Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

by James Madison

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Monday, May 14 1787

Was the day fixed for the meeting of the Deputies in Convention, for revising the federal system of government. On that day a small number only had assembled. Seven States were not convened till,

Friday, May 25

When the following members appeared:


Massachusetts,     Rufus King.

New York,              Robert Yates and Alexander Hamilton.

New Jersey,            David Brearly, William Churchill Houston, and William Patterson.

Pennsylvania,        Robert Morris, Thomas Fitzsimons, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris.

Delaware,              George Read, Richard Basset, and Jacob Broom.

Virginia,                 George Washington, Edmund Randolph, John Blair, James Madison, George Mason, George Wythe, and James McClurg.

North Carolina,   Alexander Martin, William Richardson Davie, Richard Dobbs Spaight, and Hugh Williamson.

South Carolina,   John Rutledge, General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, and Pierce Butler.

Georgia,                 William Few.


Mr. Robert Morris informed the members assembled, that, by the instruction and in behalf of the deputation of Pennsylvania, he proposed George Washington, Esquire, late Commander-in-Chief, for President of the Convention.1 Mr. John Rutledge seconded the motion, expressing his confidence that the choice would be unanimous; and observing, that the presence of General Washington forbade any observations on the occasion which might otherwise be proper.

General Washington was accordingly unanimously elected by ballot, and conducted to the Chair by Mr. R. Morris and Mr. Rutledge; from which, in a very emphatic manner, he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him; reminded them of the novelty of the scene of business in which he was to act, lamented his want of better qualifications, and claimed the indulgence of the House towards the involuntary errors which his inexperience might occasion.

Mr. Wilson moved that a Secretary be appointed, and nominated Mr. Temple Franklin.

Colonel Hamilton nominated Major Jackson. On the ballot Major Jackson had five votes, and Mr. Franklin two votes.

On reading the credentials of the Deputies, it was noticed that those from Delaware were prohibited from changing the Article in the Confederation establishing an equality of votes among the States.

The appointment of a Committee, on the motion of Mr. C. Pinckney, consisting of Messrs. Wythe, Hamilton, and C. Pinckney, to prepare standing rules and orders, was the only remaining step taken on this day.

The nomination came with particular grace from Pennsylvania, as Doctor Franklin alone could have been thought of as a competitor. The Doctor was himself to have made the nomination of General Washington, but the state of the weather and of his health confined him to his house. Return to text

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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.

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