Presenting the winning submission for our first ever student contest! Adia Samba-Quee wrote, narrated, and cast a mockumentary about the arguments surrounding representation at the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Check out some behind-the-scenes shots from our taping at the Springfield Renaissance School.
Have a civics question you want answered? Let us know in the form below and we'll try to answer it!
Adia Samba-Quee: [00:00:00] Civics 101 is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Nick Capodice: [00:00:06] Welcome to civics I'm a Nick Capodice.
Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:07] And I'm Hannah McCarthy.
Nick Capodice: [00:00:08] And as some of you may recall this spring we had our first ever student contest.
Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:12] So we asked high school students across the country to submit their idea for a civics radio piece and we got some really cool submissions.
Nick Capodice: [00:00:19] But the winner, Adia Samba-Quee from the Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield Massachusetts.
Hannah McCarthy: [00:00:25] Adia pitch says this radio play. She wrote the script, she cast a bunch of her friends and then we drove down to the Springfield Renaissance School to help her tape it. Couple of things you should know about Adia. First of all she's 15. And not only did she write this incredible script she ended up being a great collaborator and in our estimation would make a great radio producer one day.
Nick Capodice: [00:00:45] We were the lucky ones to be able to work with her. This play takes place in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1787 when the Articles of Confederation had been our governing document for about ten years and they had an awful lot of problems. So without further ado Civics 101 is honored to present Unconventional by Adia Samba-Quee.
Adia Samba-Quee: [00:01:05] Civics -- civics - civics -- 101!
Nick Capodice: [00:01:09] Nailed it.
Adia Samba-Quee: [00:01:10] Thanks.
By Adia Samba-Quee
NARRATOR: Adia Samba-Quee
KING GEORGE III: ~Aijah Davis~
AMERICAN #1: Brian Vo
AMERICAN #2: Lawrence Thompson
AMERICAN #3: Marcus Jean-Mary
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Michelle Santiago
DAVID BREARLY: Breanna Gushman
CHARLES PINCKNEY: Brookyln Jones
JONATHAN LANGDON: Kayla Fontaine
GEORGE WASHINGTON: Karina Rosado
WILLIAM PATTERSON: Jakiya Wearing
JAMES MCHENRY: Karla Rebollo
JAMES MADISON: Maya Senquiz
GUNNING BEDFORD JR: Gianna Colon
LUTHER MARTIN: Diana Asamoah
ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Janae Brown
ROGER SHERMAN: Rashel Vargas
CALEB STRONG: Pamela Ciano
WILLIAM BLOUNT: Erroyln Lord
Narrator: When you've never truly been free, and then you later wage a whole war for the sake of freedom, you're going to need to figure out how to define freedom on paper, and then making sure it applies to each and every imaginable situation you're about to face as a newly-liberated nation. Farmer George didn't take the whole "revolution" thing well.
KING GEORGE III, audibly upset: You're lost without me! Lost!!
NAR: But America didn't immediately become the young, independent nation that don't need no motherland she wanted to be. For example, ahem. The Articles of Confederation.
AMERICAN #1: We don't really have to pay your taxes, only state taxes.
AMERICAN #2: We're about to get into a land war with Indians without your permission.
AMERICAN #3: We're going to make it impossible for anyone to try and fix this document.
NAR, talking directly to Americans: I thought you all hated this document.
AMERICANS, hesitant and not at the same time: Mmyes.
NAR: *sigh* The federal government suffered a decade of this. Fifty-five delegates, the most *high pitched* white and male *normal voice* citizens were cordially invited to indulge in the privilege of re-birthing government right here in the Philadelphia State House. And like actual labor, it was painful. This brings us to Talking Point #1.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: B. Franks in the building!
*cheering from Framers*
Nar: B Franks, is indeed, in the house. Large Benjamin, how would you describe your approach to proposals during the early days of the Convention?
FRANKLIN: What’s with the surveillance device?
NAR: My… camera?
FRANKLIN: Yes, that thing.
NAR: Oh, I’m just recording a little documentary about the beginning of our American Constitution! I thought it’d be sorta neat to archive all the debates and decisions here!
FRANKLIN: You’d rather spend your day listening to a bunch of old jabronis ramble about rules and regs? That’s really sad.
NAR: *dejected sigh, clears throat* How would an old jabroni like you describe your approach to proposals during the early days of the Convention?
FRANKLIN: Obviously, I would describe it as calm, cool, collected. The sorta levelhead ed wisdom and guidance severely lacking in our current government.
*end talking head*
FRANKLIN: Supermajority? Sucks. One-House Congress? Sucks. The Articles of Confederation? Sucks. How are we going to change the AOC if even the method of amending it sucks?
DAVID BREARLEY: We... keep the Articles of Confederation and work hard to improve it?
NAR and FRANKLIN simultaneously: And you are…
BREARLEY: David Brearley of New Jersey. That's spelled B-R-E-A-R-L-E-Y. I believe that… Maintaining a union is going to be difficult, no doubt. But no one guaranteed governing was easy.
*end talking head*
FRANKLIN: Well, David Barley?
BREARLEY: *sigh* Yes?
FRANKLIN: You're incorrect. We burn the Articles of Confederation. And put a new Constitution in its place.
BREARLEY, to self: Burning it seems to be easier than governing.
FRANKLIN: Any questions?
CHARLES PINCKNEY: What if we create a new constitution and it fails?
FRANKLIN: Then I guess I'll see you in another ten years, CHARLES PINCKNEY. Any more questions?
NAR: Jonathan LANGDON of New Hampshire raises his hand.
LANGDON: Where's Rhode Island?
FRANKLIN: Listen, kid. I may but eighty-eight years old, but I know a thing or two. If Rhode Island was afraid of a powerful federal government, let her be a coward in the comfort of her own home! We’ll be the ones with a legacy.
NAR: JONATHAN LANGDON, why did you choose to say something so controversial… yet so brave?
LANGDON: Well, what had happened was I… didn’t know what body of water surrounded Rhode Island, and I was concerned the delegates didn’t catch a ferry in time. But I guess it’s a misnomer. No island. *sigh* Just a state. Tell FRANKLIN and I’ll hurt you.
*end talking head*
FRANKLIN: Aight. If we ignore what LANGDON just said, I think we can call it a wrap. All those in favor of revising the Articles of Confederation?
*eight Ayes and four Nays*
See ya tomorrow.
*tap, tap, tap, snap, snap, clap*
R: Talking Point #2
NAR: While we were gone, George Washington proposed a way to prevent the federal government from acquiring too much power.
GEORGE WASHINGTON: I serve as a general in one war. Just one. And now whenever I walk into a room, those guys address me as sir. Someone called me His Excellency last night. I'm not as excellent as they think I am. Or maybe not as excellent as they think I think I am. Anyway, I'm trying to get three equal branches of government to keep each other in check all the time. Only thing is the executive includes a President. And if those fools elect me, I swear I'm gonna flip.
*end talking head*
WASHINGTON: Do you know how much federal government accomplished under the AoC? That's right, nothing
BREARLEY: But we di-
WASHINGTON: Nothing! Instead of one single stick, we all get three branches- stay with me, stay with me- of government. One branch is the Legislative, who writes up laws of our nation. Once we work out what Congress is actually made up of,those representatives will be responsible for proposing new laws. The executive branch ensures law is being carried out in the country. The *lowers voice* President is the head of this branch, along with his Cabinet. Finally, the judicial branch interprets the law passed by Congress. Each branch has the ability to override the actions of another; no branch is more powerful than the other.
VARIOUS FRAMERS: WASHINGTON for President! *clapping and cheering* Nothing but respect for His Excellency! I can’t believe WASHINGTON invented equality!
WASHINGTON, flustered: Stop this right now! Stop this! I just want to rest!
PATTERSON: He’s not excellent.
WASHINGTON: THank you!
PATTERSON: That's a terrible plan. (WASHINGTON: Alright, let’s calm down!) It smells like monarchy.
WASHINGTON: If my plan was so terrible, then why did it just pass eight to four?
PATTERSON: It did? *pauses, counts to self* Ah, damnit.
NAR: The delegates also tried? to turn the 9/13 state votes needed to fix the Constitution.
WASHINGTON: If there was supposed to be a takeaway, it died.
NAR: The voice of the People. Did anyone tell you you’d make a good-
WASHINGTON: Knock it off.
Uh, CHARLES PINCKNEY of South Carolina, what do you hope to accomplish in order to soothe the rocky process of passing laws? *clapping* Hello? PINCKNEY?
PINCKNEY, startled: Huh? What?
NAR: You asked for an interview. I'm giving you an interview.
PINCKNEY: Oh. Yeah. Sorry, I'm a little nervous. *awkward giggling*
NAR: *forced pity laughter* Just answer the question.
PINCKNEY: What was the question?
PINCKNEY: We all thought supermajority was a good choice 6 years ago. I was like, "9 out of 13 states? We get along pretty well, this won't be too bad. We'll regularly see at least 9 of us in Congress agree to a law in order for it to pass." And then they were like, "Um, being difficult is so funny, let's do it for 6 whole years." And I was like, "No, don't do that, stop." And they were like, "Whatever loser, that's why no one loves yo…" *clears throat*
NAR: PINCKNEY, you should probably talk to someone about that.
PINCKNEY, sounds zoned out: Probably.
NAR: Can we edit that out?
*end talking head*
PICNKEY: We need to allow laws to pass with a majority vote.
FRANKLIN: Simple majority enough! Get it guys? The majority… bah. All those opposed?
FRANKLIN: Damnit, Langdon !
LANGDON: Under PINCKNEY dookie proposal, (PICNKEY: JONATHAN, that's not really funny) 51% would be enough to pass a law. What if almost all of us disagree with a law? You expect me to tolerate it because it's a fact of life not everyone is going to agree with me?
PINCKNEY: That would be nice.
LANGDON: *mocks Picnkey's voice* That would be nice. Disgusting. That doesn't ring true with my understanding of freedom.
LANGDON: We will not be ens-
PINCKNEY: LANGDON tried to say the S word!
*stir of chatter from the delegates*
WASHINGTON: Chill bro, chill chill chill Jon just chill.
FRANKLIN: Do you patronize your wife with that mouth? *retches* Strike that comment from the record, MADISON.
MADISON: *draws line on paper*
WASHINGTON: I am so sorry you all had to hear that.
NAR: Rule number one of the Convention- don't ever say the S word.
Talking Point #3: Making the new constitution easier to amend. Here comes Maryland's JAMES MCHENRY, standing his ground.
MCHENRY: If we don't make this new Constitution into something that can be fixed or change, we're going to find ourselves in the exact same place in a few years. I am not perfect, DAVID BARNEY is not perfect, WILLIAM PATTERSON is a mess, along with the entire state of New Jersey (WILLAIM PATTERSON says "Hey!" in the background), so we are okay with the fact this constitution won't be perfect. I call for the amendment process to be changed!
MADISON: How, exactly.
MCHENRY: I don’t know, JAMES MADISON. Something with fractions, maybe?
JAMES MADISON, scratching quill to parchment: *condescending chuckle* Fractions… based on his oration skills and overall unremarkablilty-ness, I am most certainly the superior JAMES.
NAR: Yes, JAMES MADISON has declined any interviews with me from now until "he's ready" because he wants to take notes for himself about the various delegates. Nerd.
Nar: MADISON rises from his seat. He finally has something to say to me.
Nar: What kind of things would you want the audience to know about you, M adison?
MADISON: A magician never reveals his secrets.
Nar: …you're not a magician, you're just a Framer.
MADISON: …A framer never reveals hi-
Nar: Listen, are you gonna tell us your proposal or not, because we have plenty of delegates behind you who'll be willing to share.
MADISON: *pause, gets uncomfortably closer to the microphone* Basically-
Nar: You don't have to be this close to the mic.
MADISON, ignoring the NARRATOR: You know how Virginia is the biggest state in the country?
NAR, irritated: Sure.
MADISON: Well, when Congress is voting for legislation to be passed, our votes should count for much more than like, Delaware. Because, well, Delaware.
NAR: Delaware was the first state admitted to the Union.
MADISON: That's their only bragging right.
NAR: (beat.) Fair
MADISON: I simply believe representation in Congress should rely on population alone. Bigger state, bigger voice, bigger choice.
NAR: That'll be, uh, interesting to witness.
*MADISON's footsteps, signifying he left the confessional room, also, end talking head*
The room's reaction was, to say the least, interesting. Here is Talking Point #4.
MADISON: Fellas, I have an idea. Does anyone know how many people Virginia ha-
WASHINGTON: 747,000. Give or take.
MADISON: Right. And how many people live in your state, BEDFORD?
NAR: GUNNING BEDFORD, JR-
NAR: -represents the *hesitation* state of Delaware. He declined to explain his overall goal here at the Constitution, which leads one to assume he has no overall goals here. According to MADISON's notes, that is.
BEDFORD, with difficulty: 58,000.
MADISON, unknowingly being a butt: 58,000 and?
BEDFORD: *mumbles* 94.
MADISON: In what world should we be represented by one single Congressman when we are 12 times larger?
*Agreement from the larger state delegates*
MADISON: I'll tell you what world- England.
*more snaps and contented vocalizations*
MADISON: In *stomps foot* this nation, in this *weird, exaggerated pronunciation* constitution, states should be represented fairly *interrupted by almost-comical reactions from larger states, maybe church-y organ playing behind* which means representatives should reflect state populations.
BEDFORD: What you're trying to say is, Delaware should have one representative-
MADISON: -and we should have twelve.
*The larger states begin to chant ‘we should have 12' about four times, James yells over them and tries to explain that the twelve only applies to Virginia, not the rest of them, yadda yadda yadda*
NAR: This is the most smoothly I've ever seen a decision go down. I'm actually impresse- *WILLIAM PATTERSON jumps out of seat and startles NARRATOR*
Uh, sir, SIR! You interrupted me!
PATTERSON: Permission to speak?
NAR: *sucks teeth* Permission granted, or whatever, I don’t even care anymore.
PATTERSON: Hey hi, it's New Jersey's very own WILLIAM PATTERSON and I'm calling bull. This is not okay? Who thinks this is okay? Like, seriously, is that what chanting does to the Foolish?
Nar: I… can't answer any of those questions.
PATTERSON: I don't expect you to. This is not the spirit of our system. I thought the whole point of us coming together as a union, was that we're all going to be equal parts of our country. I've had enough New Jersey slander.
Nar: Oh, brother.
*end talking head*
Nar: A hush blankets the crowd.
PATTERSON: Virginia only wants representatives to be decided by population size because it means states like them would suddenly have more power. My state of New Jersey is just as important as any other state, as even Delaware! We should have just as much as a say in the government as they do.
BEDFORD: Can- can you all leave Delaware out of this?
MADISON: Yes, you should have just as much a say in the government! But clearly there's something important about my state, so it's sensible for our votes to be prioritized. We're doing something right.
LUTHER MARTIN: Meh.
NAR: That indifferent ‘meh' was Luther Martin of Maryland, recipient of the ‘least rhythmic-sounding name in the English language' award.
MARTIN: Perhaps MADISON is right, MCHENRY. Some of the greatest leaders in our short history- looking at you, General.
WASHINGTON, sheepishly: Oh, stop.
MARTIN: Leaders come from these populated countries. Influence is about status, after all.
MCHENRY: See that door over there, Martin?
MARTIN: It's a finely constructed door.
MCHENRY: Could you show us how it works, please?
MARTIN: Certainly. *gets up to turn door handle* You simply rotate this knob and push *door sounds* open, and then close it and now I'm locked outside the room.
MCHENRY: Now you're locked outside the room, do you know why you're locked outside the room?
NAR: *Whispers* For being the dissenting opinion within-
MARTIN: Oh, for being the dissenting opinion within my own group.
MCHENRY: *beat* I only kicked him about because he agreed with the other James.
*end talking head*
NAR: Tensions are at an all-time high.
LANGDON: Excuse me, but as a proud New Hampshirean-
NAR: Hampshirean is not a real word.
LANGDON: -I stand with New Jersey's Plan. If you are from a small state and you are okay with representation based on population, you are willingly giving up your speech in this nation. New Hampshire cannot and will not accept this if the proposal is passed. All the large states are going to do is gut our power and leave us unable to make decisions. In fact, we can become our own country, and not ally with you in any way. So, ha.
HAMILTON, knowingly being a butt: What if that happens?
MCHENRY, PATTERSON, and BEDFORD, JR simultaneously: Come again?
FRANKLIN: Get ‘em, Alex.
WASHINGTON: Why does everyone here enable gross behavior?
NAR: It’s the 80s.
HAMILTON: Perhaps we’re doing this to get rid of the weak links. Natural selection taking its course. To a point where the only states worth listening to are the populous ones. *slow and deliberate* What are you going to do about it?
LANGDON: *whispers to PATTERSON, AND BEDFORD*
What can we do about it?
PATTERSON: I… don't know.
LANGDON: What do you mean you don't know, you're the one who came up with this idea!
PATTERSON: I didn't think I'd get this far!
BEDFORD: We're very much outnumbered. If we do a vote now, there goes our Congressional representation. But, I have an idea. *whispers unintelligibly, accompanied with audible responses from PATTERSON*
PATTERSON: *to rest of Convention, as awkward and uncoordinated as humanly possible* If this proposal passes, our alliance will implode. BOOM. That's the sound of our alliance. All of us small states will leave. Maybe we'll be our own countries. Maybe we'll ally together. But we will not stay a part of a country that does not treat us like equals.
NAR: The room begins to descend into chaos, when, lo and behold.
ROGER SHERMAN: BOTH!
SHERMAN: My name is Roger Sherman and I represent the beautiful state of Connecticut. I was doodling on my parchment because this Constitution stuff gets a little stressful for the old noggin, but I was like, "Why don't we incorporate both ideas."
NAR: You seem excited to announce this compromise.
SHERMAN: It's a Great Compromise. I'm quite proud of it.
*end talking head*
SHERMAN: Let's Make a Compromise! *triumphant sound effect* How about a two-house legislature? One house will follow the Virginia Plan and will give each state a number of representatives based on population size. We can call that the House of Representatives. And then we will have a second legislature called the Senate. That one will allow each state to elect 2 representatives, regardless of size. That means each "house" of Congress will have to vote on a proposal before it becomes a law.
*a collective wave of ahhhs follow*
CALEB STRONG: *passive-aggressive laughter*
NAR: This is CALEB STRONG of Massachusetts. First of all, are you okay, STRONG?
NAR: May I ask why?
STRONG: *deep breath* I'm going to have to say the s word.
NAR: Dear lord. Good luck out there.
*end talking head*
STRONG: Excuse me? Uh, hi, thank you for your hard work but I hate this. Are you telling me in the House of Representatives, slav-
NAR: STRONG is cut off by wailing and hollering. I love my job.
BLOUNT: He said the S word! Do not say the S word! That is not okay.
STRONG: But isn't that what y'all do? Partake in the slave tr-
WASHINGTON: Boy, what is wrong with you?
PINCKNEY: Did we not say we weren't going to use the S word? So can someone tell me why I'm hearing the S word?
NAR: STRONG attempted to bring up slavery at the Constitutional Convention. South Carolina has the largest domestic slave market in the United States. You can see the problem now.
PINCKNEY: It's not truly *with great disgust* sla-ver-y per se, it's more of a nonconsensual farming.
*Framers assent to PINCKNEY's synonym for slavery*
STRONG: Are you telling me that in the House of Representatives, *emphasis* slave states *audible wince from few delegates* are going to have a lot of power in the government because they are counting their *more emphasis* slaves as citizens they are representing? They should not be able to control other human beings.
NAR: He's on the right track. We could finally prohibit slavery in America.!
STRONG: Slaves cannot be counted as part of a state's ‘population of citizens, -‘
NAR, anticipation: Caleb, yes!
STRONG: They must be counted as property!
NAR, horror: Caleb, no!
*brief, loud chatter between slave and non-slave states*
BEDFORD, above all the chaos: We're gonna leave again!
*chaos increases in volume ever so slightly*
SHERMAN: Guys. Hey guys! Gu- LISTEN UP YOU DIRTY CHAMBERPOTS!
SHERMAN: *resorts back to sunny disposition*
Let's make a compromise! *distorted, off-key triumphant sound*
*delegates begin to grumble*
I SAID LET'S FLIPPING COMPROMISE!
*pause* Thank you.
BEDFORD, PATTERSON, BREARLY, LANGFORD, I totally get that you're upset. I'd be too. Why don't we agree slave states can count 3/5ths of their slaves towards their population? They can count most of their slaves, but not all of their slaves towards how much power they get in the House of Representatives.
FRANKLIN: I don't see a problem
NAR: Except the whole slavery part but okay.
FRANKLIN: All those in favor?
NAR: *beat*…Sherman never said all of his compromises were great.
*tap, tap, tap, snap snap clap*
Talking Point #5
NAR: I am sitting here with undoubtedly rookie of the year, in terms of Congressional approval, ALEXANDER HAMILTON. Now HAMILTON, what exactly do you plan to do after this one-hour break?
HAMILTON: I am planning to
propose… a college, of some sort. The electoral college.
Nar: O…kay, whatever that means…
I wish you luck.
*end talking head*
WILLIAM BLOUNT: I don't know who the hell he thinks he is!
Narrator, over WILLIAM's voice:
WILLIAM BLOUNT of North Carolina.
Blount: Bastard sails in from the
Carribean, ‘cuz of some *mockingly* scary wind and water!
N: HAMILTON is getting an ear
chewing from WILLIAM BLOUNT of North Carolina. And it's called a hurricane.
HAMILTON: You really expect your average farmer in the middle of nowhere to be informed enough to always choose the best president?
Nar: He just proposed a barrier between the people and the election of the President. A college of some sort. The electoral college.
BLOUNT: Was it not the judgement of the people to bring us all here to this room to try and figure out what to do about our messed up Constitution? You didn't doubt their wisdom then?
HAMILTON: You're a messed up Constitution.
*grumbles and groans from delegates- improvisation*
Nar: Comeback game is quite strong.
*someone yells comeback game weak under narrator*
NAR: And how do you feel about ALEXANDER HAMILTON, BLOUNT?
BLOUNT: I don’t care for being told what to do by the electoral college.
HAMILTON: All we have to do is use the number we settled on for Congress to see how many electors each state gets. *Booing and jeering from delegates* Don’t boo me, I’m right.
BLOUNT: (to delegates) No he’s not. (to Hamilton) What we need is to trust the will of the people, since that is what it means to be a true democracy.
HAMILTON, increasingly frustrated: No, no no, you're not listening. What if the people choose an immoral, uneducated, or unprepared candidate who would lead this country off a cliff?
BLOUNT, incredulously: If we're lucky enough, maybe we'll elect a man who's all three.
PINCKNEY: Guys—let's compromise!
NAR: And why are you so eager to offer solutions?
PINCKNEY: I just want to see a real nice country come together. And if compromises are the way to do it, then why not?
BLOUNT: Yes, because the last Compromise went so smoothly.
PINCKNEY: I hate BLOUNT. He is very mean to me, and I don't like it.
NAR: Welcome to America.
BLOUNT: Electoral college? More like a safety school!
*gasps from delegates, a nice, crisp WORLDSTAR*
HAMILTON: You Yankee. *silence, unsettling shuffle of feet and pens… quills…*
Brearley: Is… is this the opposite of a filibuster?
NAR: Silence? I could live with that.
NAR: 3 whole minutes of silence passed, and I discovered I couldn't live with that. Luckily, neither could they.
HAMILTON: Tell Blount I'm going to run a vote and he's going to have to put up with it, and that he's a coward.
WASHINGTON: BLOUNT, HAMILTON-
BLOUNT: I heard. Your Excellency-
BLOUNT: Tell HAMILTON I'll rest my case as long as he agrees to never look in my direction for as long as he lives.
NAR: It won't be too long.
FRANKLIN: Are you boys done?
Because I'm about ready to secede from this room. Have we come to a decision?
HAMILTON: BLOUNT and I both
believe the electoral college is an integral part of democracy and we would be dunces to let this idea slip between our fingers.
BLOUNT: Hey, wait a-
FRANKLIN: Hope this doesn’t backfire. All those in favor of an electoral college?
*various ayes and nays, one particularly bitter aye from BLOUNT*
FRANKLIN: Oh goodie! I pronounce this Convention- convened! Go forth and be merry.
*chatter and background noise*
NAR: If you had one word to describe this experience, from May to August, what would it be?
BEDFORD, JR: Satisfying.
BREARLEY: *beat* Unconventional.
BREARLEY: See, men from div-
NAR: No, thank you, Brearley.