This is the fifth post in our series leading up to the 225th anniversary of the Constitution.

By presenting the first proposals, the Virginia delegation was able to set the stage for the Constitutional Convention’s agenda. Many aspects of the Virginia Plan favored the larger states. Using population, for example, as the basis for representation in the legislature would give Virginia far more votes than Delaware.

 The small states did not care for that idea at all.

 On June 19, William Paterson of New Jersey responded with 9 alternative proposals known as the New Jersey Plan. His proposals called for a less sweeping revision than Randolph’s Virginia Plan. By retaining many features under the Articles of Confederation, such as a unicameral legislature in which each state received a single, equal vote, the New Jersey Plan leveled the playing field for small states.

 The New Jersey Plan also aimed to fix weaknesses in the existing government. For example, the plan called for federal authority to regulate both interstate and international commerce. It was precisely that lack of authority had inspired the Annapolis Convention of 1786 to recommend holding a Constitutional Convention in the first place.

The New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan represented alternate views of what American government was and what American government should be. At first, those views appeared to be irreconcilable. Only a summer of debate would prove they were not.

The Constitutional Convention did not get off to an auspicious start. For the first twelve days, they convened only to adjourn until the following day because not enough states were represented.

But by May 25, 1787, delegations from seven states had arrived in Philadelphia, and the Convention at last had the necessary quorum to conduct business. By the Convention’s close, there would be a total of 55 delegates, but only 30 of them were present on the first day of business.

Those 30 delegates made three fateful decisions on the first day of the Convention. In a move that signaled the importance of the work before them, they first unanimously selected George Washington to preside over the Convention’s proceedings. The delegates’ collective knowledge of the theory and practice of government also led them to appoint a committee to draft standing rules of order for the Convention. Finally, they designated Major William Jackson to be the Convention’s secretary.

Jackson would prove to be rather lax in his recordkeeping duties. Much of what we know about the creation of the Constitution comes from journals kept by other participants, most notably James Madison.

On the first page of Madison’s journal [above] of the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention, he recorded the delegates who made up that initial quorum and the states they represented.

Massachusetts: Rufus King

New York: Robert Yates, Alexander Hamilton

New Jersey: David Brearly, William Churchill Houston, William Paterson

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Thomas Fitzsimons, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris

Delaware: George Read, Richard Bassett, Jacob Broom

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

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

South Carolina: John Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, Pierce Butler

Georgia: William Few

Hear ye, hear ye, this cake in the shape of Constitution is ready to be served!

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, the National Archives served up a special program about the signing of the Constitution and some cake. Each cake was decorated with an edible page of the Constitution.

Look at the line behind the Founding Fathers!

(Photo by Charles Fazio)

It would be several years before construction started on the actual Capitol of the United States (seen here). In late June 1787, the delegates attending the Constitutional Convention were still weighing their options on the framework of a document and government.

Three conceptual frameworks for the new government had been presented. In addition to Randolph’s Virginia Plan and Paterson’s New Jersey Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed a third possibility which called for a strong executive branch that reminded many delegates an awful lot of the English monarchy.

 Each plan had its advocates. The Virginia Plan was generally favored by larger states. The New Jersey Plan was generally favored by smaller states. The Hamilton plan was generally favored by Alexander Hamilton.

 The concepts of the two major plans were not rooted in size but in divergent values and priorities deeply influenced by size. Larger states had more people and more natural resources at their disposal, and they believed they deserved a proportional voice in the new government. Smaller states asserted the nation had formed as a union of equal states and that each state deserved an equal voice in the new government.

Nowhere was the conflict between proportional representation and equal representation more evident than in the Convention’s debates about how to organize the legislative branch. Debate about the legislature began on June 20, and the Convention took less than two days to agree it should consist of two houses. The question of how to determine representation in each house was hotly contested for weeks.

On June 29, Oliver Ellsworth from Connecticut proposed representation in the First House be proportional to population and representation in the Second House be equally distributed to each state.

After another week and a half of debates, the Convention finally adopted Ellsworth’s compromise as the foundation of the modern U.S. Congress.

Image: Photograph of the Capitol Building Under Construction in Washington, DC.


Five Friday Constitution Facts

George Washington was chosen unanimously to preside over the Constitutional Convention.

James Madison was known as the “Father of the Constitution.”

Benjamin Franklin was known as the “Sage of the Constitutional Convention.”

Thomas Jefferson was in France during the Constitutional Convention.

Madison kept a journal during the Constitutional Convention. It was later purchased for $30,000 in 1837.

The “fifth page” of the Constitution has never been on display before at the National Archives.

This year, for the first time, visitors will be able to see what is sometimes referred to as the “fifth page” of the Constitution—the Resolutions of Transmittal to the Continental Congress. A special display for the 225th anniversary of the Constitution in September, will feature this document. “It’s up there with the Constitution in terms of value,” says curator Alice Kamps.

The Constitution Resolution spells out how the new Constitution would be adopted by the United States and how the new government would be put into effect.

Don’t miss your chance to see it! It’s only on display from September 14 to 17.

The Constitution turns 225 on September 17, and the National Archives is ready to celebrate our founding document!

There will be public programs at the National Archives building, including book lectures, films, panel discussions, and a birthday celebration. Two events, September 5 and September 26, be streamed live online through our Ustream channel.

Image: Jefferson High School Marching Colonials Performing on the Steps of the National Archives Building on Constitution Day, 1974 (ARC 3493297)

We have great resources for teachers, too, with workshops for Constitution Day and a special page on DocsTeach.

Follow us on Twitter @usnatarchives and use #Constitution225 for all the Constitution news that’s fit to tweet! (And stay tuned for a special Twitter contest judged by the Archivist of the United States.)

Have you ever dreamed of being addressed as King or Queen or Prince or Princess or Viscount or Duchess or Lord or Dauphin? If you are a U.S. citizen, don’t expect that dream to come true–the United States does not confer titles of nobility.

On Thursday, August 23, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention agreed to explicitly prohibit the new government from conferring such titles.

The restriction simultaneously emphasized the republican spirit throughout the Constitution and the deliberate difference from the government of Great Britain. The prohibition on conferring titles of nobility survives today in Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution.

(If you still want to chase that dream, however, just prove yourself of great value to a nation that does not have an Article 1, Section 9.)

Image Caption: Royal Crown of the Hungarian Royal Holy Crown Jewels, recovered by the U.S. Army during World War II when this photo was taken on August 3, 1945.

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

Constitution 225: Tweet the Preamble Challenge Results!

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, we challenged citizens on Twitter to capture the essence of the 52-word Preamble in just 140 characters. Here’s the winner and some of our favorite entries!

The Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero chose the winner of the “Tweet the Preamble” challenge!:

@JeanHuets: #preamble

We’re getting together to constitute a nation that’s just, peaceful, strong, prosperous and free. Are you in?

Even the most important document in the United States has mistakes! This is the “errata” note on the fourth page of the Constitution.

Jacob Shallus inserted this after he was done “engrossing” the final document. He was under a tight deadline:

Arthur Plotnik estimates that Shallus had about 40 hours between receiving the drafts and handing back the engrossed parchment, but that after accounting for eating and sleeping, the number of working hours was more likely 35. Plotnik estimates the “slowest possible pace” to be about 160 words an hour. Shallus had to write over 4,000 words.

The Constitution is on permanent display in the National Archives building in Washington, DC. The “fifth page” of the Constitution, also engrossed by Jacob Shallus will be on display from September 14 to 19 in honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution.

By the second week of September, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had hammered out nearly all of the details of new government. They had carefully recorded each article they adopted throughout the summer, but they had not focused much energy on making them presentable as a whole.

Aware that they would soon lift their self-imposed veil of secrecy and present the finished document to the rest of the nation, they referred the entire document to the Committee on Style.  The Committee of Style was charged with organizing the articles and polishing the language to impart the Constitution with a consistent voice commensurate with its status as the foundation of the United States government.

The five delegates selected to serve on Committee of Style were William Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, and Rufus King.

Perhaps the most iconic edit proposed by the Committee of Style appears in the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution. While earlier drafts listed each state individually, the Preamble presented to the Convention on September 12 began “We the People of the United States.”

When the Constitutional Convention took up debate about the role of President, they had not yet named the position. In his notes, Madison refers to the position by various terms, including “Executive Magistrate,” “Nat’l Executive,” and simply “the Executive.”

Naming convention was not the only source of debate. The delegates wavered between a term in office lasting 6 or 7 years before finally agreeing on 4 years. They considered electing the President by either a popular vote or through appointment by the legislature before developing the Electoral College as a compromise between the two.

The Convention resolved early on that one person should be vested with the power of the executive branch. As the list of executive responsibilities grew, the delegates also provided for subordinate members of the executive branch, including the Vice President and the Cabinet. These provisions form the foundation for most of today’s federal agencies, including the National Archives.

Image: Portrait of George Washington, 12/31/1820 (ARC 192421)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

A “family portrait” of 225 new American citizens! They had just completed being sworn in front of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building.

To honor the 225th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, 225 petitioners from around the world became U.S. citizens in our annual naturalization ceremony.

This year’s ceremony featured remarks from Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and a keynote address by United States Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The Honorable Royce Lamberth, United States District Court for the District of Columbia, presided over the ceremony.

On Monday, September 10, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was fixated on fractions.

After four months of debate and compromise, the delegates knew they were nearing a final document. With the end in sight, they turned their attention to the future. There were two central questions they needed to answer.

First, how would the nation throw the switch to shut down the old government and start up the new government? Getting one-half of the states to agree to be governed by the Constitution seemed a little light, but three-fourths seemed a little heavy. The delegates finally settled on two-thirds; the Constitution would become effective once it was ratified by 9 of the 13 states.

Second, how could the new government develop with the nation as both grew and changed? The delegates agreed to include a mechanism by which future statesmen could improve or correct the Constitution. Proposals to amend the Constitution can be made by both two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can propose an amendment. No matter how the amendment is proposed, no amendment goes into effect until three-fourths of the states ratify it.

To date, the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times.

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

Image: Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-First Amendment to the United States Constitution (ARC 596379)

Join us in celebrating the 225th anniversary of the Constitution with Yale Law Professor Akhil Amar and special guest Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as they explore the past, present, and future of the nation’s founding document.

On Wednesday, September 12, at 7 p.m., join us in the National Archives building in the William G. McGowan Theater for “The Constitution Turns 225”

Presented in partnership with the Federalist Society and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations are accepted. Free tickets are distributed at the Special Events entrance on Constitution Avenue, 60 minutes prior to start time. You must be present to receive a ticket. Theater doors open 30 minutes prior to start time.