudor Tucker.  They reported to the eighth USCA on July 8, 9, 14, and the 28th but no plan was adopted for the transition. 


    In the Virginia ratification convention James Madison found himself in direct opposition to Patrick Henry, George Mason, William Grayson, and future President James Monroe. These men and other Anti-federalists believed that the new constitution did not protect the individual rights of citizens and created a central government that was too powerful.  Madison and his supporters were only able to secure the necessary votes on June 25, 1787 by including 17 recommended amendments to Virginia’s ratification resolution that became the framework for a “Bill of Rights”,  the first ten amendments to this constitution.


Meanwhile in New York, John Jay along with Alexander Hamilton encountered stiff opposition to the new constitution. Jay advocated ratification reminding the N.Y. State Convention that

“… the direction of general and national affairs is submitted to a single body of men, viz. the congress. They may make war; but are not empowered to raise men or money to carry it on. They may make peace; but without power to see the terms of it observed. They may form alliances, but without ability to comply with the stipulations on their part. They may enter into treaties of commerce; but without power to enforce them at home or abroad. They may borrow money; but without having the means of re-payment. They may partly regulate commerce; but without authority to execute their ordinances. They may appoint ministers and other officers of trust; but without power to try or punish them for misdemeanors. They may resolve; but cannot execute either with dispatch or with secrecy. In short, they may consul and deliberate and recommend and make requisitions; and they who please, may read them.  From this new and wonderful system of government, it has come to pass, that almost every national object of every kind is, at this day, unprovided for; and other nations, taking the advantage of its imbecility, are daily multiplying commercial restraints upon us."   


Jay, Hamilton, and their supporters’ eked out a razor thin victory with a 30 to 27 ratification vote.  The following table records the dates and votes of the thirteen States ratifying conventions:

Ratification of the U.S. Constitution of 1787

Continued Here


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