As the early nation emerged from the American Revolution, questions arose as to how the new nation would govern itself. America’s first attempt was the Articles of Confederation which was a loose confederation of states with a weak central government. But the failures of this early government led to calls for a convention to develop a new government. After much debate and compromise, a new Constitution was written in 1787, that created a strong central government with three separate branches and a system of checks and balances. This new Constitution faced a battle to be ratified and accepted by the states, but ultimately it was successfully ratified in 1789. This is the same document that still governs America today.
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.
After spending the entire summer behind closed doors in secrecy dealing with several difficult issues, on September 17, 1787, the new Constitution of the United States was completed. 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 for ratification.