“I call these men heroes in deliberate defiance of the ban placed upon this word by most serious-minded historians. By hero I mean a leader of men who engages with clear eye and stout heart in an uncertain enterprise for some purpose larger than the gratification of his own ambition or the rewarding of his own friends, and whose deeds work a benevolent influence on the lives of countless other men.” (p. 18)

Chapter 2: The United States in 1787

There was a dichotomy between the people in the cities and people who lived in complete isolation, surviving on subsistence farming and having no contact with the cities. “The pioneering yeoman developed a self-respecting dependence on those around him and a headstrong independence of those remote from him—qualities that boded well for democracy yet ill for nationhood.” (p. 27)

The country was divided into five section. The three main ones were New England (1M), the Middle States (1.3M), and the South (1.5M). There were 650,000 slaves. There were also classes, although not as pronounced as in Europe. There was not much distance between the Landholder and Lawyers, Farmers and Shopkeepers, and Laborers and Servants. 3% aristocratic and 20% in poverty. (p. 28-31)

8 in 10 lived off the land

1 in 10 worked in an extractive industry like fishing or lumber

1 in 10 had a place in commerce, such as lawyers, sailors, and clerks (p. 33)

“Live-and-let-live, worship-and-let-worship was the essence of religion in this land of vast distances and a hundred religions” (p.36)

“countrymen everywhere in America feared the fact of a national government, few men anywhere opposed the idea of a nation. While men like George Clinton, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee were ready to be American, they were not ready to submit to the commands of an American Government” These men were the Republicans and stood against Nationalists like Washington and Madison. (p.38)

Chapter 3: Ills and Remedies

The economy as sluggish after 8 years of war and 4 years of rebuilding

Paper money was being issued in each state and there was somewhat of a class war going on between the upper level debtors and the lower class.

The country was a conglomeration of squabbling states, and it appeared this way to other countries. While there was no worry of a military attack, parts of the country could have easily been bought. (p. 44-46)

Although the Articles of Confederation were a natural response to the end of the war, the stripped the national government of all power and by 1785, the US government could not raise enough money for even the simplest of things. (p. 48-49)

The Articles failed “because it made the exercise of the limited authority it granted almost exclusively dependent on the good will of each of the thirteen states, not one of which had any overpowering reason….to trust any or all of the other states.” (p. 50)

Perfect example of free-riding.

Future Federalists: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, Charles Pickney

Future Anti-Federalists: William Grayson, James Monroe, George Clinton, Patrick Henry

Shay’s Rebellion struck fear into all the states, as they all had indebted farmers that could possible rise against the court systems. If they could almost throw MA into civil war, they could throw any state into turmoil. (p. 56)

Chapter 4: Materials and Choices

“The essence of government is trust. Those who are chosen to govern must remember that they act, whether by the terms of the contract or the law of nature itself, as servants and never as masters of the governed.

           The purpose of government is to protect men in the enjoyment of their natural rights, secure their persona and property against violence, remove obstructions to their pursuit of happiness, help them to live virtuous and useful lives….” (p. 62)

Options going into the conference: (p. 72)

1)      Preserve the Articles, but give Congress the power to tax and regulate trade, and make the powers less dependent on the voluntary cooperation of states. (George Clinton and John Lansing)
2)      Abandon the Articles, and strike for a national system in which the states remained but did not have sovereignty (Alexander Hamilton and where James Madison was moving)
3)      What happened


Chapter 5: The Men of the North

NH (141,727): Half-willing Delegation

John Langdon - Voting Nationalist as Langdon was the leader of a port that needed a national government to regulate trade.
 Nicholas Gilman

MA (378,787): Uncertain Delegation

 Nathaniel Gorham – Nationalist
                        Caleb Strong – Nationalist
 Elbridge Gerry – Unpredictable; anti-Nationalist but pressured to
Madison, as he was a large holder of securities and western lands
                        Rufus King – Anti-Nationalist

RI (67,877): No Delegation. Hugely Anti-Nationalist

CT (235,182): A prominent, experience, and shrewd team

           Dr. William Samuel Johnson – Aristocrat, mild Nationalist
           Roger Sherman – typical New England common man, mild anti-Nationalist
           Oliver Ellsworth – Judge, mild Nationalist

NY (318,796): Had plenty of Nationalists in the state but the government was Anti due to the fact that they laid claim to Vermont and had the best chance to “go it alone”

           Robert Yates – Big Anti-Nationalist
           John Lansing, Jr. – Vigilant Anti-Nationalist
           Alexander Hamilton – Genius Nationalist thrown into a minority role

Chapter 6: The Men of the Middle States

NJ (172,716): Had the most to gain from a strengthened national government.

           William Livingston – Whig Governor
           David Brearly – Whig/Mason Chief Justice
           William Paterson – Moderate Nationalist but his business ventures saw otherwise
           William Churchill Houston – Confirmed Nationalist, Clerk of Supreme Court
           Jonathan Dayton – Ambitious unknown, youngest member of convention

PA (430,636): Largest delegation. PA consisted of two parties: the Constitutionalists, a democratic, anti-nationalist coalition of farmers and tradesmen, and the Republicans, a Nationalist group of merchants and lawyers. Republicans elected a delegation entirely to their liking as they controlled the legislature.

           Benjamin Franklin – 81-year old PA President, Nationalist Democrat
           Robert Morris – Brilliant Economic mind, Strong Nationalist
           George Clymer – Nationalist
           Thomas Fitzsimons – Successful merchant
           James Wilson – Wanted to be like Morris, expected to play a major role
           Thomas Mifflin – Walked a path between the 2 parties
           Jared Ingersoll – Mild Nationalist used as balance between the parties
           Gouverneur Morris – Nationalist before there was a Nation

Delaware (50,209): Smallest state, and was for the Nation as long as it did not lead to the “enslavement” of the state by larger ones.

John Dickinson – Leader, Drafted the first Articles of Confederation, Nationalist
George Read – Nationalist and friend of Washington
Richard Bassett – less distinguished along with the next 2
Gunning Bedford, Jr.
Jacob Broom

MD (216,692): Not as anxious as Delaware to see a reforming convention, and did not send a very worthy committee

           Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer – Senior member, Moderate Nationalist
           Daniel Carroll
           James McHenry – Out of his league with the big boys
John Francis Mercer – In with the MD paper-money faction, and as such was a strong Anti-Nationalist
Luther Martin – Alcoholic committed anti-Nationalist

Chapter 7: The Men of the South

VA (454,983 and 292,627 slaves): Many thought as VA goes, so does the Union

           George Washington
           George Mason – Drafted the first Bill of Rights
           George Wythe
           John Blair – Mild Nationalist and out of politics
           Edmund Randolph – Not quite a fervent nationalist governor
           Dr. James McClurg – Doctor with no political experience
           James Madison – Determined Nationalist
                       Father of the 3/5 compromise, and separation of church and state

NC (293,179 and 100,572 slaves): Badly favored, poorly governed state.

           Hugh Williamson – Strong Nationalist in principle and interest
           Alexander Martin – Anti-Nationalist expected to cancel out Williamson
           William R. Davie – Nationalist who persuaded the delegation to come to PA
           William Blount – Native Carolinian who spoke for the Western settlers
           Richard Dobbs Spaight – Nationalist

SC (141,979 and 107,094 slaves): SC thought they were 4 times bigger than they were. –Nation-Minded Aristocrats

           John Rutledge – Former President/Dictator of SC, Firm Nationalist
           Charles Cotesworth Pinckney –
           Charles Pinckney – second cousins, Advocated a strong central government
           Pierce Butler – Man of conscience and a committed Nationalist

GA (52,284 and 29,264 slaves): All expected to take a moderately Nationalist line. “The men of Georgia wanted protection as they grew to greatness, and they had a notion where it might be found.” Least distinguished delegation, and was wanted for votes, not ideas.

           Abraham Baldwin
           William Few – humble origins
           William Houstoun
           William Pierce

Chapter 8: The Men of Philadelphia

Men from the west were not at all interested in the Convention, as they had nothing to gain from it. (p. 139-140)

42 of the 55 had served at one time in the Congress (p. 145)

Chapter 9: The Convention, May 14-June 20: The Nationalist Assault

May 25 was when it got officially underway. Two decisions were made that day: Washington was elected Chairman and James Madison became the unofficial secretary of the convention. His detailed and accurate note taking became the main source of information regarding the convention. (p. 162-3)

Of the 55, 29 were full-timers, attended almost all sessions, and were there for the signing

10 were full-timers except for a few missed weeks

12 missed long and critical portions of the convention

4 might as well have been absent (Houston died (NJ), Wythe (VA), Mercer (MD), and Pierce (GA)) (p. 165-6)

“It may be argued plausibly that only by being somewhat less than democratic in two crucial respects—the process of selection that left the anti-nationalists at home, and the decision for secrecy that left them quite in the dark—was the Convention able to write a charter on which a stable democracy could arise and flourish.” (p. 169)

Virginia Plan: People elect the House of Representative, which elects a Senate with members proportional to the population and nominated by the state legislatures. The house and Senate together elect the national executive and the Judiciary.

New Jersey Plan: Hastily thrown together to counter the Virginia Plan. States still received one vote but the National Government was given more powers over taxes and enforcing laws. The Virginia Plan was passed by a vote of 7-3.

Chapter 10: The Convention, June 21-August 5: Compromise and Creativity

5 most perilous weeks in the convention. 2 things had to be addressed: the adjustment in representation, and preparation of the resolutions of the committee of the whole.

6/21-6/26 – agreements on a bicameral legislature; a lower house elected by the people; an upper house elected by the states; terms for congress.

7/2 – The vote to allow each state a Senate vote was tied 5-5, and would have swung the Nationalists way had Jenifer been present, as this would have tied Maryland. (p. 187)

7/16 – Great Compromise: House and Senate set up, with a census every 10 years to redistribute the seats. The house has all the power to originate money. (p. 186)

After the great compromise, the Convention was divided into 5 groups:

  • The Irreconcilable large-staters like Madison, King and Wilson. Any compromise was surrender to injustice.
  • The Reconcilable large-staters like Gorham, Morris, Mason, and Rutledge. They saw the justice of the argument but would not accept it.
  • The Reconciling large-staters like Gerry, Davie and Williamson. They changed their minds just enough to change their votes.
  • Connecticut, with Franklin and Dickinson, who had the most to do with accommodation on the floor.
  • The Irreconcilable small-staters like Paterson, Dayton and Bedford, who were the Madisons of the other side.

7/17-7/26 – Gave Congress the power to legislate, power to the national courts to cases arising under laws made by Congress, and to give 2 members to each state in the senate.

Original draft of the constitution: “To insert essential principles only, lest the operations of government should be clogged by rendering those provisions permanent and unalterable, which ought to be accommodated to times and events” Defense of Marriage Act