The Constitutional Convention as a Four Act Drama

Act I:
The Alternative Plans


Scene 1: Prologue

May 14 Constitutional Convention lacks necessary quorum
May 21 Connecticut selects three delegates (William Johnson, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Ellsworth)
May 25 Constitutional Convention meets quorum requirement
May 28 Committee on Rules Reports rules for Convention

Scene 2: The 15 Resolutions of the Virginia Plan

May 29 Virginia Plan introduced and defended by Edmund Randolph

Scene 3: First Discussion of the Virginia Plan

May 30 Resolution 1 amended
May 31 Resolutions 2 – 6 discussed and 5a defeated
June 1 Debated and postponed Resolution 7 on the Presidency
June 2 Further lengthy deliberation of Resolution 7
June 4 Council of Revision clause of Resolution 8 postponed
June 5 Consideration of Resolutions 9 – 15

Scene 4: Madison-Sherman Exchange

June 6 Are people “more happy in small than large States?” Should Resolution 4a be adopted?

Scene 5: Second Discussion of the Virginia Plan

June 7 How to fill “the chasm” created by defeat of Resolution 5a
June 8 Resolution 6 and the negative on State laws
June 9 Reconsideration of Resolution 7

Scene 6: The 19 Resolutions of the Amended Virginia Plan

June 11 Popular representation in both branches? Sherman’s compromise
June 12 The specifics of representation
June 13 Virginia Plan amended

Scene 7: The 9 Resolutions of the New Jersey Plan Discussed

June 14 John Dickinson to Madison: “you see the consequences of pushing things too far.”
June 15 New Jersey Plan introduced
June 16 The plan is “legal” and “practical”

Scene 8: The 11 Resolutions of Hamilton’s Plan Presented

June 18 Neither the Virginia Plan nor the New Jersey Plan is adequate to secure “good government”

Scene 9: Decision Day: Adoption of the Amended Virginia Plan

June 19 New Jersey Plan rejected (3 – 7 – 1)

Act II:
The Connecticut Compromise


Scene 1: Derailment over Representation of States and People

June 20 John Lansing questions legality of the Amended Plan
June 21 Specifics of House Representation discussed
June 22 Specifics of House Representation discussed
June 23 Ineligibility requirements for members of Congress
June 25 The purpose of the Senate
June 26 Specifics of Senate Representation discussed
June 27 Resolutions 7 and 8 discussed
June 28 Luther Martin resumes his “discourse” on the role of the States

Scene 2: Contours of Compromise: Partly Federal, Partly National

June 29 Ellsworth: “we were partly national; partly federal”
June 30 Loose talk of division and disunion
July 2 Creation of the Gerry Committee

Scene 3: Independence Day Contemplation

July 4 “When in the Course of Human Events”

Scene 4: The Gerry Committee Compromise Proposal Discussed

July 5 The Compromise Proposal has three components
July 6 Debating the merits of proportional representation
July 7 Sherman reinforces case for equal representation of States in Senate
July 9 Distributing 56 seats in the House to the 13 States
July 10 North – South, Large – Small discussion
July 11 The census and representation
July 12 “Blacks equal to the whites in the ratio of representation?”
July 13 Representation in the Senate
Confederation Congress Passes the Northwest Ordinance
July 14 Does partly national, partly federal make sense?

Scene 5: Decision Day on the Connecticut Compromise

July 16 Connecticut Compromise accepted (5 – 4 – 1)

Scene 6: Return to the Amended Virginia Plan; Committee of Detail Created

July 17 The Supreme Law of the Land and the Presidency
July 18 Discussion of Resolutions 11 – 16
July 19 Reconsideration of the Presidency
July 20 More disputation over the Presidency
July 21 The Council of Revision revisited
July 23 Resolutions 17 – 19 debated
July 24 Controversy over the Presidency
July 25 More discussion on the Presidency
July 26 Constitutional Convention adjourns with the creation of a 5 member Committee of Detail

Intermission:
Committee of Detail at Work


Act III:
The Committee of Detail Report


Scene 1: The Structure and Powers of Congress

August 6 Twenty-Three Articles presented
August 7 Article IV and the suffrage issue
August 8 Article IV deliberated
August 9 Article V dissected
August 10 Article VI and Pinckney’s property qualifications
August 11 Article VI continued
August 13 Reconsideration day and Dickinson’s remark on experience
August 14 Article VI and ineligibility
August 15 Reintroduction of Council of Revision
August 16 Deliberation of the Enumeration of Congressional powers
August 17 Deliberation of the Enumeration of Congressional powers
August 18 Creation of the Committee of 11
August 20 Article VII and the Issue of Rights

Scene 2: The Slavery Question and Creation of the Judiciary

August 21 Report of Committee of 11
August 22 Article VII Section 4 and slavery
August 23 Discussion of Articles VII – IX
August 24 Committee of 11 reports on slavery
August 25 The Slavery Question
August 27 Articles X and XI discussed
August 28 Articles XII – XV discussed
August 29 Articles XVI – XVII deliberated

Scene 3: Adoption of the Report; Creation of Brearly Committee

August 30 Articles XVII – XXI adopted
August 31 Discontent within agreement

Act IV:
The End is in Sight


Scene 1: The Brearly Committee Report

Sept. 1 The final push
Sept. 3 Article XVI revisited
Sept. 4 Brearly Committee reports 9 propositions
Sept. 5 Brearly Committee reports 5 propositions
Sept. 6 Brearly Committee and the Electoral College
Sept. 7 Discussion on the Presidency
Sept. 8 Treaties, Impeachment and Money Bills
Sept. 10 Randolph articulates his difficulties

Scene 2: The Committee of Style Report: A Preamble and 7 Articles

Sept. 11 How about this and how about that?
Sept. 12 Is this different from Committee of Detail report?

Scene 3: The Discussion of the Committee of Style Report

Sept. 13 Last minute additions
Sept. 14 The Necessary and Proper clause
Sept. 15 How about a Second Convention?

Scene 4: The Signing of the Constitution

Sept. 17 Constitution signed

Contents

Introduction

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 Notes on the Convention.

Interactive Map of Historic Philadelphia in the Late 18th Century

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

View Interactive

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