The Foundation of American Government

by Henry Hintermeister

Constitutional Convention
The Foundation of American Government, Henry Hintermeister (1925). Library of Congress,

Artist’s Biography

Henry Hintermeister was born in New York in 1897 and died there in 1972. In collaboration with his father John Henry Hintermeister, he produced over 1000 illustrations for calendars, advertisements, safety posters and other projects. Known for their often humorous depictions of small town and rural American life, the Hintermeisters also produced a series of calendars depicting American history from 1775 to 1787.

The Painting

The title of this 1925 painting on the Constitutional Convention, credited to the younger Hintermeister, is variously referred to as “The Foundation of American Government,” or “George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others Signing the Constitution.” Hintermeister’s painting is the third depicting the Constitutional Convention, and the first to depict the convention in the twentieth century. Hintermeister shows eleven delegates in a “signing disposition.” The other delegates are out of the picture. The Rising Sun chair is clearly visible, placed where Stearns and Rossiter positioned it. Hintermeister gives no hint of argument or disagreement preceding the signing; he depicts the outcome of a consensus.

The Delegates

Several of the delegates, beyond Washington and Franklin, can be identified. Our hunch is that Hintermeister went to the Portrait Gallery to study his subjects. There is no doubt that it is Madison who sits in the foreground, directly in front of Washington, and that Franklin stands behind Madison and to Washington’s right, inviting others to go up and sign the Constitution. To Washington’s immediate right, Roger Sherman and James Wilson wait their turn to sign. In a sense, then, Hintermeister democratized the signing, portraying it as the work of recognizable founders and not simply as the outcome of Washington’s leadership.