The Declaration of Independence
American History: Meeting in Philadelphia to Write a Constitution. December 26, They gathered in the same room where America's Declaration of Independence was signed in The first The convention did not just discuss a proposal, vote on it, and move on to other issues. Any delegate. At the time, the Declaration of Independence was regarded as a collective effort of the Continental Congress; Did you know? I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the committee, and from them, unaltered to the Congress. John Adams describes the writing of the Declaration of Independence. upon my heart; and upon this occasion I gave him my vote, and did all in my power to procure the votes of others. When you have drawn it up, we will have a meeting .
There were other expressions which I would not have inserted if I had drawn it up, particularly that which called the King tyrant. I thought this too personal, for I never believed George to be a tyrant in disposition and in nature; I always believed him to be deceived by his courtiers on both sides of the Atlantic, and in his official capacity, only, cruel.
I thought the expression too passionate, and too much like scolding, for so grave and solemn a document; but as Franklin and Sherman were to inspect it afterwards, I thought it would not become me to strike it out. I consented to report it, and do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration.
Thomas Jefferson We reported it to the committee of five. It was read, and I do not remember that Franklin or Sherman criticized anything. We were all in haste.
Congress was impatient, and the instrument was reported, as I believe, in Jefferson's handwriting, as he first drew it. Congress cut off about a quarter of it, as I expected they would; but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if anything in it was. I have long wondered that the original draft had not been published. I suppose the reason is the vehement philippic against Negro slavery. As you justly observe, there is not an idea in it but what had been hackneyed in Congress for two years before.
The substance of it is contained in the declaration of rights and the violation of those rights in the Journals of Congress in Indeed, the essence of it is contained in a pamphlet, voted and printed by the town of Boston, before the first Congress met, composed by James Otis, as I suppose, in one of his lucid intervals, and pruned and polished by Samuel Adams. Adams, John Charles Francis Adams ed. Guards were placed at the doors of the State House.
Newspaper reporters were not allowed inside. And the delegates were not allowed to discuss convention business in public. The secrecy rule led people to think all kinds of things about the convention. This was true especially in Europe. There, most people believed the convention was discussing how America could be ruled by a king. Europeans said a republican government worked in a small country, such as Switzerland.
- Signing of the United States Declaration of Independence
- American History: Meeting in Philadelphia to Write a Constitution
- Writing of Declaration of Independence
But it would not work, they said, in a land as large as America. At the time of the convention, Thomas Jefferson was serving as America's representative to France. When he learned of the secrecy rule, he was angry. He believed strongly in freedom of speech and freedom of the press. More than 40 years later, James Madison explained the decision behind the secrecy rule. Madison said that if the convention had been open to the public, no delegate would ever have changed his mind after speaking on an issue.
To do so would mean he was wrong the first time he spoke. And no delegate would be willing to admit to the public that he had made a mistake. This was Madison's reasoning. If the meetings had been open, he said, the convention would have failed.
Another rule helped the delegates speak freely. They used a method of debate known as the committee of the whole.
American History Series: The Founding Fathers Meet in Philadelphia to Write a Constitution
It was useful then and it is still used today in legislatures. Votes taken in the committee are not recorded as final votes. The committee of the whole provides a way for people to discuss ideas and vote, but also to change their minds. To have the Philadelphia convention become a committee of the whole, the delegates needed to elect a chairman of the committee.
They chose Nathaniel Gorham, a judge from Massachusetts. Each morning at ten o'clock, the convention met and declared that it was sitting as a committee of the whole.
George Washington then left the president's chair. Nathaniel Gorham took his place. Just before four o'clock in the afternoon, the committee of the whole declared it was sitting again as a convention. Gorham would step down. Washington would take the chair and declare that the convention would meet again the next morning. This process was repeated each day. Because of these rules, the story of the Philadelphia convention would be difficult to understand if we told about events day-by-day. So, we will put the calendar and the clock away, and tell how each major issue was debated and settled.
On May 29th, the delegates heard what was called the Virginia Plan. This was the plan of government prepared by James Madison and other delegates from Virginia.
The delegates agreed to start the convention as soon as seven states were represented. New York sent three men. That was a surprise. Many people believed New York would refuse to send anyone at all. The governor of New York did not support the idea of a strong central government.
But one of the New York delegates did. He was Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton served as an assistant to General George Washington during the revolution. He firmly believed the United States needed a strong central government. In fact, some people said he wanted the country ruled by a king. Day by day, more delegates arrived in Philadelphia for the convention. Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut. William Few and William Pierce of Georgia.
Gunning Bedford and George Read of Delaware. Fifty-five men in all from twelve states. Pennsylvania sent the most delegates -- eight. Rhode Island sent none. A few of the delegates were very old. But many were in their twenties or thirties.
The average age of the delegates was just forty-three years. This respected group was missing two important persons — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. At the time, Adams was serving as America's representative to Britain. Jefferson was serving as the representative to France. Both men expected to continue their service to the new nation. So both were extremely interested in the convention in Philadelphia. They exchanged letters with friends to learn what was happening.
The convention did not have seven states represented until May twenty-fifth. On that day, it finally began its work.
On this day, the Declaration of Independence is officially signed - National Constitution Center
The delegates' first task was to name a clerk to write the reports of the meetings. They chose Major William Jackson. Major Jackson had asked George Washington to support him for the job. General Washington did so. But Major Jackson was not a good clerk. He wrote down few details of the convention.
Luckily, however, James Madison did. From the moment the convention began, Madison kept careful records of everything everyone said.