The whole number of delegates who attended the convention was fifty-five, of whom thirty-nine signed the Constitution.
Continuing The Constitutional Convention of the United States,
with a selection from The American Statesman by Andrew W. Young published in 1860. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in 6.5 easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Constitutional Convention of the United States
Of the important subjects remaining to be disposed of, that of the executive department was, perhaps, the most difficult. The modified plan of Edmund Randolph left the executive to be elected by the Legislature for a single term of seven years. The election was subsequently given to a college of electors, to be chosen in the States in such manner as the legislatures of the States should direct. The term of service was reduced from seven years to four years, and the restriction of the office to a single term was removed. Numerous other amendments and additions were made in going through with the draft. This amended draft was referred, for final revision, to a committee consisting of Messrs. Hamilton, Johnson, G. Morris, Madison, and King. Several amendments were made even after this revision; one of which was the substitution of a two-thirds for the three-fourths majority required to pass bills against the veto of the President. Another was a proposition of Mr. Gorham, to reduce the minimum ratio of representation from forty thousand, as it stood, to thirty thousand, intended to conciliate certain members who thought the House too small. This was offered the day on which the Constitution was signed. General Washington having briefly addressed the convention in favor of the proposed amendment, it was carried almost unanimously.
The whole number of delegates who attended the convention was fifty-five, of whom thirty-nine signed the Constitution. Of the remaining sixteen, some had left the convention before its close; others refused to give it their sanction. Several of the absentees were known to be in favor of the Constitution.
Some, as has been observed, were opposed to the plan of a national government, contending for the preservation of the confederation, with a mere enlargement of its powers; others, though in favor of the plan adopted, believed too much power had been given to the General Government. Some thought that not only the powers of Congress, but those of the executive, were too extensive; others that the executive was “weak and contemptible,” and without sufficient power to defend himself against encroachments by the Legislature; others, still, that the executive power of the nation ought not to be intrusted in a single person. Although some deprecated the extensive powers of the Federal Government as dangerous to the rights of the States, “ultra democracy” seems to have had no representatives in the convention; while, on the other hand, there were not a few who thought it unsafe to trust the people with a direct exercise of power in the General Government.
Sherman and Gerry were opposed to the election of the first branch of the Legislature by the people; as were some of the Southern delegates. Others, among whom were Madison, Mason, and Wilson, thought no republican government could be permanent in which the people were denied a direct voice in the election of their representatives. Hamilton, though in favor of making the first branch elective, proposed that the Senate should be chosen by the people, and the executive by electors, chosen by electors, who were to be chosen by the people in districts; Senators and the President both to hold their offices during good behavior. He was also, as were a few others, in favor of an absolute executive veto on acts of the Legislature. He, however, signed the Constitution, and urged others to do the same, as the only means of preventing anarchy and confusion. While the proposed Constitution was in every particular satisfactory to none, very few were disposed to jeopardize the Union by the continuance of a system which all admitted to be inadequate to the objects of the Union. To the hope, therefore, of finding the new plan an improvement on the old, and of amending its defects if any should appear, is to be attributed the general sanction which it received.
It is indeed remarkable that a plan of government, containing so many provisions to which the most strenuous opposition was maintained to the end, should have received the signatures of so large a majority of the convention. Perhaps there never was another political body in which views and interests more varied and opposite have been represented or a greater diversity of opinion has prevailed. Nor is it less remarkable that a system deemed so imperfect, not only by the mass of its framers, but by a large portion of the eminent men who composed the State conventions that ratified it, should have been found to answer so fully the purpose of its formation as to require, during an experiment of more than sixty years, no essential alteration; and that it should be esteemed as a model form of republican government by the enlightened friends of freedom in all countries.
Not a single provision of the Constitution, as it came from the hands of the framers, except that which prescribed the mode of electing a President and Vice-President, has received the slightest amendment. Of the twelve articles styled “amendments,” the first eleven are merely additions; some of which were intended to satisfy the scruples of those who objected to the Constitution as incomplete without a bill of rights, supposing their common-law rights would be rendered more secure by an express guarantee; others are explanatory of certain provisions of the Constitution which were considered liable to misconstruction. The twelfth article is the amendment changing the mode of electing the President and Vice-President.
[Remember that this was written in 1860. – jl]
In the differences of opinion between the friends and opponents of the Constitution originated the two great political parties into which the people were divided during a period of about thirty years. It is generally supposed that the term “Federalist” was first applied to those who advocated the plan of the present Constitution. This opinion, however, is not correct. Those members of the convention who were in favor of the old plan of union, which was a simple confederation or federal alliance of equal independent States, were called “Federalists,” and their opponents “Anti-Federalists.” After the new Constitution had been submitted to the people for ratification, its friends, regarding its adoption as indispensable to union, took the name of “Federalists,” and bestowed upon the other party that of “Anti-Federalists,” intimating that to oppose the adoption of the Constitution was to oppose any union of the States.
The new Constitution bears the date September 17, 1787. It was immediately transmitted to Congress, with a recommendation to that body to submit it to State conventions for ratification, which was accordingly done. It was adopted by Delaware, December 7th; by Pennsylvania, December 12th; by New Jersey, December 18th; by Georgia, January 2d, 1788; by Connecticut, January 9th; by Massachusetts, February 7th; by Maryland, April 28th; by South Carolina, May 23d; by New Hampshire, June 21st, which, being the ninth ratifying State, gave effect to the Constitution. Virginia ratified June 27th; New York, July 26th; and North Carolina, conditionally, August 7th. Rhode Island did not call a convention.
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