Events: Creation of the Constitution

In 1786, about 700 debt-ridden farmers led by Daniel Shays took part in a violent uprising in western Massachusetts. They attacked courthouses to stop officials from foreclosing on farms. The farmers rebelled against state taxes that were difficult to pay due to the economic depression. The Massachusetts militia was called to end the mob violence. Many Americans saw Shays’ Rebellion as a sign that the Articles of Confederation was not working. Fearing a future crisis, leaders called for a convention to discuss how to solve the problems with the Articles. This led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia and the creation of a stronger national government.
The Congress of the Articles of Confederation in February,1787, adopted a resolution calling for a convention of delegates from the thirteen states to be held “for the sole purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” In May 1787, fifty-five delegates from every state except Rhode Island met at the Philadelphia State House to revise the Articles of Confederation. Twelve of the states chose convention delegates. Only Rhode Island declined to do so.

Fifty-five men attended some or all of the convention. The convention was supposed to begin on May 14 but did not do so because not enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum. James Madison arrived early on May 3, and he and other delegates from Virginia and Pennsylvania then met informally and prepared a new plan of government to present to the convention once it began. Finally, on May 25, enough delegates had arrived to constitute a quorum, and the convention began. The delegates unanimously elected General George Washington to preside as the President of the Convention. The delegates soon decided that instead of simply “revising the Articles of Confederation,” they would write a completely new constitution with a very different system of government from that which the nation had under the Articles.

They kept their proceedings secret so that they could freely discuss their ideas. Well-known faces, such as Benjamin Franklin, were present as well as young delegates such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Thomas Jefferson was not present because he was serving as U.S. diplomat in France. John Adams was not present because he was serving as U.S. diplomat in England.

By September, the delegates had scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created a strong federal union instead of a loose confederation of states. They signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Thirty-nine delegates present at the end of the convention signed the Constitution. Three delegates – Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, and George Mason of Virginia—refused to sign it. The new Constitution was then sent to the states to hold special ratifying conventions to approve or reject this new government. In 1789, the new U.S. Constitution was ratified and became law.