Meeting of delegates from the thirteen original states held in Philadelphia for the purpose of framing the Constitution of the United States and submitting it to the Continental Congress, which subsequently offered it to the states for ratification.
By 1787 the weaknesses of the new U.S. government under the Articles of Confederation
During the next four months, fifty-five delegates from twelve states (Rhode Island refused to send anyone) attended the convention. Prominent among these delegates were, in addition to Madison and Hamilton, George Washington, Edmund Randolph, and George Mason of Virginia; Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania; Rufus King, Nathaniel Gorham, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts; John Rutledge of South Carolina; William Paterson of New Jersey; and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. Although they were generally drawn from the educated and propertied elite of the day, they represented different regions and therefore had different interests.
To attenuate conflict, the delegates agreed to hold deliberations in the strictest secrecy, thus screening out external influences. They also adopted the procedure of parceling out tough issues to committees composed of delegates representing all sides in the hope that compromise could be reached. This worked admirably with regard to the most divisive issue the convention faced, that concerning the basis for representation in the new Congress. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had one vote in a unicameral Congress, but at the convention, the most populous states sought what was to them a fairer plan: representation in a bicameral legislature based on population size. By mid-June, the smaller states had countered with an alternative plan based on the old system. For a month, this dispute threatened to wreck the convention. In committee, however, the delegates embraced what came to be known as the Great Compromise, proposed by Roger Sherman, under which the new Congress would be bicameral with the seats in one house, the House of Representatives, allocated to the states according to population and the seats in the other, the Senate, allocated equally, two seats for each state. The convention adopted the compromise by the narrowest of possible margins, but the system created survived.
Not all issues were resolved successfully, however. Slavery,
The delegates, however, were of one mind on the need for a national supreme court and an independent national judiciary. No judicial branch existed under the Articles of Confederation, and this was deemed a serious defect. The principal matter of contention concerned who should appoint the court’s judges, Congress or the chief executive. Here again the spirit of compromise prevailed. The convention adopted a proposal by Nathaniel Gorham, which was actually the system used in Massachusetts for many years, whereby the judges would be appointed by the executive with the advice and consent of the Senate. The convention defined the court’s jurisdiction but created only a court and a chief justice in Article III of the Constitution, leaving the composition of the court and the organization of the lower judiciary to Congress.
The Constitutional Convention itself rarely comes into play in cases where the Supreme Court must interpret constitutional
After an exhausting and sometimes angry summer of debate, the convention closed on September 17, 1787, with the signing of the Constitution by thirty-four of the thirty-seven delegates present. Mason, Randolph, and Gerry were the three delegates who refused to sign, still holding out for a bill of rights.
Barash, Fred. The Founding: A Dramatic Account of the Writing of the Constitution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. Bernstein, Richard B., and K. S. Rice. Are We to Be a Nation? The Making of the Constitution. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1987. Kammen, Michael, ed. The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. New York: Penguin Books, 1986. Madison, James. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987. Rossiter, Clinton. 1787: The Grand Convention. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.
Articles of Confederation
British background to U.S. judiciary
Gibbons v. Ogden
United States Term Limits v. Thornton
Wesberry v. Sanders