Philadelphia Founding Home U.S. Constitution

Constitution of the United States

In Philadelphia, The Constitution of the United States was formed, argued, debated, and approved by delegates from 12 States during the spring and summer of 1787. This document wraps up the efforts starting with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 followed by the Articles of Confederation in 1777. They are the historic documents that provide our liberty and freedoms that “We the People” have enjoyed for over 240+ years in the United States of America.

Second Continental Congress 1775-1781

The Second Continental Congress’s purpose was to form a government to manage and provide direction for the colonies in a period of contentious trade disputes with the British. They convened on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia where new attendees include John Hancock from Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson from Virginia plus Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson from Pennsylvania.

Second Continental Congress 1775
The Thirteen Colonies 1775

John Hancock was unanimously elected President of the Continental Congress where his work was mostly limited to a presiding officer. Due to the amount of communication and paperwork Hancock had to hire clerks at his own expense. The business at hand was to create a unified government for the colonies independent from Britain, to fund the impending war effort with Britain, and to select a Commander-in-Chief of the Army.

On June 15, 1775, John Adams representing Massachusetts nominated George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. At this time the Army was in Battle with the British in the Boston area. Washington lead the colonial forces to victory over the British and Hussein troops in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

Declaration of Independence from Great Britain

The Second Continental Congress brought forth our Declaration of Independence from British rule in July 1776. The seed was sown by the Virginia Convention by instructing their delegates to assert Independence on May 5th, 1776. Richard Henry Lee proposed a committee of five to write a draft where Thomas Jefferson was charged with the assignment. A draft copy was finished for review by the Congress on July 2,3, and 4. On July 4th 12 of the 13 colonies approved the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock as President of the Congress was the first to sign on July 4th with his prominent signature.

Two future presidents, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson signed the Declaration. Delegates from Pennsylvania that signed the Declaration of Independence include Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, and George Ross.

Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation were produced by Congress after lots of discussion regarding the merits of a centralized government versus a union of states.  Congress passes the Articles of Confederation on November 15, 1777, at a meeting in Yorktown, today York Pennsylvania. Congress left Philadelphia to escape the invading British Army.  The Articles were ratified on March 1, 1781, after a lengthy delay from the State of Maryland.

The Articles of Confederation would create a government without a chief executive and, without a court system. In addition a government without the power to enforce taxation or methods to create strong trade to improve the overall 13 state economy. Many of the existing functions of the states would remain intact like State, County, and local government.

Constitutional Convention May-September 1887

The stage for the four-month Philadelphia Convention is set in the Pennsylvania State House now referred to as Independence Hall. Some 55 delegates arrived sporadically in Philadelphia usually by horse coach to make lodging arrangements for the four-month session. They were appointed by the legislatures of 12 states excluding Rhode Island. This state never agreed with the Convention idea. The invite went out to 74 delegates, however strong statehood issues kept others from attending.

The purpose of the Convention was not widely shared by planners- Washington, Madison, and Hamilton. They were afraid of scaring off attendees if the purpose was known to revise the Articles of Confederation. Within States, officials realized they were having money issues like no power to collect taxes, pay the public debt, or defend the country.  In addition, they had no common structure to increase trade and commerce.

When a quorum was available on the twenty-fifth of May George Washington was unanimously elected president of the Constitutional Convention. Notable names present at the Convention included James Madison, Andrew Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, John Rutledge,  James Wilson, John Dickinson, Robert Morris, and Roger Sherman plus others.

In the following discussions about the construction of the Constitution, we are examing the founding father roles of Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson. Both men represent my native state of Pennsylvania at the Convention.

James Wilson member of Constitutional Convention
James Wilson Shaped the Presidency

James Wilson from Pennsylvania believed in a strong central government and in the sovereignty of the people.  Wilson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a lawyer, and a student of jurisprudence. Born in Scotland he came to America at the age of 21. Before his arrival in the colonies, Wison received an education at Edinburgh and Saint Andrews Universities. In America, he studied law under John Dickinson who received his law education at the Temple in London. Both men were delegates to the Constitutional Convention.

Wilson was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar where he practiced law for several years before moving to Reading. After Reading he moved to the Scotch-Irish settlement of Carlisle where he established a law practice, marries Rachel Bird, and later began to speculate in land.

His political career started with becoming Chairman of the Carlisle committee of correspondence and attended the first Provincial Assembly in 1774. The following year Wilson was elected to the Assembly and the Continental Congress. His assignment was on the Military and Indian Affairs Committee. In 1776 in agreement with his constituents, Wilson joined moderates of Congress favoring Richard Henry Lee’s resolution of June 7th for independence from Great Britain. He voted in the affirmative and became a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

At the Constitution Convention Wilson’s view was only a single executive could represent the entire nation while giving “energy, dispatch, and responsibility” to the government. Wilson spoke 56 times calling for a chief executive that was “energetic, independent, and accountable.” On June 1, 1787, Wilson proposed that “the Executive consist of a “single person.” His motion was seconded by Charles Pinckney from South Carolina. Pinckney had a similar plan specifically named this official the “President”. Wilson called for the executive to be directly elected by the people. His motion for a single executive met with opposition.

More fervor discussions were taking place with Roger Sherman of Connecticut,  John Dickinson of Delaware, and Edmund Randolf of Virginia regarding the merits of a single executive versus plural executive.  John Dickinson on the second of June rose up to declare for a single executive. James Wilson’s motion for a single executive passes on the fourth of June by seven to three. Historians remark that after adjournment the delegates celebrated at City Tavern.

Next Wilson had to wrestle with the process to elect the “President” by the people. He proposed what became today’s Electoral College. Wilson divided the States into districts where voters would choose electors who elected the President.

 Constitution of the United States

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. –Preamble to the United States Constitution

View the complete document

  • including the Bill of Rights known as Amendments 1-10
  • and Amendments 11-27 for changes and additions made over the past 240+ years.

Framers of the Constitution of the United States

“The original states, except Rhode Island, collectively appointed 70 individuals to the Constitutional Convention. A number of these individuals did not accept or could not attend, including Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. In all, 55 delegates attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, but only 39 actually signed the Constitution. The delegates ranged in age from Jonathan Dayton, aged 26, to Benjamin Franklin, aged 81, who was so infirm that he had to be carried to sessions in a sedan chair”.

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Copyright © 2018-2021 by Ronald L. Fake. All rights reserved worldwide

 

Ronald L. Fake

Pennsylvania native from York County. After graduating from Wrightsville High School enlisted in U.S. Navy. While in the Navy working in the field of Aviation Electronics decided to enroll in college. Selected San Diego State University with a focus on urban geography and environmental studies. After graduation in 1968 worked with county and state governments, and private industry on the environmental impacts of transportation projects. After retirement started my ancestry research and today I am writing that history as a blog at https://ancestryeuropetoamerica.com.