The story

Constituition Convention Meets - History

Constituition Convention Meets - History

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

The Constitutional Convention began on May 25th in Philadelphia. The need for a new constitution was clear throughout the colonies. The Articles of Confederation had not provided the means of governing the nation. The central government had no power to regulate commerce or enforce taxation. It did not have any executive powers. The Convention lasted until the 17th of September. .

Fifty-five of the colonies' best and brightest arrived in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. They came from every state in the Confederation, except Rhode Island.

Representatives included: Samuel Adams; Alexander Hamilton; George Washington, who presided and James Madison, whom many consider to be the author of the Constitution.

One third of the representatives were veterans of the Revolutionary War; thirty-four were lawyers. They all felt that the United States needed a stronger central government.

February 4, 1861 in History

Jefferson Davis History:
October 17, 1978 - President Carter signs bill restoring Jefferson Davis citizenship
December 6, 1889 - Jefferson Davis, President of Confederate States 1861 - 1865, dies at 81
February 15, 1869 - Charges of Treason against Jefferson Davis are dropped
December 3, 1868 - Trial of Jefferson Davis starts 1st blacks on U.S. trial jury
May 19, 1865 - President Jefferson Davis is captured by Union Cavalry in Georgia
May 10, 1865 - Jefferson Davis captured at Irwinsville, Georgia
May 2, 1865 - President Johnson offers $100,000 reward for capture of Jefferson Davis
April 2, 1865 - CSA President Jefferson Davis flees Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia
January 28, 1865 - President Jefferson Davis names 3 peace commissioners
June 7, 1863 - Battle of Milliken's Bend, Louisiana - Jefferson Davis' home burnt
November 6, 1861 - Jefferson Davis elected to 6 year term as Confederate president
May 6, 1861 - Jefferson Davis approves a bill declaring War between U.S. and Confederacy
March 13, 1861 - Jefferson Davis signs bill authorizing use of slaves as soldiers
February 18, 1861 - Confederate President Jefferson Davis inaugurated at Montgomery Alabama
February 9, 1861 - Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens elected president and Vice President of Confederate States of America
January 21, 1861 - Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and 4 other southern senators resign
June 3, 1808 - Jefferson Davis, born in Kentucky, President of Confederate States of America, 1861 - 1865

More Notable Events on February 4:
1998 Bill Gates gets a pie thrown in his face in Brussels Belgium
1988 Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega indicted on drug charges
1945 FDR, Churchill and Stalin meet at Yalta
1941 United Service Organization, USO, founded
1822 Free American Blacks settle Liberia, West Africa

Constitutional Convention

George Washington Addressing the Constitutional Convention, Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856.

The Constitutional Convention, also known as the Philadelphia Convention, met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from May 25 to September 17, 1787. It is considered one of the most significant events in the history of the United States as it created the United States Constitution.

Of the 13 original states only Rhode Island did not send representatives. Twelve states appointed 70 individuals to the Constitutional Convention, only 55 attended and 39 signed the Constitution.

Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 81 years old. The youngest was Jonathan Dayton, representative from New Jersey, he was 26.

Franklin had written a speech that he planned giving on the last day of the Convention, Monday September 17, 1787, before the signing of the Constitution. He was too weak to deliver it and had James Wilson read it to the audience.

The original document did not include many rights and freedoms considered part of the American identity and did not resolve slavery. Many representatives feared the new federal government would overpower the state governments and the liberties that many states had put into their own laws.

The need for a union was necessary. Many states could not agree on a border, others wanted to expand to the west. The purpose of the new constitutions was to work together to defeat the British

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention


  • Richard Bassett
  • Gunning Bedford Jr.
  • Jacob Broom
  • John Dickinson
  • George Read
  • Daniel Carroll
  • Luther Martin
  • James McHenry
  • John Francis Mercer
  • Daniel of St Thomas Jenifer


New Hampshire

  • David Brearley
  • Jonathan Dayton
  • William Houston
  • William Livingston
  • William Paterson

North Carolina

  • William Blount
  • William Richardson Davie
  • Alexander Martin
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight
  • Hugh Wiliamson


  • George Clymer
  • Thomas Fitzsimons
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Jared Ingersoll
  • Thomas Mifflin
  • Gouverneur Morris
  • Robert Morris
  • James Wilson

South Carolina

  • Pierce Butler
  • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney
  • Charles Pinckney
  • John Rutledge
  • John Blair
  • James Madison
  • George Mason
  • James McClurg
  • Edmund Randolph
  • George Washington
  • George Wythe

Rhode Island did not send representatives to the Convention.

Benjamin Franklin’s Speech at the Constitutional Convention

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said “I don’t know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that’s always in the right-Il n’y a que moi qui a toujours raison.”

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.

On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.-

The Constitutional Convention

This exhibit provides a twelve-step guide to understanding the Constitutional Convention tips on navigating the various sections and Gordon Lloyd’s introduction can be found here.


The year was 1787. The place: the State House in Philadelphia. This is the story of the framing of the federal Constitution.

The Convention

Read the four-act drama and day-by-day summary by Gordon Lloyd, as well as Madison’s account of the Convention Debates.

The Delegates

For four months, 55 delegates from the several states met to frame a Constitution for a federal republic that would last into “remote futurity.”

Resources on the Convention

View Gordon Lloyd’s Convention attendance record, major themes of the convention, and other resources about the creation of the Constitution.

Visualizing the Signing of the Constitution

See how different artists have portrayed the significance of the Constitutional Convention in art.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

Learn about historic Philadelphia and where the founders stayed, ate, and met.

Constituition Convention Meets - History

The history of Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention begins with conditions leading up to statehood. The area known as Oklahoma was originally called Indian Territory. After the 1889 opening of the Unassigned Lands within Indian Territory to settlement by non-Indians, in 1890 the western portion of present Oklahoma was created as Oklahoma Territory. Together, the two regions were commonly known as the Twin Territories.

Naturally, when talk turned to statehood, the question became whether one or two states would be formed. The single-statehood forces won the day. Congress passed an Enabling Act, the device whereby Congress creates a state, and President Roosevelt signed it into law on June 16, 1906. The act provided for a single state to be formed from the Twin Territories. On November 6, 1906, elections were held in both territories to elect delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Each territory elected 55 delegates, and the Osage Nation elected 2 additional delegates. Of these 112 delegates, 99 were Democrats (known as the "ninety and nine"), 12 were Republicans (the "twelve apostles"), and the remaining delegate was an independent (the "renegade").

As stipulated in the Enabling Act, the delegates assembled in Guthrie on November 20, 1906, two weeks after their election. Representing the largest economic interests in the territories, the delegates were mostly farmers, with a lesser number of lawyers and laborers. The delegates' average age was early forties. The colorful William "Alfalfa Bill" H. Murray took the chair as president of the Constitutional Convention. Peter Hanraty, an individual strong in the state's infant labor organization, was elected vice president. The Democrats elected Charles N. Haskell as majority floor leader. Attorney Henry Asp of Guthrie led the Republican minority.

Murray played a dominant role in drafting the constitution, both as presiding officer and in making appointments to and directing the work of committees. He often endorsed progressive reforms similar to the ones he had supported as a delegate to the earlier Sequoyah Convention. It is generally alleged that William Jennings Bryan was the most important outside influence on the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention. Although Murray and Bryan did agree on several constitutional matters, Murray did not hesitate to make known to the delegates any of the disagreements he might have with Bryan.

The convention adjourned on March 15, 1907. President Murray, however, called the delegates together for several brief meetings prior to the document being put to a vote of the people. The first such assembly was in mid-April so that the delegates could sign the completed document after making some slight changes. In July, after Pres. Theodore Roosevelt put in writing, at Murray's request, his objections to the constitution, Murray called the delegates together, and a few minor revisions were made. Some of the provisions of the final document included the initiative and referendum, prohibition, strict corporate regulation, and woman suffrage limited to school elections.

After some sniping between Murray and territorial officials over the possession of the parchment version of the document and the date for allowing the public to vote on its approval, a date was finally set. The date selected, September 17, was the same month and day on which the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had signed the U.S. Constitution in 1787. The Oklahoma Constitution was approved by 71 percent of the vote in September 1907.


Danny M. Adkison and Lisa McNair Palmer, The Oklahoma State Constitution: A Reference Guide (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001).

Danny M. Adkison, "The Oklahoma Constitution," in Oklahoma Politics and Policies: Governing the Sooner State, ed. David R. Morgan, Robert E. England, and George G. Humphreys (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991).

Keith L. Bryant, Jr., Alfalfa Bill Murray (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968).

"Oklahoma Constitutional Convention," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Irvin Hurst, The 46th Star: A History of Oklahoma's Constitutional Convention and Early Statehood (Oklahoma City, Okla.: Semco Color Press, 1957).

William H. Murray, "The Constitutional Convention," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (June 1931).

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society (unless otherwise stated).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Danny M. Adkison, &ldquoConstitutional Convention,&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

Oklahoma Historical Society | 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 | 405-521-2491
Site Index | Contact Us | Privacy | Press Room | Website Inquiries


Portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull (Wikimedia)

Under the Articles of Confederation, the individual states competed against each other economically. They issued their own currencies and even levied taxes on each other's goods when they passed over state lines.

Delegates like Washington, Madison, and Hamilton believed that promoting the free flow of commerce across state lines and nationalizing the economy would lead to America's becoming an economic powerhouse.


The Economy After the Revolutionary War

Washington Library Founder Dr. Douglas Bradburn discusses the state of the American economy after the&hellip

Constitutional Convention, 1868: "Black Caucus"

During the antebellum era—the years leading up to the Civil War—North Carolina’s population of free people of color blossomed. This group included American Indians, African Americans, and Americans of mixed race who were not enslaved. Many North Carolina politicians at the time favored universal suffrage (or voting rights) for free males of every race.

Along with most of the state’s enslaved population, most free people of color lived in the eastern counties. These “colored” people, as they were called then, tended to vote for eastern politicians, usually Democrats. The Piedmont and western counties tended to vote for the Whig Party. Along with pushing for better schools and internal improvements—like better roads, canals, and bridges—Whigs wanted more political power for the state’s west. Many backcountry farmers thought that the growing numbers of free people of color contributed to eastern domination of Tar Heel politics. By 1835 state leaders called for a new constitutional convention. One big issue was whether to continue letting free people of color vote. A resolution to take away their voting rights passed, 66 to 61. Abolitionists dominated the national Whig Party. However, abolitionism was not a popular political platform in many places. By 1854 the Whigs had lost power, and a new national party formed: the Republicans.

In 1860 more than one million people lived in the Tar Heel State, including about 330,000 slaves and more than 30,000 free people of color. When the Civil War began in 1861, North Carolina was the last southern state to secede. By 1870, the fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution gave approximately 80,000 free black men (or about 20% of the then roughly 400,000 free men, women, and children living in North Carolina) the right to vote. Congress ordered North Carolina to draw up a new state constitution. The General Assembly decided to hold a referendum in November 1867 to choose delegates to a constitutional convention to be held in early 1868. Many former Confederate leaders had not yet taken an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and were not eligible to serve. Chosen for the convention were 107 Republicans and 13 Democrats. Thirteen black Republicans represented nineteen majority black counties.

The members of this “Black Caucus” were not legislators, exactly. But they came together at the State Capitol in January 1868 to take part in a very important process. Let’s meet these pioneers:

*Bishop James Walker Hood was born along the Delaware–Pennsylvania state line. Slave patrols once captured him and sold him into slavery. He escaped and returned home, becoming a third-generation minister. After the Civil War, Hood moved to North Carolina. He served as chairman of the Freedman’s Convention held in Raleigh in September 1865. He led efforts for universal education during Reconstruction. Governor William Holden appointed him assistant superintendant of the State Board of Education, in charge of Negro schools, in 1870. Hood founded two historically black colleges: Livingstone College in Rowan County and Fayetteville State University in Cumberland County.

*Parker David Robbins (1834–1917) grew up in a community of free people of color called the Winton Triangle, along the Chowan River in Hertford and Bertie counties. The 1850 census listed Robbins—part Chowanoke American Indian and mulatto—as a mechanic. He served with the U.S. Colored Troops in the Second Colored Cavalry during the Civil War. After representing Bertie County at the 1868 convention, Robbins served three terms in the North Carolina house. He patented two inventions, built and operated one of Duplin County’s first modern saw mills, built many houses in Magnolia, and owned and piloted a Cape Fear River steamboat.

*Briant Lee is perhaps least known of the group. He got as many votes as Robbins from Bertie County but was never elected to the General Assembly or Congress.

*Wilson Carey (b. 1831), a free black farmer, represented Caswell County. Born in Virginia, Wilson moved to Caswell in 1855 and taught school. During the convention, he spoke against proposals to attract white immigrants to North Carolina: “The Negro planted the wilderness, built up the state to what it was therefore, if anything was to be given, the Negro was entitled to it.” Carey also served in the 1875 constitutional convention dominated by Democrats. He was elected to six terms in the state house and a term in the state senate. He left Caswell County after 1889 due to Ku Klux Klan violence.

*Clinton D. Pierson represented Craven County. Craven included some of the most prosperous communities of free people of color: Harlowe, established in the 1600s James City, named for Union General Horace James in 1862 and especially the colonial capital of New Bern.

*Henry C. Cherry, of Edgecombe County, was born a slave about 1836. He was trained as a carpenter and learned math, reading, and writing. Cherry is said to have worked on some of the finest antebellum homes in Tarboro. The citizens of Edgecombe reelected him twice to the state house. By 1870 Cherry owned one thousand dollars in real property and two hundred dollars in personal property. His two daughters were rumored to be among the most beautiful women of their day. One married Congressman Henry Plummer Cheatham, of Granville County, the founder of the Oxford Colored Orphanage. The other married the state’s last black Republican congressman (and a state legislator), George H. White, a Howard University lawyer whose time in Congress ended the Reconstruction era in 1901. In 1894 Cheatham and White vied for the same congressional seat.

*John Hendrick Williamson—born a slave in Covington, Georgia, in 1844—moved to Louisburg in 1858. He served as a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1872, 1884, and 1888. As secretary of the N.C. Industrial Association during the 1880s, Williamson founded and edited two newspapers: the Raleigh Banner and the North Carolina Gazette.

*Cuffie Mayo (1803–1896) was born free in Virginia. He moved across the state line to Granville County and worked as a blacksmith and a painter. He was the only black Republican to represent the largest slave holding county in the state at the 1868 convention. Mayo was later elected to two legislative sessions. By 1870 he had six hundred dollars in real property and two hundred dollars in personal property.

*Henry Eppes (1830–1917) was born enslaved in Halifax County. He was literate and worked as a brick mason and plasterer. After serving in the 1868 convention, Eppes represented his county for six terms as a state senator. He also served as a delegate to the 1872 Republican National Convention and became an ordained Methodist minister.

*W. T. J. Hayes also represented Halifax County. Like Eppes, he was literate while still enslaved. After the convention, however, Hayes served only in the General Assembly of 1869. After the defeat of an integration and equal facilities bill for education, he proposed flying the flags at the State Capitol at half mast to signal the “death of all weak-kneed Republicans.”

*John Adams Hyman (1840–1891) was born enslaved in Warren County, the center of the state’s “black belt.” After the 1868 convention, Hyman served four terms as a state senator. He is most noted, however, as the Tar Heel State’s first black congressman, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1875 and 1876. Becoming disillusioned with the rapid return to power of former Confederates, especially after the state’s 1875 constitutional convention, Hyman moved to Washington, D.C.

*Abraham Galloway (1837-1870) was hailed as a hero by freedmen after the Civil War. In 1857 twenty-year-old Abraham Galloway had hired himself out as a brick mason, paying his owner fifteen dollars a month. He escaped from slavery by hiding in a turpentine barrel on a ship bound from Wilmington to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The son of an Irish seaman who captained a U.S. government vessel and an enslaved woman from New Hanover County, Galloway would become an important African American leader. He reportedly visited the White House and was recruited by President Abraham Lincoln to become a Union spy. He mysteriously orchestrated events at the Battle of New Bern in March 1862. The next year, he recruited enslaved men and free people of color in North Carolina for the new “African Brigade,” which became part of the U.S. Colored Troops.

Known by the Democrats as a “radical” Republican, he wanted “owners of large estates taxed at one dollar per acre in order that the land might be sold by sheriffs and the opportunity given the Negroes to buy land.” He also favored giving women the vote. Many former Confederates thought of Galloway as “uppity” because he carried a pistol and demanded that they no longer address formerly enslaved people in derogative terms. Galloway mysteriously died a young man in 1870, shortly after serving his second term as a state senator. According to the Christian Recorder newspaper, more than six thousand mourners attended his funeral, “the largest ever known in this state.” His death was so sudden, Galloway’s wife and children were unable to travel from New Bern to Wilmington to pay their last respects.

*James Henry Harris (1832–1891) seems to be known as the most prominent black Republican at the 1868 convention. Born free near Creedmoor in Granville County, he worked as a furniture upholsterer as a teenager. Harris operated shops in Raleigh on Fayetteville Street and up the plank road in Warren County. When laws governing free persons of color became more stringent, he moved to Oberlin, Ohio. Harris toured northern states and Canada lecturing on experiences in North Carolina.

When the Civil War began, he was teaching in the African nation of Liberia and the British colony of Sierra Leone. In 1862 he returned to the United States. By 1863 he had moved his family to Terre Haute, Indiana, where many North Carolina free blacks had migrated. Indiana Governor Levi Morton asked Harris to raise a regiment of U.S. Colored Troops. After the war, Harris returned to the Tar Heel State and became a go-between for Governor Holden and the freedmen. In addition to being a Wake County delegate to the 1868 convention, Harris served on Raleigh’s city council and was a leader for the School for the Deaf and the 1865 Freedmen’s Convention. He served four terms in the state legislature. By 1870, he had more than four thousand dollars in property. By 1880, Harris had started and edited one of the state’s most prominent newspapers, the North Carolina Republican, whose slogan was “Firm in the Right.”

These black Republicans helped open one of the most spirited and contentious eras in North Carolina’s history. Their service inspired many others, especially formerly enslaved people, to seek a better life. Despite opposition, the 1868 delegates passed resolutions prohibiting slavery. A uniform public school system was established, along with universal male suffrage. These men helped lay the groundwork for all Tar Heel citizens’ liberties and prosperity. Between the 1868 constitutional convention and 1901, when White left Congress, ninety-seven black Republican state legislators and twenty-seven black United States congressmen served North Carolina. During the late 1890s, Democrats took control from the Republicans. By 1901, black North Carolinians had been disenfranchised—again.

Image Credits

[Picture of James Walker Hood]. 1902?. Craven County Digital History Exhibit. New Bern-Craven County Public Library, 400 Johnson Street, New Bern, NC 28560.

Hartford Convention

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Hartford Convention, (December 15, 1814–January 5, 1815), in U.S. history, a secret meeting in Hartford, Connecticut, of Federalist delegates from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont who were dissatisfied with Pres. James Madison’s mercantile policies and the progress of the War of 1812 (“Mr. Madison’s War”), as well as long resentful over the balance of political power that gave the South, particularly Virginia, effective control of the national government.

The more extreme delegates raised the possibility of secession, but others sought only to dictate amendments to the Constitution that would protect their interests. Ultimately, the convention adopted a strong states’ rights position and expressed its grievances in a series of resolutions against military conscription and commercial regulations (along with some stringent criticisms of Madison’s administration) that were agreed to on January 4, 1815.

Even as the convention finished its business, however, a British sloop of war was beating its way across the Atlantic with dispatches containing the peace terms that had been agreed to in the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war. Moreover, as the convention’s emissaries approached Washington, D.C., they were met by the news of Gen. Andrew Jackson’s unexpected victory in the Battle of New Orleans. By the time the emissaries arrived, it was no longer possible to serve the kind of ultimatum contained in the convention’s report. The war, along with the national crisis it had brought about, had ended. The secrecy of the Hartford proceedings also contributed to discrediting the convention, and its unpopularity was a factor in the demise of the Federalist Party.

This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

Jefferson in Paris: The Constitution, Part I

This is part of a series, written by Jim Zeender, devoted to letters written by the Founding Fathers in their own words and often in their own hand. Jim is the Senior Registrar in the Exhibits Division.

“It is impossible to increase taxes, disastrous to keep on borrowing, and inadequate to merely to cut expense.”

This is not a quote from the 2012 American elections or the current fiscal cliff debate. These are the words of Charles-Alexandre de Calonne, finance minister of France, describing the financial conditions of his country in 1786 to his king, Louis XVI.

The French monarchy was deep in debt due to continuous war expenditures, most recently from the American Revolution, when France supplied monies, ships, soldiers, and arms to the the struggling United States, not to mention its own naval engagements with the British Navy. The French people were poor and hungry, and there was great inequality among the classes. Attempts at reform failed, setting the stage for the bloody civil rupture known as the French Revolution, beginning with democratic ideas and ending in Napoleonic despotism.

With his experience in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, and as Governor of Virginia behind him, Thomas Jefferson continued his practical education in world affairs in pre-revolutionary France. Across the Atlantic, the fledgling American government had its own problems, which though different, were just as desperate.

With its independence from Great Britain dearly won, the 13 states were united in name only. The national government, or what was left of it, was barely functioning. It was unable to raise funds to pay its debts and current needs multiple currencies circulated and individual states pursued their own interests domestically and abroad.

Congress sent Jefferson to Paris to serve as a trade commissioner, but he would ultimately replace Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. After a few unsatisfactory locations, Jefferson moved to the Hôtel de Langeac at the corner of the Rue de Berri and the Champs-Elysées in October 1785. Before moving, he wrote to Abigail Adams, “I have at length procured a house in a situation much more pleasing to me than my present. It is at the grille des champs Elysees, but within the city. It suits me in every circumstance but the price, being dearer than the one I am now in. It has a clever garden to it.”

In his autobiography written in 1821, Jefferson neatly summarized his duties: “My duties at Paris were confined to a few objects the receipt of our whale-oils, salted fish, and salted meats on favorable terms, the admission of our rice on equal terms with that of Piedmont, Egypt & the Levant, a mitigation of the monopolies of our tobacco by the Farmers-general, and a free admission of our productions into their islands.” Of course, he leaves out mention of his personal and official correspondence, visits to court and other embassies, attending cultural events, and hosting American visitors.

Jefferson’s central task in Paris was to negotiate commerce treaties with European countries. In the following dispatch to Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Jay, he reports on the continuing resistance of the British to any progress on trade matters: “To be respectable abroad it is necessary to be so at Home, and that will not be the Case until our public Faith acquires more Confidence, and our Government more Strength.” A strong, unified government was needed to give leadership in foreign affairs, and this could only be possible by replacing the Articles of Confederation with a new, more robust form of government.

In early 1786, John Adams invited Jefferson to join him in London for business pertaining negotiations with the Barbary States. Nothing came of it. On March 28, 1786, he was presented at court to George III. His memory of the event, written in his autobiography over three decades later, was vivid: “On my presentation as usual to the King and Queen at their levees, it was impossible for anything to be more ungracious than their notice of Mr. Adams and myself. I saw at once that the ulcerations in the narrow mind of that mulish being left nothing to be expected on the subject of my attendance.” Text from Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

With this country [Great Britain] nothing is done and that nothing is intended to be done on their part admits not the smallest doubt. The nation is against any change of measures the ministers are against it, some from principle, others from subserviency and the king more than all men is against it. If we take a retrospect to the beginning of the present reign we observe that amidst all the changes of ministry no change of measures with respect to America ever took place. . . . Of the two months which then remained [on Jefferson and Adams commissions to treat], 6 weeks have elapsed without one scrip of a pen, or one word from a minister except a vague proposition at an accidental meeting. . . . [T]heir silence is invincible. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, April 23, 1786. RED 17478. Original is in the National Archives, RG 360, item 87, volume I, page 247. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Since March 1781, the Continental Congress had been organized under the Articles of Confederation. But it often could not obtain a quorum to conduct daily business, even when the issue was as fundamentally critical as the ratification of the Treaty of Paris—ending war with Great Britain and obtaining the ultimate goal of independence.

When peace was finally had, no longer would the war and the common enemy bind the states and their representatives together in Congress. The Articles did not allow for separate branches of government as we have today Congress was legislature, executive and judiciary all in one. Congress was beholden to the states for money, and important decisions required unanimity. As a result, Congress found itself tied in knots, weak and powerless.

In Paris, Jefferson kept himself well informed of events at home, the bad and the good. He heard often from John Jay. In October 1786, Jay wrote to Jefferson, “The inefficacy of our government becomes daily more and more apparent. . . . Our credit and our treasury are in a sad situation, and it is probable that either the wisdom or the passions of the people will produce changes.” Jefferson recognized the need for a stronger American central government, but he put his hopes in the people and a largely agrarian society with the American continent’s bountiful resources.

Political disarray, poor economic conditions, credit shortages, and the state’s levy of higher taxes led to Shays’s Rebellion in central and western Massachusetts. The rebellion began in August 1786 under Daniel Shays and was ultimately beaten down the following February. However, it became a common subject of discourse as plans for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were put into place in the winter and spring months of 1787.

As the Convention drew near, James Madison wrote his good friend Jefferson, “Nothing can exceed the universal anxiety for the event of the meeting. . . . The people . . . are said to be generally discontented.”

Jefferson had drafted the first great Charter of the United States, the Declaration of Independence. He had been a member of the Congress that prepared the first constitution, the Articles of Confederation. However, when the momentous time came to bring together the greatest American politicians and statesmen to revise the failing Articles in 1787, Jefferson would be in Paris. But he would influence the debate through correspondence with key leaders, including fellow Virginians James Madison and George Washington during the lead up to the Convention and the subsequent ratification debates.

While the Constitutional Convention was being organized, Jefferson left Paris in February 1787 for a three-month tour of the south of France and northern Italy. He wrote his secretary William Short: “Architecture, painting, sculpture, antiquities, the condition of the laboring poor fill all my moments.” In this revealing letter to his good friend the Marquis de Lafayette, Jefferson expands on his thirst for knowledge, his methods, and observations on the people of France. In contrast to the poverty he saw in the streets of Paris, the people “are generally well clothed, and have a plenty of food.”

I am constantly roving about, to see what I have never seen before and shall never see again. In the great cities, go to see what travellers think alone worthy of being seen but I make a job of it, and generally gulp it all down in a day. On the other hand, I am never satiated with rambling through the fields and farms, examining the culture and cultivators, with a degree of curiosity which makes some take me to be a fool, and others to be much wiser than I am. I have been pleased to find among the people a less degree of physical misery than I had expected.

They are generally well clothed, and have a plenty of food, not animal indeed, but vegetable, which is as wholesome. Perhaps they are over worked, the excess of the rent required by the landlord, obliging them to too many hours of labor in order to produce that, and where-with to feed and clothe themselves. . . . The soil [of Champagne and Burgundy], the climate, and the productions are superior to those of England, and the husbandry as good, except in one point that of manure. . . .

This is, perhaps, the only moment of your life in which you can acquire that knowledge [of your country]. And to do it most effectually you must be absolutely incognito, you must ferret the people out of their hovels as I have done, look into their kettles, eat their bread, loll on their beds under pretence of resting yourself, but in fact to find if they are soft. You will feel a sublime pleasure in the course of this investigation, and a sublimer one hereafter when you shall be able to apply your knowledge to the softening of their beds, or the throwing a morsel of meat into the kettle of vegetables. Letter from Thomas Jefferson, in Nice, to the Marquis de Lafayette, April 11, 1787. Text from the Digital Edition of the Thomas Jefferson Papers.

Jefferson returned to Paris on June 10, a couple of weeks after the Convention first began to meet in Philadelphia, but he would not know the final result until November. On June 6, Madison wrote to Jefferson and listed the names of delegates but explains, “It was thought expedient in order to secure unbiased discussion within doors, and to prevent misconceptions and misconstructions without, to establish some rules of caution which will for no short time restrain even a confidential communication of our proceedings.”

The risk of a major public blowup over slavery, representation, or other tough issues was too great. Jefferson strongly objected to the Convention’s secrecy decision. On the other hand, he simultaneously acknowledged the extraordinary quality of the men.

I have news from America as late as July 19. Nothing had then transpired from the Federal convention. I am sorry they began their deliberations by so abominable a precedent as that of tying up the tongues of their members. Nothing can justify this example but the innocence of their intentions, & ignorance of the value of public discussions. I have no doubt that all their other measures will be good and wise. It is really an assembly of demigods. Letter from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 30, 1787. Text from the Digital Edition of the Adams Papers. Emphasis added by the author of this post.

Jefferson did not hesitate to express himself on issues likely to come before the Convention. In this passage, he opposes giving Congress authority to veto laws passed by individual states. The Convention ultimately agreed, but Madison saw it as a great weakness. “The negative proposed to be given them [Congress] on all the acts of the several legislatures is now for the first time suggested to my mind. Primâ facie I do not like it. It fails in an essential character, that the hole and the patch should be commensurate. But this proposes to mend a small hole by covering the whole garment.” Letter from Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, June 20, 1787. Text from the Digital Edition of the Jefferson Papers.

The Constitution was signed on September 17, but it took until late November for a copy to reach Jefferson. His initial reaction was decidedly cool, but warmed in the following months during the ratification debates and with Madison’s encouragement.

In the next post, we will take a look at Jefferson’s impressions of the new Constitution from his perch in Paris.

Timeline of drafting and ratification of the United States Constitution

The drafting of the Constitution of the United States began on May 25, 1787, when the Constitutional Convention met for the first time with a quorum at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to revise the Articles of Confederation, and ended on September 17, 1787, the day the Constitution drafted by the convention's delegates to replace the Articles was adopted and signed. The ratification process for the Constitution began that day, and ended when the final state, Rhode Island, ratified it on May 29, 1790. In addition to key events during the Constitutional Convention and afterward while the Constitution was put before the states for their ratification, this timeline includes important events that occurred during the run-up to the convention and during the nation's transition from government under the Articles of Confederation to government under the Constitution, and concludes with the unique ratification vote of Vermont, which at the time was a sovereign state outside the Union. The time span covered is 5 years, 9 months, from March 25, 1785 to January 10, 1791.

February 4, 1861 in History

Jefferson Davis History:
October 17, 1978 - President Carter signs bill restoring Jefferson Davis citizenship
December 6, 1889 - Jefferson Davis, President of Confederate States 1861 - 1865, dies at 81
February 15, 1869 - Charges of Treason against Jefferson Davis are dropped
December 3, 1868 - Trial of Jefferson Davis starts 1st blacks on U.S. trial jury
May 19, 1865 - President Jefferson Davis is captured by Union Cavalry in Georgia
May 10, 1865 - Jefferson Davis captured at Irwinsville, Georgia
May 2, 1865 - President Johnson offers $100,000 reward for capture of Jefferson Davis
April 2, 1865 - CSA President Jefferson Davis flees Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia
January 28, 1865 - President Jefferson Davis names 3 peace commissioners
June 7, 1863 - Battle of Milliken's Bend, Louisiana - Jefferson Davis' home burnt
November 6, 1861 - Jefferson Davis elected to 6 year term as Confederate president
May 6, 1861 - Jefferson Davis approves a bill declaring War between U.S. and Confederacy
March 13, 1861 - Jefferson Davis signs bill authorizing use of slaves as soldiers
February 18, 1861 - Confederate President Jefferson Davis inaugurated at Montgomery Alabama
February 9, 1861 - Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens elected president and Vice President of Confederate States of America
January 21, 1861 - Jefferson Davis of Mississippi and 4 other southern senators resign
June 3, 1808 - Jefferson Davis, born in Kentucky, President of Confederate States of America, 1861 - 1865

More Notable Events on February 4:
1998 Bill Gates gets a pie thrown in his face in Brussels Belgium
1988 Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega indicted on drug charges
1945 FDR, Churchill and Stalin meet at Yalta
1941 United Service Organization, USO, founded
1822 Free American Blacks settle Liberia, West Africa

Watch the video: Author Vikram Sampath u0026 MP Shashi Tharoor Speak To Rajdeep Sardesai. India Today Conclave 2021 (May 2022).