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Origins of American Government Name: ______________________________

The Constitutional Convention (1787)



1.) The Founding Fathers: Those Who Attended
Due to the difficulty of travel in the late 18th century, very few of the selected delegates were present on the designated day of May 14th, 1787, and it was not until May 25th that a quorum (the necessary minimum for doing official business) of seven states was secured and the delegations convened in the Pennsylvania State House. James Madison (of Virginia) arrived first, and soon after, most of the Virginia delegation arrived.
With the exception of Rhode Island, which refused to participate (the state strongly opposed ANY national regulations), the states had originally appointed 70 representatives to the Convention, but a number of the appointees did not accept or could not attend, leaving 55 delegates who would ultimately create the United States Constitution (only 39 of which would actually sign the Constitution).
The average age of the delegates was 42 and four of the most influential delegates – Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph, Gouvernor Morris and James Madison – were in their thirties. Almost all of the delegates had taken part in the Revolutionary War, with at least 29 having served in the Continental Army.
Over half of the delegates graduated from College with nine from Princeton and six from British Universities. Even more significant was the continental political experience of the Framers: 8 signed the Declaration of Independence, 25 served in the Continental Congress, 15 helped draft the new State Constitutions between 1776 and 1780, and 40 served in the Confederation Congress between 1783 and 1787. Just two delegates to the Convention, Roger Sherman and Robert Morris, would be signatories to all three of the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution.
More than half of the delegates had trained as lawyers and several had even been judges, although only about a quarter had practiced law as their principal means of business. There were also merchants, manufacturers, shippers, land speculators, bankers or financiers, two or three physicians, a minister, and several small farmers. Of the 25 who owned slaves, 16 depended on slave labor to run the plantations or other businesses that formed the mainstay of their income. Most of the delegates were landowners with substantial holdings, and most, with the possible exception of Roger Sherman and William Few, were very comfortably wealthy. George Washington (who, at its start, was unanimously elected president of the Convention) and Gouverneur Morris were among the wealthiest men in the entire country at the time.
The names of several prominent Founders are notable for their not having participated in the Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson was abroad, serving as the Foreign Minister to France. John Adams was in Britain, serving the same position to that country. Patrick Henry refused to participate because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy.” Henry was continued to be adamantly opposed to the U.S. Constitution as he felt that the delegates had no right to create a new system of government under a new constitution.
Also absent were John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Many of the states’ older and more experienced leaders may have simply been too busy with the local affairs of their states to attend the Convention, which had originally been planned to strengthen the existing Articles of Confederation, not to write a constitution for a completely new national government.
Alexis de Tocqueville (French philosopher and author who studied Democracy in the United States) marveled at the work of the American Founders: never before in the history of the world had the leaders of a country declared the existing government to be broken, ruined and incompatible with the people; and the people, after debate, calmly elected delegates who proposed a solution, which, in turn, was debated up and down the country for nearly a year, and not one drop of blood was spilled!

Origins of American Government Name: ______________________________

The Constitutional Convention (1787)


2.) The Virginia Plan: Madison’s Blueprint
Due to the difficulty of travel in the late 18th century, very few of the selected delegates were present on the designated day of May 14th, 1787, and it was not until May 25th that a quorum (the necessary minimum for doing official business) of seven states was secured and the delegations convened in the Pennsylvania State House. James Madison (of Virginia) arrived first, and soon after, most of the Virginia delegation arrived. While waiting for the other delegates, the Virginia delegation produced the Virginia Plan, which was designed and written by James Madison (hence, the reason why he is nicknamed “The Father of the Constitution”).
On the scope of the Articles of Confederation, Edmund Randolph (Virginia Governor and delegate to the Convention) listed five reasons why the Articles must be radically altered:

1.) “It does not provide against foreign attacks.”


2.) “It does not secure Harmony to the States.”
3.) “It is incapable of producing certain blessings to the States.”
4.) “It cannot defend itself against encroachments.” (intrusions or invasion)
5.) “It is not superior to State constitutions.”
The scope of the Virginia Plan went well beyond simply repairing with the Articles and succeeded in broadening the debate to include fundamental changes to the structure and powers of the national government.
The Virginia Plan proposed a legislative branch consisting of two chambers (a bicameral legislature). Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants” (representation based on population). States with a large population, like Virginia (which had the highest population at the time), would have more representatives than smaller states.
Members of one of the two legislative chambers would be elected by the people; members of that chamber would then elect the second chamber from nominations submitted by state legislatures. The executive would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and would therefore be chosen by the legislative branch (this is similar to a parliamentary system today – think Great Britain).
In addition to dealing with legislative representation, the Virginia Plan addressed other issues as well. It called for a national government of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial (separation of powers).
Terms of office were unspecified, but the executive and members of the popularly elected (elected by the people) legislative chamber could not be elected for an undetermined time afterward. The legislative branch would have the power to negate state laws (basically, veto) if they were deemed incompatible with the articles of union. The concept of checks and balances was embodied in a provision that legislative acts could be vetoed by a council composed of the executive and selected members of the judicial branch; their veto could be overridden by an unspecified legislative majority.
Large states obviously supported this plan, and smaller states generally opposed it, which led to an eventual alternate plan being proposed at the convention.

Origins of American Government Name: ______________________________

The Constitutional Convention (1787)


3.) The New Jersey Plan: the Small State Plan
After the Virginia Plan was introduced at the onset of the Constitutional Convention in May 1787, New Jersey delegate to the Convention William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the James Madison’s blueprint for the new government of the United States.
Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had equal representation in Congress, exercising one vote each. The Virginia Plan threatened to limit the smaller states' power by making both houses of the legislature proportionate to population throughout the country. On the 14th and 15th June 1787, a small-state caucus met to create a response to the Virginia Plan. The result was the New Jersey Plan, otherwise known as the Small State Plan.
Paterson's New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan, and was much closer to the initial call for the Convention: drafting amendments to the Articles of Confederation to fix the problems in it. Under the New Jersey Plan, the existing Confederation Congress would remain, but it would be granted new powers, such as the power to levy taxes and force their collection. Under this plan, the Confederation Congress also gained authority to raise funds via tariffs and other measures, and to regulate interstate trade and trade with foreign nations.
An executive branch was created, to be elected by Congress (the plan allowed for a multi-person executive). The executives would serve a single term and were subject to recall on the request of state governors. The plan also created a judiciary that would serve for life, to be appointed by the executives.
Lastly, any laws set by Congress would take precedence over state laws (they would be supreme).
When Paterson reported the plan to the Convention on June 15th, 1787, it was ultimately rejected as the basis for the new Constitution and government, but it gave the smaller states a rallying point for their interests at the Constitutional Convention.

Origins of American Government Name: ______________________________

The Constitutional Convention (1787)


4.) The Great Compromise
The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise) was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the new United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman (initially in the Virginia Plan), along with proportional representation in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally between the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.
In May 1787, Edmund Randolph of the Virginia delegation proposed the creation of a bicameral legislature. Under his proposal, membership in both houses would be allocated to each state proportional to its population; however, candidates for the lower house would be nominated and elected by the people of each state, whereas candidates for the upper house would be nominated by the state legislatures of each state and then elected by the members of the lower house. This proposal was known as the Virginia Plan (created by James Madison).
Less populous states like Delaware and New Jersey were afraid that such an arrangement would result in their voices and interests being drowned out by the larger states. Many delegates also felt that the Convention did not have the authority to completely scrap the Articles of Confederation, as the Virginia Plan would have. In response, on June 15, 1787, William Paterson of the New Jersey delegation proposed a legislature consisting of a single house. Each state was to have equal representation in this body, regardless of population. The New Jersey Plan, as it was called, would have left the Articles of Confederation in place, but would have amended them to somewhat increase Congress's powers.
The delegates to the Convention rejected the New Jersey Plan and voted to proceed with a discussion of the Virginia Plan. The small states became increasingly unhappy and some threatened to withdraw from the Convention.
The problem was referred to a committee consisting of one delegate from each State to reach a compromise. In July 1787, the committee submitted its report, which became the basis for the “Great Compromise” of the Convention.
In the “Great Compromise,” every state was given equal representation in the upper house (New Jersey Plan) of Congress; and proportional representation (Virginia Plan) – based on population – in the lower house. In the Senate, every state would have two seats. In the House of Representatives, the number of seats would depend on population throughout the states (as it does today). Because it was considered more responsive to majority sentiment, the House of Representatives was given the power to originate all legislation dealing with the federal budget and taxation.
Ultimately, the Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman from Connecticut blended the Virginia and New Jersey Plans to please the Convention delegates on the topic of representation in Congress.


Origins of American Government Name: ______________________________

The Constitutional Convention (1787)


5.) Electing the President and the Electoral College
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, delegates had expressed concern that a meeting of a single body in the nation's capital to elect a President opened the door to intrigue and undue influence by special interests, foreign governments, and political factions. Meeting in their home states, electors would find it difficult to conspire or buy and sell votes.
During the debates at the Constitutional Convention, some delegates argued that the diversity and distribution of people over an expansive territory worked against direct popular election, for voters would be unable to form a majority behind any one candidate (because of lack of communication, information, travel, etc.).
In response, James Madison proposed that every individual voter cast three votes for President, at least two for persons from a state other than his own. Madison's idea later resurfaced, and the Convention applied it in modified form to the presidential electors of the Electoral College.
Requiring each elector to cast two votes for President increased the chances that electors could form a majority. Indeed, it was possible that as many as three candidates could have a majority of the votes of the electors. The provision did not prevent a New York elector from voting for two Virginians, but prohibited a Virginia elector from doing so.
If two or three persons received a majority vote and an equal vote, the House of Representatives must choose one of them for President. In deference to a suggestion by George Washington, the Convention gave this responsibility to the popularly elected House of Representatives, not the Senate, but representatives had to vote as state delegations, each state having one vote.
If no candidate received a majority of the electoral vote, the House would choose from among the top five candidates. Because each state had one vote, regardless of population, the procedure gave proportionately more influence to the smaller states. The choice of five also gave to smaller states a greater chance of having one of their residents elected by the House, a concession to them that balanced the advantage that large states had in the electoral vote. The contingency election process also reassured delegates who had favored congressional election of the President in the first instance. The 12th Amendment modified these provisions, following a crisis in 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received an equal number of electoral votes.
The creation of the office of Vice President appears to have been directly related to the mode of choosing the President. The Constitution gives to the Vice President only two specific constitutional responsibilities: he is President of the Senate, and he receives, opens and counts the electoral votes.
Finally, under this clause, whoever was runner-up in the electoral vote, with or without a majority vote, presumably a national figure competent to serve as President, became Vice President. Clearly, the Founders did not anticipate rival national political parties whose top candidates could be the top two vote recipients. In the 1796 election, Federalist John Adams became President and Republican Thomas Jefferson (Adams's political opponent) became Vice President. Four years later, both Jefferson and his Vice-Presidential running mate, Aaron Burr, received an equal number of votes. The House ultimately voted in favor of Jefferson, but only after thirty-six ballots. Hence, the 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, also changed this method of choosing the Vice President.
In the contingency election for Vice President, the Senate makes the choice. Senators do not vote as state delegations; thus, disagreements between the two Senators from a state do not lead to a stalemate.



The Founding Fathers: Those Who Attended




The Virginia Plan: Madison’s Blueprint




The New Jersey Plan: the Small State Plan




The Great Compromise




The Presidency and the Electoral College





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