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In 1786, representatives from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, and proposed that the states appoint commissioners to meet in Philadelphia and consider revising the Articles of Confederation. The Continental Congress agreed to the proposal and suggested that each state select delegates to a constitutional convention.
The convention was supposed to open on May 14, 1787, but few of the 55 delegates had arrived in Philadelphia by that date and it did not formally open until May 25. Twelve states had responded to the call for the convention. Rhode Island refused to send delegates because it did not want the national government to interfere with its affairs. George Washington was elected president of the convention on the first day, and the Constitution of the United States was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates on September 17.
Disputes and Compromises
Disputes among the delegates almost ended the convention on several occasions. For example, delegates from the large states disagreed with those from the small states about representation in the national legislature. The larger states favored the Virginia Plan, under which population would determine the number of representatives each state could send to the legislature. The small states, however, supported the New Jersey Plan, which proposed that all states would have an equal number of representatives, regardless of population. This dispute was settled by the delegates from Connecticut, whose plan called for equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House of Representatives. The Connecticut Plan was ultimately adopted.
Slavery was another major issue at the convention, with Northern delegates wanting Congress to have the authority to ban the foreign slave trade and Southern delegates not wanting Congress to have any authority over slavery. The delegates finally compromised by deciding that Congress would not be allowed to regulate the foreign slave trade until 1808. Another compromise involved the question of how to count slaves in determining the number of congressmen a state could have. Since slaves were not considered citizens, the Convention agreed that only three-fifths could be counted.
Other Interesting Facts
The Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia's Independence Hall.
The average age of the delegates was 42.
Over half of the delgates graduated from college, including 9 from Princeton and 6 from British universities.
Of the 55 delegates, 25 had served in the Continental Congress, and 40 had served in the Confederation Congress.
Six men who signed the Declaration of Independence also signed the Constitution -- George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson.
Of the 39 men who signed the Constitution, two went on to become President of the United States -- George Washington and James Madison.
The Constitution was signed in geographical order, with the delegates from the northernmost state, New Hampshire, signing first and those from the southernmost state, Georgia, signing last.
World Book Encyclopedia Chicago: World Book-Childcraft International, 1976
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This page was last updated on 12/02/2018.