We recently discussed the arrival in Philadelphia of the delegates that would meet, in the words of Congress, “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.” We also explained that methods of travel in 1787 didn’t look much like what we have today. There were no planes, trains, and automobiles. Nor were there subways and steamcars. Bicycles were still 40-50 years away. The fastest methods of transport used horses, and not everyone had them. Roads were little more than dirt pathways, and the spring of that year had been especially rainy.
In addition, there was also the rule requiring delegates from a majority of the states be present before activities commenced. Since there were thirteen states, seven needed to be represented. Furthermore, Rhode Island (wanting nothing to do with the upsetting the status quo) had already committed to boycotting the proceedings. So while the Convention was scheduled to start on the 14th of May, it was readily apparent on the 14th that delegates from seven states had not arrived. In fact, only eight delegates had arrived in total.
But delegates did straggle in and, on May 25, 1787, the required quorum of seven states was reached. The Convention could officially begin. Activities were modest (it was a Friday, after all), with the election of a Convention President (big surprise here, George Washington) and a Secretary (William Jackson). Additionally, the rules committee was created, comprised of Virginia’s George Wythe, South Carolina’s Charles Pinckney, and Alexander Hamilton from New York.
It began rather quietly and would falter throughout, but the finished product three months later would be one of the most exceptional achievements in history…the U.S. Constitution. And over the next three months, I hope we’ll be able to visit a few of the highs (and lows) of this most-important of gatherings.
Recommended Reading: Miracle at Philadelphia