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This Week in History:
May 22 - 28, 1787
Constitutional Convention Begins

May 2011

It was May 25, 1787 when the convention which resulted in that remarkable document called the U.S. Constitution, commenced its work. Over the course of the next three to four months, with barely any breaks but Sundays, 55 of the leading American Revolutionaries met behind closed doors, in order to establish the first republican nation-state.

Without a doubt, the calling of this gathering, and its successful outcome, were the result of the leadership of three individuals, all key actors in the Revolutionary War, who were delegates from their states: Alexander Hamilton from New York, George Washington from Virginia, and Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania.

Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin confer at the signing of the U.S. Constitution (detail of painting by Howard Chandler Christy). The 20-by-30-foot work was commissioned during the FDR years, in 1939, in observance of the 150th anniversary of the Constitution. It is displayed in the U.S. Capitol.

Alexander Hamilton, the former aide-de-camp to General Washington, had been agitating from the early 1780s for the establishment of such a national arrangement. More specifically, he had written the report from the Annapolis Convention of 1786—a meeting convened by Virginia and Maryland, to work out commercial arrangements around the Potomac Canal—which had called for all the states to send representatives to Philadelphia on the second Monday of May 1787, in order to attend to the business of "revising the Articles of Confederation," thus "rendering them adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union."

Hamilton was among the first to show up at the Constitutional Convention, but left early, only to show up to sign the Constitution on Sept. 17—the only delegate from New York to do so. The extant notes from James Madison, et al., portray Hamilton as a minor player in the discussions, yet that is highly unlikely, especially, as he ended up being the most prominent and energetic organizer of the campaign for ratification, once the Constitution was devised.

The second major player at the Convention was Gen. George Washington, who came out of retirement at the request of Hamilton, and many others, in order to give legitimacy to the proceedings. In the absence of Benjamin Franklin, who was unable to attend the first day of the meetings due to bad weather, and was considered too frail, at 81, to be able to handle the job, Washington was elected President of the Convention on May 25, when only seven states were represented. While he did little speaking, his command over the event was essential to ensuring that it came to a successful conclusion, rather than breaking up in the midst of the wild dissension that occurred.

The third leading individual present was Benjamin Franklin, acknowledged by all to be the father of the Revolution whose final chapter they were writing. Franklin had all his speeches read by fellow Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson, but his presence and interventions—including his motion for prayer every morning, and his role on the "Compromise" Committee—were crucial to the result. It was Franklin who was chosen to make the final presentation of the Constitution, once it was signed on Sept. 17.

But virtually all of the delegates to this body, who ranged in age from under 30, to Franklin's 81, had a clear sense of being responsible, not just to their fellow citizens, but to history. It was their job to save the Republic for which they had fought, and won, by setting up a form of government that would not only serve these United States, but be a model for the world.

"We're now to decide forever the fate of Republican Government," said James Wilson. Even more eloquent was Hamilton himself, in his opening argument in Federalist #1, where he wrote that it was up to "the people of this country to decide by their conduct and example the important question whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice," or whether they would forever depend "on accident and force." If they made the "wrong election" at this point, it would be "the general misfortune of mankind."

A look at the deliberations of these men, and the context in which they were fighting to permit the nation to survive, should dispel forever the currently popular idea that the Constitution was a "counter-revolution" against the Declaration of Independence. As great leaders, like President Abraham Lincoln, realized, the two documents came from the same commitment to republican values. Without the framework established by the Constitution, the fight for unalienable rights could not be realized both for the current generation, and posterity.

Today, as we fight to save this Constitution from those who live by "force," we could do no better than to study that Constitution and its principles in the depth that the Founders debated it—and renew our commitment to those principles as well.


The original article was published in the EIR Online’s Electronic Intelligence Weekly, as part of an ongoing series on history, with a special emphasis on American history. We are reprinting and updating these articles now to assist our readers in understanding of the American System of Economy.

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