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Navigating The Exhibit

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Navigating The Exhibit

Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention, 1856, oil on canvas. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The fundamental difficulty facing teachers and students of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 is how to make sense of the vast and complex material.

“How do you teach the Convention? Is there really a coherent conversation taking place or is there just a random set of utterances? How do you keep the students connected with the arguments that often change during the course of four months? This is a visual generation rather than a textual generation.”

These are the two most persistent questions that I’m invited to answer when I’m on the road introducing the Convention to teachers. What makes the task easier is that there is a genuine desire among the participants to recover what is good about the American Founding.

This website provides a twelve-step guide to understanding the Constitutional Convention.

  1. The Introduction to the Convention is an overview of the arguments and decisions of the Convention.
  2. I have organized the Convention into a four-part drama with numerous scenes.
  3. A Day-by-Day Summary, constructed with the help of a former student from the School of Public Policy, permits the viewer to scan the major decisions as they unfold.
  4. The Major Themes of the Convention section provides a summary of the critical turning points of the Convention with links to the debates.
  5. Despite the rule of secrecy that the delegates adopted, there is a great deal of correspondence that occurred during the Convention that reveals some of the twists and turns that took place behind closed doors.
  6. The above topics are linked to Madison’s Notes, the most complete original account of the events of 1787.
  7. There is a Biographical Sketch of the Framers that documents their ages, educational background, continental experience, and their activity at the Convention. I wish to thank Jeff Sammon for his contribution to this part of the project.
  8. Howard Christy’s rendition of the Signing of the Constitution permits participants to engage in an interactive exchange with links to the other items.
  9. Many other artists have created Visual Interpretations of the Convention that provide us with some insight into the public’s perception of the Convention. I wish to thank Jacklin Boyadjian for her contribution to this part of the project.
  10. I have replicated 1787 Philadelphia and provided the text to explain the importance of people and places. Special thanks to Angela Edwards, Colleen Garot, and Ben Kunkel for their work on an earlier version of this map and to Natalie Bolton, Margie Hope, Forrest McDonald, Lisa Ormiston, Earle Spamer, Nicole Birchmeier, Josh Distel, and Dantan Wernecke for their help with a number of the photographs and stories behind the red dots.  Thanks to Dan Dreisbach, Claire Griffin, Derek Hughes, and Andrew Burns Vernon for their advice and assistance on the sketch of Philadelphia.
  11. I have compiled a detailed replication of the Convention’s committee assignments.
  12. I have also compiled a Day-by-Day Attendance Record. I wish to thank Margie Hope and David Kimball for their assistance in helping launch this project in the 1980s. And thanks to Roger Beckett and Ben Kunkel for their help in bringing the project to fruition in the 21st Century.

Gordon Lloyd