Founding Documents: The Constitution

After just six years under the Articles of Confederation, a committee of anxious delegates agreed to meet in Philadelphia to amend the government. The country was in an economic crisis — citizens couldn’t pay their debts, the government couldn’t really collect taxes, and rebellions were cropping up in states across the nation. The existing government had the potential to drive the country to ruin. So fifty-five men gathered to determine the shape of the new United States.

The document that emerged after that summer of debate was littered with masterful planning, strange ideas and unsavory concessions. The delegates decided they'd be pleased if this new government lasted fifty years. It has been our blueprint for over two centuries now. This is the story of how our Constitution came to be. 

Leading us through the sweltering summer of 1787 are Linda Monk, David O. Stewart, Woody Holton and Alvin Tillery.

Episode Clips


More Resources

The Constitution has a complicated story, so don’t stop here! There are some great resources out there that can shed more light on the Constitutional Convention and its ramifications.

Day-By-Day Summary of the Convention

James Madison took copious notes during the Constitutional Convention, and understanding the timeline of this event can help to shed light on the decisions and compromises made. This day-by-day summary can take you there without having to hold Madison’s hand the whole time.

But let’s say you, just like Linda Monk, would love to hold James Madison’s hand the whole time! You can find his complete notes below.

James Madison’s Notes from the Convention

There are lots of artistic interpretations of the Constitutional Convention. One of the more famous paintings is this beaut by Howard Chandler Christy.

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States.jpg

The same folks who brought us that summary above (teachingamericanhistory.org) put together a great interactive version. You can click through the delegates and get to know them a little better.

Unpacking the impact of the Three-Fifths Compromise on the United States takes time. The reverberations were felt throughout history, and therefore can still be felt today. You can find more information on this and the vast scope of African American history at Black Past.

The Three-Fifths Compromise


Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!


TRANSCRIPT

HM: George Washington wakes up early, per usual, on November 5th, 1786. He goes to his study and reads over his correspondence. Around 7, the bell rings for breakfast, and he joins his guests, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina among them, at the table. They probably have cold ham and mutton -- though Washington’s favorite is mush cakes with butter and honey, and three cups of tea, no cream. When the guests hit the road, Washington heads into his study, and sits down to write some letters. In fact, he spends the rest of the day writing. He’s got a lot on his mind. He’s really worried about the state of the fledgling nation. At this point in history, the country is still under the Articles of Confederation. And things aren’t going so well.

NC: Yeah, those Articles... the U.S. didn’t exactly thrive under the Articles.

HM: Washington has just received word from James Madison who is in session with the Virginia Congress that the assembly is considering amending the Articles of Confederation.

NC: So why is Washington so worried? Things are looking up!

HM: Because it’s very nearly too late. The Articles of Confederation have only been in place for five years and they Do. Not. Work.Things are crumbling. Washington has just heard that small rebellions popping up all over the new nation. People are furious. Post-war debt is crushing the country. One of my favorite parts of this letter to Madison is when Washington talks about how melancholy it makes him to think that they might be “fulfilling the prediction of their transatlantic foe. Leave them to themselves and their government will soon dissolve.”

NC: Ouch. So Britain said this would happen, huh? Like, they told us we couldn’t make it work on our own, and look! Barely any time has passed and they’re basically right.

HM: Yeah. Washington calls it “a triumph for our enemies, for the advocates of despotism.” John Adams actually wrote to John Jay around this time and told him that people in England liked to joke that America would come crawling back, begging to be let back in. And then Britain would let them dangle for awhile and then tell them to buzz off.

NC: Oof. That is so cold! And it’s also the ultimate breakup fantasy, right? Like, juuuust wait. They’ll be sorry. They’re going to try to get me back some day, and I’m gonna say no chance.

HM: Except this breakup took seven years and tens of thousands of people died. Washington basically says, look, Madison, I know I don’t have to tell you this, but this weak government is going to be our downfall. So all I’m going to say is, I sure hope these thirteen states can consider the common good here.

NC: Ok, so Washington sends this letter off and then what? What does Madison do?

HM: Madison’s way ahead of things. Before he even receives Washington’s letter, he’s already got a bill before the Virginia assembly that will appoint delegates for a convention the following summer. A convention to amend the Articles of Confederation.

[beat]

HM: The bill passes. And other states follow suit.

[hit]

HM: The time? May 14th, 1787. The place? Philadelphia. What show is this? Civics 101. And I’m Hannah McCarthy.

NC: And I’m Nick Capodice.

HM: And today, we’re taking you to the City of Brotherly Love, to a stuffy chamber in the old Pennsylvania State House.

NC: The very same room where, a decade earlier, a group of men came together to declare themselves independent of their motherland.

HM: This time around they came to reel some of that independence in. This is the story of how our constitution and how it came to be.

HM: Well, first things first, in this episode, we’re going to be talking about the thing that was written in 1787. The document designed to correct a nation that was falling off the rails. So first, there’s a preamble. That’s the part that most people know. And a lot of us learn it through this School House Rock song.

[Quick SHR WTP tease]

NC: It’s some pretty grand language. “Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

HM: Yeah, it starts out lofty. But the Constitution itself is a bit more dry than that.

Linda Monk [00:11:59] OK the Constitution we think of as basically a structure of government.

HM: This is Linda Monk. Otherwise known as “the Constitution Lady.”

LM [cont.]: It's got seven articles and four parchment pages that if you want to look at them article 1 which is Congress -- most people get that wrong and they think it's the president, but no it's Congress -- Congress gets two out of four pages and words in the Constitution count.

HM: Okay? So, very basically, the constitution is a collection of seven articles that explain what the government is - what’s in it? - and how it works. Article One, the Legislative Branch, seems to get the most attention.

LM [00:12:30] So the more words there are a lot of times the more powers there are the framers intended Congress to be the dominant branch of government. And that's where most of the power lie.

HM: Next longest is Article Two, the Executive Branch.

LM [cont.] The president was the piece of the current government that the framers had the hardest time agreeing on. They had lots of different proposals. Finally we came down to a president the method of selection in terms of the electoral college is still one that we debate and are concerned about.

HM: Then comes Article Three, the Judicial Branch.

LM [cont.]The third branch is the judiciary which has the fewest words. But we've come to think of it today as having broader powers.

HM: Article Four covers states and citizenship

LM [cont.] The full faith and credit that states must recognize for instance like the marriages in other states.

HM: Full faith and credit basically means that any state has to respect the acts, records and judicial proceedings of another state. Also deals with interstate felons, new states joining the union, and the Federal government protecting states. Then we’ve got five, the “this thing can be amended” clause.

LM [cont.] The fifth article is what I think is the secret sauce that's the amendment process. We said didn't work a constitution that's not too easy to change because that would make it more like every everyday law versus a constitution that's too hard to change. And then you have revolution instead of amendment.

HM: Six.

LM [cont.] The Sixth Amendment is a supremacy clause that says that the Constitution itself is the supreme law of the land including over other state constitutions.

HM: And last, but certainly not least, lucky seven.

LM [cont.] The Seventh Amendment is where they sign and say what what the process is are going to be from that.

HM: When when Linda says “the process,” she’s talking ratification. Nine states are going to have to vote yes on this document in order to make it stick. So there you go. Seven articles, all wrapped up in a neat little package.

[beat]

Except it wasn’t neat! It was difficult and contentious and touch-and-go and very, very hot in there. So do you want to know how it happened?

NC: Yes! How did it happen?

HM: Well, Linda gives a lot of the credit to James Madison. Linda really, really loves James Madison.

LM [00:07:27] Oh, who can't love James Madison? He's my hunka burning constitutionalism.

HM: According to Linda, Madison is different from the other politicians. Compared to the other framers, he’s petite, and he’s nervous, but he’s strategic and thoughtful. A effective underdog.

LM [00:10:00] to have that combination of a great philosopher but also a good practical politician in one person. And for someone to say that government is the greatest of all reflections on human nature he just has a wisdom that really speaks to me and I will stand by it. He's my boyfriend and he's the person is my favorite founder.

HM: And even if you don’t carry a flame for him, Madison was undeniably instrumental to the Convention of 1787.

David Stewart [00:03:01]: I think you have to point to James Madison -- I have tended to quarrel with calling him the father of the Constitution, but I do think he's the father of the convention in many respects[...]

HM: This is David O. Stewart, author of The Summer of 1787. He’s going to be our main guide to the Constitutional Convention. David says that Madison was successful in part because of his connections. One connection in particular.

DS [cont.]: To be honest though nothing in that decade of the 70s in America happened of significance politically unless Washington was in it. He was the guy. And Madison very intelligently insisted that Washington's name be listed as one of Virginia's delegates right from the start that gave an incredibly strong blessing to the process.

NC: Celebrity power. Like having Obama speak at your charity event or something.

HM: Only bigger. Washington was a celebrity of almost ridiculous proportions.

DS [00:07:18]: I think he could have you know his stature was immense. I mean he was at a stage where he couldn't enter a city without having the church bells ring and fireworks be scheduled in an illumination of everybody's house happen that night. I mean he just was you know the star. We we've never experienced you know stardom at the level that he did.

NC: Okay, so Madison is rallying people to come to this convention, and he knows that Washington will make for some great bait?

DS [00:04:17]: Washington was very uncertain whether he really wanted to go but he did ultimately decide to. There was a lot at stake. And if it didn't go well it would be he would be blamed for it and he knew that. And so it was not an easy decision. He had tried to retire from public life after the revolution and I think he meant to.

NC: Is it weird to say I feel a little bad for George Washington?

HM: No, I think that makes sense. The man put his time in, and he wants to sit back and enjoy the rest of his life in peace. But the country he had fought so hard for was struggling to stay afloat. So he allows himself to be drawn back in -- with the understanding that he would be presiding officer -- actually referred to as the President -- of the convention. That means he’s not going to orate, he’s not going to debate. He’s going to oversee, and he’ll vote.

NC: Alright, so Madison’s got Washington, he’s got his delegates, and then everyone meets up in Philadelphia to figure something out?

HM: It wasn’t quite that easy. Almost everybody was late. The convention was set to start on the 14th of May, and they didn’t reach a quorum - 7 states - until the 25th. Rhode Island just never showed. New Hampshire didn’t have the money to send their delegates until mid-July. There’s actually this funny moment in Madison’s notes where someone proposes a resolution to send for the delegates from New Hampshire and the motion is defeated.

[music beat]

DS [00:08:16] Virginians were the first out of town delegation arrived. The Pennsylvania delegation was mostly men from Philadelphia so they lived there. And those two groups of men got to know each other pretty well. Many of them knew each other beforehand but they did talk and strategize together. And then the Virginians developed a process where in the mornings. And this happened for over a week. They would convene at a boarding house where Madison was staying and they would and they put together a blueprint.

HM: So, remember, the plan is to get a bunch of delegates together and make changes to the Articles of Confederation so that they, well, work. So that the country doesn’t fall apart. But Madison has a different idea. The delegation spends a few days voting on rules for the convention, including total secrecy so that the framers can debate freely and change their minds if necessary, and then Madison makes his move. Before any debate or suggestion takes place, he has fellow Virginian Edmund Randolph submit a list of fifteen resolutions. It’s called the Virginia Plan.

DS [00:08:16] What the Virginia Plan did basically was throw out the articles and start on a blank piece of paper. And that was audacious and it was also very smart because people didn't wouldn't bring to the debate all the old arguments they'd been having for six years under the articles and they could start essentially with first principles of how a government should be designed and should operate.

NC: Woah, that’s bold. I mean, the Articles of Confederation are no dream come true, but imagine showing up thinking you were going to make some small adjustments and this faction of states tells you, nope, surprise! We’re here to talk about a brand new form of government.

DS [00:09:00] There were delegations like Pennsylvania, and I think the South Carolinians, who knew exactly what the Virginians were doing and supported it. There were a number of delegations. What classically has come down to being described as the small state delegations who were surprised and in no small measure are appalled the Delaware delegation ended up threatening to leave. They had instructions from their state legislature that did not include starting over with a new charter of government.

HM: So there are delegates who are understandably upset with this proposition. And they certainly could bail.. They could walk right out that door and spare themselves months of debate in an airless room.

NC: So why don’t they? If enough delegates leave, they’d lose their quorum and then it’d be over. They can try again next year.

HM: Well, two delegates from New York do eventually walk out, Robert Yates and John Lansing. But I think back to that letter George Washington wrote to Madison. Things are bad in the country right now. The government needs to change, or this grand experiment is going to fail. And how are you going to walk away from the chance to contribute to the structure of a new nation?

Woody Holton [00:20:04] If I wanted to choose a three word phrase that sums up the motives of the authors of the Constitution it would be a phrase that was used at the convention and that phrase is describing the problem that the Constitution was designed to solve as excess of democracy.

HM: New face here. Woody Holton, historian and author of Unruly Americans.

WH: The feeling among many of those 50 most of those 55 guys who wrote the Constitution was hey it was great that we got rid of the king but like a pendulum swung too far to the opposite extreme and now we have an excess of democracy and we've got to pull it back the other way.

HM: “Excess of democracy” might sound absurd to the average American, but what Woody means is that, under the Articles of Confederation, the states were masters of their own destiny. They had a say in whether they would be taxed, they got to make up their own rules. And it wasn’t working. Woody says there were so many factors that lead to the debates on the floor of the Philadelphia State House. But money makes the world go ‘round. And after the revolutionary war, the country had empty pockets and crushing debt, with no surefire system in place to collect taxes.

WH [00:24:21] The the people who wrote the Constitution did not write it to make the country more free. They wrote it to get the country out of a recession. They thought the country was in a recession because debts weren't being paid both to the bondholders who had bought up the war bonds or to private creditors. And they had other practical modems like that.

HM: So many delegates saw a lot of danger in granting a federal government more power. And so much of that is about who you can trust, right? Like, these powers can be a good thing if they stop anarchy and improve the economy. But there is some serious danger in power, too. The inherent dichotomy is so stark that there is no way to make everyone happy here. But we do need a new government, right? Nobody wants to go crawling back to Great Britain! So from the absolute get-go, this convention is going to have a theme.

NC: Powdered wigs? Waistcoats?

HM: Compromise.

[Beat]

NC: Ah. Compromise. Yikes. Good luck. By the way, what exactly is the Virginia plan? What does Madison want the new government to look like?

HM: Right. So Madison proposes a strong national government that could make and enforce laws and collect taxes. The legislation would be bicameral, and representation would be proportional to a state’s population.

DS [00:11:30]: And when the Virginia Plan comes out, those devotees of states rights were the most shocked and appalled. Couple of delegates from New York actually left after six weeks that because they were so unhappy with the centralization of power under the draft that everyone was working on. So when that argument was engaged it ended up morphing into an issue over representation and that was a lucky thing I think for the people who wanted a stronger national government because there are certain -- once you're arguing about representation, you're arguing over how to do it as opposed to should we keep this system where the states have essentially almost all the power.

NC: Ohhhh ok. So Madison proposes this plan, and in order to talk about this plan, the delegates have to talk about representation. And that’s such a hot button issue, that suddenly everyone is debating how they’ll be represented in this new congress, and they’ve mostly moved on from the fact that this is a new system of government and that wasn’t the plan for this convention.

HM: Yeah, there were enough people who genuinely wanted that stronger central government, and once the small states got up in arms about their representation, well, suddenly we are officially debating a whole new system of government. And we are officially making compromises. Little New Jersey says ok, I see your two-house proportional representation and raise you: a unicameral legislature and equal representation. Each state gets one vote. As outlined in the Articles of Confederation

DS [00:15:00] That was the bitterest fight of the summer and really almost blew up the convention in early July the small state delegates were about to leave because they'd been losing. And then finally it ended up in an issue resolved before a committee of one delegate from each of the states than they were called committees of 11 because there were only 11 states represented at the time. And they came up with his compromise that we still live with where the Senate has equal state representation. Each state gets two senators and the House of Representatives is proportional based on population.

HM: This was actually called the Great Compromise, or the Connecticut Compromise, because Oliver Ellsworth from Connecticut proposed it. No, not everyone is going to be happy, but it’s acceptable. And they’ve got more work to do. So delegates are even willing to let this go to committee to hammer out the details. But when they reconvene, it’s time to compromise again. Because when you talk representation, you talk population. And nearly 20 percent of the population at that time was enslaved.

Alvin Tillery [00:07:01] Well the three-fifths compromise was essentially one of the pro slavery clauses of the Constitution.

HM: This is Alvin Tillery. He’s the Director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.

AT [00:17:35] And what the southerners wanted entering the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was they wanted all of their slaves to be counted in the apportionment because places like South Carolina and Georgia had very very large slave populations. They were not as well developed as the Mid-Atlantic slave states or the northeastern states. And so for them if you were just counting white people they were going to have very few seats. And so entering the convention they demanded you know a full count every slave would count as one person.

HM: In some states, enslaved people made up a full third of the population. To count slaves as members of the population, rather than pieces of property, would be to give the South real power in terms of representation. So Northerners made the argument that slaves were livestock. Just like horses or oxen. You don’t count horses or oxen as part of the population, do you? So why would you count your slaves? The South said, no, these are people. Human beings. They ought to be counted. So what if they can’t vote? Women can’t vote, but they’re counted.

NC: You know, I think we’re often taught that the North was the moral player throughout the history of the U.S.. But here they are denying the humanity of enslaved people for the sake of argument.

HM: And remember, at the time of this Convention, slavery was still legal in the North, in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. And the North had been built on slave labour.

AT: They all understood that it was immoral. And so the the old view that the framers the founding generation the slaveholders among them from Washington and Jefferson and Madison that they didn't know that slavery was wrong is belied by their own writings and statements about slavery. Let's let's not forget that in the first version of the Declaration Thomas Jefferson essentially blamed the king's evil advisers in Parliament for slavery foisting slavery upon them right. [00:12:25] Jefferson wrote very compellingly and notes on the state of Virginia about slavery being a moral evil. And so so those old arguments just don't hold any water. We know from the writings of the framers that they knew that this system was wrong but they protected it because of a combination of their economic interests and white supremacy.

NC: So what conversations were they actually having over this representation issue? Was it purely motivated by money and racism?

HM: I think the racial and economic bias is a given in this room. But there were some people -- like Gouvenour Morris from Pennsylvania and Rufus King from Massachusetts -- who argued against the entire principle of slavery from a moral point of view. Morris even suggested that the newly reformed nation buy and free all slaves, which was quickly shot down. Even in those free states, you still had men who had grown up with slaves. Who were self-interested elites.

AT: [00:13:45] And so so the entire original 13 the wealth that made them all viable is bound up in slavery in some way or another. And this is the argument the southerners used they would say well it's fine for New York and Massachusetts to say that they don't need slavery anymore but they've had slavery for 100 years 125 years and extracted great wealth from it. Well has Charles Cotesworth Pinckney would say from South Carolina South Carolina's just starting to do that. So it's not fair you know to say to say we developed on the slavery basis and now you guys can't. And I think that that argument won the day.

HM: The “compromise” part of this is in the name, of course. Three-Fifths Compromise. Southern delegates wanted their enslaved population to count as full members of the population. Northern delegates didn’t want them to count at all. So they split the difference, based on a number James Madison proposed back when they were figuring out taxes under the Articles of Confederation. The enslaved population would only be counted at three-fifths of its total. Native Americans, by the way, will also appear in article one. They aren’t counted for tax or representative purposes.

NC: Ok, but... for those delegates who were opposed to slavery, and even those states where it was illegal -- why did they give in? Why was it necessary to give the slave states some version of what they wanted?

HM: Well, the South was threatening to walk out.

AT: The South Carolinians were also incredibly clear about exiting the compact. If they did not sort of get to count some of their slave population in the apportionment. And so it was it was union and slavery or no union. And so they didn't really have a choice if they wanted a federal government. And that was what all of these men were nationalist federalists. They had done something that no one believed they could do. And they wanted to see the experiment succeed. [00:15:54]

HM: So, there’s an emotional element to this, right? They did something that nobody had ever successfully done before. They waged war against their motherland, and won, and started a brand new kind of nation. These delegates want to leave Philadelphia as an intact union. But Alvin says it’s also a practical choice.

AT: The overarching concern is the national security concern that England is coming back. George will be back. And as we all know he did come back in the War of 1812. And so the argument for union is both an argument for financial efficiency and expediency so you could actually get credit in international credit markets loan money buildup the you know the industry in the country so that you could compete with Britain and France but also provide for common defense.[00:18:57] And so one of the states two of the states exiting the union leaves them in a much more vulnerable position because you know even has a union they still lost the War of 1812 right. So this is their concern.

HM: The Three-Fifths Compromise was adopted on July 12th, and most states voted yes. Only the Delaware and New Jersey delegates were unanimously against it.

NC: I think it can sometimes be easy to revere the Constitution because provisions like the Three-Fifths Compromise are no longer in there. But this thinking about this as something that was baked into the early days of the U.S. -- how did it end up shaping us?

AT [00:19:47] Well I mean it absolutely inflated the representative power of the of the slave states in the Congress in the House of Representatives and in the electoral college and what that means is that you know five of the first seven presidents are slave owners from Virginia. Right. And you know which was the most populous and powerful of the slave states and this legacy extends into the you know the 19th century the late federal period. It allows southerners to establish a democratic party and to put in place things like the gag rule which means you can't talk about slavery or introduce petitions from northern states against slavery in Congress. And so that takes slavery off the table has a life political issue for 20 years essentially.

HM: Even after the Three-Fifths Compromise, and a clause requiring fugitive slaves be returned to their masters, were removed from the Constitution following the Civil War, southern states found ways to disenfranchise their African American population, while at the same time gaining even greater population numbers now that all people were fully counted. Here’s David Stewart again.

DS [00:45:42] You know they made grimy compromises. There's no other word for it. The Electoral College is a mess on the slavery provisions are unattractive. When Madison had to write about them in Federalist Papers he clearly found it almost impossible. But you had to get a deal. Otherwise the country might well fall apart. And that's the stakes they were playing for. [00:46:06] And if you had to swallow something you hated most of for it.

HM: And so they keep going. Madison’s plan called for an executive power -- should it be one man or a committee? Well, most states have one, so one it is. But can they veto laws? Sure, but that veto can be overridden by two-thirds of both houses. Well how are we going to elect this one powerful man? Direct election by the people? Absolutely not. What about some kind of indirect system...

NC: Oh, man. The electoral college is so weird.

HM: But it is a compromise. And then came another, this one about the slave trade itself. Ten states had banned the import of enslaved people. Georgia and the Carolinas threatened to walk out if they dared to the same to them. So...

NC: They compromised.

HM: Yeah. Congress would eventually have the power to ban the slave trade entirely. But not until 1808.

[beat]

NC: Hannah, there are so many disappointing, even shocking, steps. So many ugly compromises that came out of that room. But then this plan sticks around. For over 230 years. And, in so many ways, it has benefited this country. There is a lot to be dissatisfied or distraught over, but we live in a democratic system that can actually work.

HM: Linda Monk actually pointed out the elements of the original Constitution that I think gave it the ability to last.

LM [00:18:00] So the laws that are passed day to day by congress or parliament a majority can improve. And a majority can disapprove them. But the American constitution requires a two thirds majority of the Congress or state conventions to or to propose amendment and then a three fourths majority of the states to approve it. And so that's a high bar we don't want our constitution changing at the whim of the people. But we do want it to be subject to the people.

HM: That’d be Article Five -- the Amendment Clause.

NC: Okay, now, obviously the words We, the People in the preamble did not apply to all people in the U.S. when they were written. But there’s a little bit of We, the People in that article, isn’t there? All this talk about representation, remember, it goes both ways. Yes, it’s about the congresspeople, but it’s also about the people people. The people who’ll elect them. And I feel like the same goes for the amendment process.

HM: Absolutely. The “we, the people” slowly came true. And even if it didn’t apply to everyone at first, and in many ways still doesn’t, it’s there, right? We can rise to it. I kind of feel like the amendment clause itself is a built in acknowledgement that words and ideas of 1787 may not apply to 1887. Or 1987.

LM [00:16:01] Those first three words the most important words in the Constitution really we the people. And it's it's really expressing this idea of popular sovereignty popular meaning the people's sovereignty meaning power and the preamble makes it clear that the power that is the people's is then used to ordained the Constitution. The people have the power and they give it to the Constitution. And that's why the president the Congress the Supreme Court any federal and state officer takes an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. That's the Supreme source of our power.

[Oath montage]

HM: There was one last compromise to come out of that four-month process -- this one was suggested by the convention’s oldest delegate, Dr. Benjamin Franklin. At this point in his life, Ben Franklin had gone from a slave-owning white supremacist to the president of Philadelphia’s Abolitionist Society. This is a man who has changed his mind, radically, over time. “The older I grow,” he says, “the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.”

And Nick, I know that you’ve always harbored a desire to play Ben Franklin in 1776. And while I cannot give you that, I can do you this small kindness. Would you read Franklin’s final statement to the convention?

NC: Here goes.

“On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention, who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.”

HM: And you know, in the end, despite Franklin’s appeal, only 39 delegates signed. 16 abstained. Not everyone agreed on this new system of government, not everyone was happy with the compromises that went into it. But they were walking out of that stifling room with a new plan, a new system. It was a radical moment.

[music]

NC: You know Hannah, there’s one last compromise this constitution will have to wrestle with. Actually, a whole bill of them. We, the people, have a few things to say about this new system of government. And if I remember correctly, there’s a whole Article that says we get our say.

HM: Ah, that’s right. Number Seven. The Ratification Clause. But if you think those framers are going to sit back and watch that debate from the sidelines, you are sorely mistaken, my friend. They’ve just compromised their whole summer away, they worked hard for this Constitution! If the states are going to debate this, the framers are going to put in their two cents. Actually, their 85 cents. It’s time for a strong federal government, Nick. The Federalists will not go quietly.

HM: that’s next time on Civics 101.

HM: Today’s episode was produced by me, Hannah McCarthy.

NC: And me, Nick Capodice.

HM: Our staff includes Jacqui Helbert, Daniela Allee and Ben Henry. Erika Janik is our Executive Producer.

NC: Maureen McMurray subsists on mush cakes and three cups of black tea.

HM: If you want to know more about how our Constitution came to be -- and trust me, there’s a lot more to learn --- you can find resources galore at Civics 101 podcast dot org.

NC: Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions, Jingle Punks, Quincas Moreira, Josh Lippi and the Overtimers, Jahzzar, Vibe Mountain, Sir Cubworth, Konrad Oldmoney, Bad Snacks and the United States Marine Band.

HM: Civics 101 is a production of NHPR -- New Hampshire Public Radio.

 


 
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This podcast is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio.