Translator: tom carter
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar It is the spring of 1787. The Revolutionary War has been over for only six years, and the young United States is still struggling in its infancy. Uprisings, boundary disputes and the lack of a common vision all plague the newborn country. In an effort to steady this precarious ship, the Confederation Congress calls on states to send delegates to the grand Convention, to begin on May 14 in Philadelphia. The delegates must draft revisions to the Articles of Confederation, which would then be considered by the Congress and approved by the states. Under the terms of the Articles, all 13 states had to agree to any changes. Since the purpose of the Convention is just to make recommendations, not everyone is excited about attending, and frankly, some think it’s a waste of time. As men from different parts of the country began to travel down dusty, rugged roads on the way to Philadelphia, not all states send delegates. In fact, Rhode Island never even shows up. On May 14th, only 8 delegates — not states, but individual delegates — are present, so they wait. Finally, on May 25th, the necessary quorum of seven states is acheived. In all, 55 delegates arrive in Philadelphia over the course of the Convention. They are all white males, property owners, and the average age is about 44. Some are slaveholders, some had signed the Declaration of Independence, [James Madison, Roger Sherman] and almost all are well-educated. [Benjamin Franklin] Picture the delegates, James Madison and George Washington among them, sitting in Independence Hall in hot, humid Philadelphia. They’re all wearing the dress of the day: frock coats, high collars and thick pants. They vote to keep their discussions secret to encourage honest debate. But that means the windows are closed, and there is no air conditioning in 1787, not even an electric fan. and they’ll sit in that sweltering heat, in those heavy clothes, for three months. Shockingly, they all keep their vow of secrecy. That could never happen today, not even for an hour-long meeting. Someone would share “James Madison thinks he’s so smart. Keyword: articles are dead” via social media, and the whole thing would be a disaster. But in 1787, there are no leaks. Not even a drip that hints at what they are doing. And what they are doing is nothing short of overthrowing the very government that sent them there. Within a few days, with only a seven-state quorum, and only six of those states agreeing, a handful of men change the course of history. They vote to get rid of the Articles of Confederation, and write a new, more nationalistic document that becomes our Constitution. The risk is immense. Everyone on the outside assumes they were working on recommended revisions to the Articles. It’s an incredible gamble, and even when the Convention presents the signed Constitution on September 17th, not all delegates endorse it. The country will argue and debate for two more years before the document is adopted by the required nine out of 13 states. But instead of punishing them for their deception, today we celebrate the wisdom and vision of those men in Philadelphia.