Steve Scott, Blogger on Voting and Elections, “Getting more people to vote in free and fair elections.” Sarasota, Florida
Some of the ideas in this blog post are mine and some are from my 30 great sources listed in Appendix C., unless specifically noted. Since this blog post is meant for the average voter, not constitutional scholars, I have included few footnotes. (One source actually has 180 pages of footnotes!) My high school English teachers would role over in their graves over my lack of footnotes, so please don’t tell them.
This is the story of why our Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 decided the Electoral College would be the best way to chose the President for the new United States of America. I hope you find it as interesting and fun to read as it is informative.
55 of some of the greatest American political minds of the 18th century (Thomas Jefferson called them “demi-gods”) met in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia to create the U.S. Constitution that is still going strong after almost 250 years.
“[The Constitution] has proved remarkably durable and authoritative. It has anchored the national government through spectacular economic growth, social changes, and expansions of democracy and rights that were inconceivable in 1787(italics & bolding mine). It is easy to forget that politicians produced this remarkable document — talented and often idealistic politicians, but politicians nevertheless.” (Source #18, The Original Compromise, p. 8)
The United States in 1787 (Source #17, The Founders, p. 121)
The 13 original states, acting more like 13 independent countries, jealously guarded their own separate special interests. They were afraid of creating a powerful, tyrannical government in America after getting rid of a powerful, tyrannical government in Great Britain. So they deliberately created a weak national government under the Articles of Confederation.
But only four years after winning independence from Great Britain in 1783, the national government they created was too weak and was just not working. The country was on the verge of collapse. Many feared their freedoms won in the Revolutionary War would be lost.
General Lincoln’s Massachusetts militia firing at “protesters”, a.k.a. armed rebels, at the Springfield Armory. 6 rebels were killed in Shay’s Rebellion and 1 militia man.
In Shay’s Rebellion (1786-87) 4,000 farmers in western Massachusetts, many former Revolutionary War soldiers, protested the high taxes imposed by the Massachusetts “East Coast Elites”. (Sound familiar?) The farmers didn’t have the hard currency (gold and silver) to pay their taxes and debts and the courts were foreclosing on their farms. So they ran the judges out of town or forced state court houses to close to prevent any more foreclosures. Then they attacked the Springfield armory, with real guns, to get more weapons so they could march on the state capitol in Boston to “lobby” the Massachusetts legislature for a tax cut and debt relief for “middle class” farmers like themselves.
Massachusetts State House, Boston 1787
DepositPhotos.com. $14.99 (The Declaration of Independence was read to the people of Massachusetts from this balcony in 1776.)
“To George Washington Shay’s Rebellion appeared as the reality of [democracy] run riot. For him and many nationalists, the debtors’ insurrection…[in Massachusetts 1786-1787] became the fire bell in the night awakening them in terror and calling them back into service.” (The Return of George Washington, Uniting the States, 1783-1789, by Edward Larson. p. 78-79)
The politicians said, we can ignore the people complaining about high taxes when they just write letters. But when they start using guns we have to actually do something. We need to fix our Constitution (The Articles of Confederation) so we won’t have more armed revolts by the people.
So 55 men, a.k.a. Founding Fathers, attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia for four months in the summer of 1787 to fix the Articles of Confederation. And “fix” them they did by creating a whole new Constitution from scratch.
Note: They were the “elites” of their day: wealthy, well educated, lawyers, politicians or all of the above. Not a small farmer or working class man among them.
The actual room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia where the Constitution was created in 1787. George Washington sat as the presiding officer in the tall chair in the background.
A. None of the Founding Fathers got what they wanted at the Constitutional Convention in 1787:
George Washington didn’t want to be there at all. He felt that after winning a grueling 8 year long war against the biggest superpower of the 18th century, he deserved a well earned retirement as a gentleman planter at his beloved Mt. Vernon estate in Virginia. But out of a deep sense of duty he came because his country needed him once again.
He never participated in the full Convention discussions on how to choose the president(with just one exception), because he performed the very important task of the presiding officer and wanted to remain neutral in the debates.
Without lending his enormous prestige to the Constitutional Convention, the Constitution probably would never had become the supreme law of the land. The “United” States of America then would have split into 3 or 4 different countries with possibly some controlled by foreign powers, like Spain, France or even Great Britain.
Thomas Jefferson wasn’t at the Constitutional Convention because he was drinking wine in Paris as our ambassador to France.
Alexander Hamilton wanted the president to be elected for life, effectively making him an elected king. That went over like a lead balloon. In fact he got less of what he wanted in the Constitution than anybody else and then did the magnanimous thing after the Constitutional Convention of working harder than anybody else to get the necessary nine states to ratify the Constitution to make it the supreme law of the land.
Benjamin Franklin wanted the President to serve without pay and originally wanted the executive branch to be an Executive Council of several people instead of just one President.
James Madison of Virginia, “The Father of the Constitution”, hated the “Great Compromise” that produced the clearly undemocratic equal state representation in the Senate, instead of the very democratic representation by population in the House. (Did I mention the “Great Compromise” also gave the Southern slave states extra seats in the House and the Electoral College by counting 3/5 of their slaves as “real people” for representation purposes, even though slaves were treated as property and of course couldn’t vote.)
James Madison originally wanted the president to be chosen by Congress but after the convention voted down his proposal he had to settle for his second choice; using the Electoral College to choose the President.
(Born into wealthy family, Served in South Carolina State militia during Revolutionary War, served in Continental Congress in 1784)
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina wanted slaves to be counted as people when apportioning members of the House of Representatives, even though slaves were treated as property, not “real” people, and of course could not vote. According to part of the “Great Compromise” on July 16 he had to settle for slaves counting as only 3/5 of a person when apportioning members of the House of Representatives and therefore also in the number of electors in the Electoral College.
Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania wanted the Senate to be made up of wealthy aristocrats, like himself, and had to settle for the Senate being the “most exclusive club in the world.” (He’s not famous, but he should be because he wrote those very famous words at the beginning of the Constitution, “We the People of the United States”).
On July 17 Gouverneur Morris introduced the motion at the convention to have the president chosen by a direct election of the people. It was voted down 9 states to 1! In 1787 the Founding Fathers really didn’t want the people to choose the president directly.
James Wilson of Pennsylvania was the only Founding Father at the Convention who wanted the people to chose all our elected officials. The election of members of the House by the people was included in the original Constitution in 1787. He had to wait 126 years for the 17th Amendment in 1913 for Senators to be elected by the people, instead of by state legislatures as in the original Constitution. And he had to wait 250+? years for the president to be elected directly by the people when the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact was instituted. (See my Blog Post “Advantages and Disadvantages of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, Oct 30, 2021)
A. Actually I “miss spoke” when I said nobody got what they wanted. They all wanted to create a Constitution that would change 13 independent, squabbling, weak states into one great nation that someday would become the biggest and best democracy in the world. Ater debating, arguing and compromising for four months in Philadelphia during that hot summer of 1787, on September 17, that’s exactly what our Founding Fathers got. (Except for the 8 Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention you’ve probably never heard of because they got even less of what they wanted and refused to sign the Constitution.)
B. The #1 question at the Constitutional Convention in 1787: “Do we want a confederation [of 13 independent states] or a nation?” – Gouverneur Morris, delegate from Pennsylvania (Source: Hugh Williamson, Physician, Patriot, and Founder by George F. Sheldon, MD, p. 173)
And so the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention created a federal system of government where power was shared between the national government in Washington and the states. (Well, at least after Washington became the Capitol in 1800.) They created a new form of democracy that existed no where else in the world or in any previous time since the creation of democracy in Athens, Greece in 505 B.C.
The Founding Fathers debated and argued in 1787 about how much power the federal government should have and how much power the states should have and we’re still debating and arguing today about how much power the federal government should have and how much power the states should have in our democracy.
C. The #2 question at the Convention was how much power would the large population states have compared to the small population states. This was resolved for Congress by the “Great Compromise” on July 16.
The delegates voted 5 states to 4 to apportion representation in the House by population, which favored the large states, and two Senators for each state in the Senate, regardless of population, which favored the small states.
A 5 to 4 decision doesn’t look much like a compromise to me. It looks more like a narrow political victory for the small states. And the major reason it passed at all was the small states threaten to leave the convention if they didn’t get equal representation in the Senate which favored them. The large states of wanted representation by population in the Senate which favored them of course. Well the large states gave in on this issue because they believed that the small states really would leave the convention if they didn’t get their way on this issue. Then we would have had no new Constitution and the United States of America would have probably broken up into 3 or 4 small independent countries perhaps controlled by a foreign government like France, Spain or even Great Britain. Yes our Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were great statesmen. But they were also shrewd politicians that knew how to swing a political deal that favored there side. (See the video “A More Perfect Union, Source #5).
In 1787 the Founding Fathers may not have created the perfect “Goldie Locks” system with just the right amount of power sharing between the federal government and the states and between the small states and the large states. But with just a few modifications since then, the Constitution they created must have been pretty good because after almost 250 years it’s still here.
Benjamin Franklin’s closing address to the convention:
“I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present; but sir, I am not sure I will never approve it….I doubt too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution….It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does…Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.”
And they all lived happily ever after. Except for Alexander Hamilton of New York and Richard Spaight of North Carolina who were killed in duels after the Convention. And James Wilson who died in 1798 while running away from the sheriff who was trying to put him in debtors’ prison (again) because he lost so much money speculating in western land. And Robert Morris who didn’t run fast enough and had to spend 3 1/2 years in debtors’ prison. And of course we can’t forget the two delegates who were murdered after the Convention. John Lansing, Jr., who left his hotel room in New York City to mail a letter in 1806 and was never seen alive again. And George Wythe (pronounced like Smith) who was poisoned by his grand nephew and heir in 1806.
The Electoral College was chosen because:
a. The delegates didn’t really like the alternatives: Direct popular election by the people or Congress selecting the President.
Note: The main reason the delegates didn’t like using a direct popular vote election to select the president wasn’t that they didn’t think the “average voter” in 1787 was not educated or intelligent enough to make good choices on selecting a president. The main reason was they didn’t think the “average voter” would be informed enough about presidential candidates outside their own state because of the poor state of communication and transportation in 1787. News traveled only as fast as a horse and just imagine how long it would take news to travel from, say Massachusetts to Georgia. Newspapers were the only “mass media” then and they were expensive, available only in a cities and 10% of the population in the North were illiterate and 30% in the South. And transportation was very slow. When George Washington rode his horse drawn carriage to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 to Philadelphia from his home in Mt. Vernon, Virginia (about 150miles) it took him 5 days. That’s not 30 miles per hour that’s 30 miles per day. Most people in 1787 had never left their own state (and some had never even left their own county in their entire life).
b. After spending four months in the hot Philadelphia summer away from their families, farms and businesses, at the end of the Convention in September the delegates wanted desperately to go home and didn’t have any interest in another long debate on how to select the president like they did on how to apportion representation in the Congress.
c. Since everyone knew George Washington would be the first President and that he would be great they really didn’t have to worry about how well the Electoral College would work for the first 8 years of the Constitution. So like good politicians they left the problem to be finally solved by future politicians.
d. All the political factions at the Convention got something out of the Electoral College system except James Wilson who wanted the President elected by the people and Alexander Hamilton who wanted the President to serve for life (subject to “good” behavior).
- The states liked it because each state would decide how to choose its own Electors.
- The large population states would have the advantage when the Electors voted in the Electoral College, although not by as much as in a direct popular election.
- 95% of the time the Convention delegates expected no candidate to have a majority of the Electoral College votes. The House would then choose from the top five vote-getters with each state getting one equal vote. Then the small states would have the advantage.
- The slave states got extra Electors since 3/5 of their slaves counted as “real” people in the House.
- The wealthy “elites”, just about every delegate at the convention, liked the Electoral College because it prevented the “ignorant poor” from electing a president that favored “Leveling Laws” that redistributed wealth from the “elites” to the poorer “average citizens” (18th Century version of socialism)
- And the President would not be beholden to Congress for his job unlike if Congress selected the President which was the Founding Fathers’ 1st choice for selecting the President.
On September 6, 1787 the Convention voted 10 states to 1 to use the Electoral College system to select the President for the new United States of America.
“Max Farrand, in his succinct work The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, [p. 175] sums up the attitude of the Framers toward the electoral college: ‘For of all things done in the convention the members seemed to have been prouder of that than of any other, and they seemed to regard it as having solved the problem for any country of how to choose a [President].”
Source #10, Inventing the American Presidency, pg. 34
You can skip the next 10,000 words of my blog post if you have better things to do with your time than reading about the myriad details of what happened at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. But if you want to read one of the most “interesting and exciting stories in American history”, complete with sex, violence, two love stories and a case of good old fashioned political extortion, then you should read Appendix A. Interesting and Fun Reading about the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and Appendix B. Exciting Biographies of Selected Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the surprise twist ending in the Epilogue.
And as a bonus you may even learn more facts of why in 1787 our Founding Fathers created the Electoral College to select our president.
Appendix A. Interesting and fun reading about the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
The Constitutional Convention was supposed to start on Monday May 14 but they couldn’t get a quorum of 7 states until Friday May 25. (And you thought our Founding Fathers were perfect.)
Actually the main reason so many delegates were late arriving in Philadelphia was that there was an especially rainy spring in 1787 and the dirt roads had all turned to mud. And mud makes for slow going in horse drawn carriages. Then they started working from 10-4, six days/week with Sundays off until September 17.
In fact delegates trickled in for weeks. Maryland didn’t have a quorum until June 9. New Hampshire didn’t show up until July 23 when the convention was half over! Better late then never. Speaking of never, Rhode Island never sent a delegation at all. So if there are any parts of our Constitution you don’t like you can’t blame Rhode Island because they weren’t at the Constitutional Convention at all.
Their first major problem was how to create a stronger national government that would work effectively without creating too strong a national government and then lose their literally hard fought freedoms gained in the Revolutionary War.
The second major problem was the small population states feared the large states would gang up on them and always outvote them in Congress. The small states threatened to leave the union if the large states had too much power in the new constitution.
”…several delegates teased the Georgia representatives about voting with the large states. [Georgia was the second smallest state but was siding with the big states on big states vs. small states issues.]
One Georgian retorted huffily: ‘We may be small in population but we have tremendous land area. And someday we will undoubtedly be the country’s largest state when our claim is recognized to all the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River.’
The answer, dripping with sarcasm, came right back: ‘You won’t be the country’s largest state when that happens. You’ll be the world’s largest country!” [After the small states leave the Convention after losing their equal representation vote and thereby dooming the new Constitution resulting in the disintegration of the United States as a country.] (Source: #9 Fifty-Five Fathers, p. 32-33)
(Politician, Princeton University graduate and attorney general for Delaware)
“You dare not dissolve the [Articles of Confederation of the 13 States]; if you do, the small states will find some foreign ally of more honor and good faith who will take them by the hand and do them justice.” (Think France, Spain or even Great Britain.) Translation: The small states would leave the United States and create their own country in league with some foreign power.
The third major problem was slavery. The Southern slave states wanted to keep slavery, which was the basis of their wealth and way of life.
But the Northern states wanted to abolish slavery.
All Times, All Peoples: A World History of Slavery by Milton Meltzer, Illustrated by Michael McCurdy, p. 27
No wonder the Northern states wanted to abolish slavery.
Three Southern slave states, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia (and possibly Virginia and Maryland) would have left the union if the new constitution abolished slavery.
“It was the turn of the [Southern] slave states to threaten to leave the Convention. A similar threat seemed to have worked wonders for the small states’ interests. So Davie of North Carolina…was sure ‘that North Carolina will never confederate on any terms that do not rate the blacks at least as three-fifths. If the [Northern] states…exclude [blacks] altogether, the business is at an end.” – William Davie of North Carolina (Source: #1, 55 Men, The Story of the Constitution, p. 96)
These three problems were a huge challenge facing the Founding Fathers. They all knew if they failed to create a better constitution than the Articles of Confederation, the infant democracy of the United States of America would not survive. No pressure at all.
The delegates argued bitterly for over a month about one thing: representation in Congress. Would there be one equal vote for each of the 13 states, as was currently done under the Articles of Confederation, or would the votes of the states be determined by population? The small states wanted one vote for each state. And no surprise here, the large states wanted representation by population so they could have more power in the government.
“Franklin succinctly stated the problem: ‘….If a proportional representation takes place, the small States contend their liberties will be in danger. If an equality of votes is to be put in place, the large States say their money will be in danger.” Benjamin Franklin, An American Life by Walter Isaacson p. 452
The convention delegates were so divided that tempers were flaring. So Benjamin Franklin recommended the convention start each day with prayer asking for divine guidance. (And you thought today’s politicians were the most divided in U.S. history.) They voted his suggestion down, partly because there was no money to pay for a chaplain.
By Monday July 2 the dissension got so bad the convention threatened to break up without creating a new constitution. In a few years the 13 states would have split into 3 or 4 separate countries and we would have no fireworks or BBQ’s on the Fourth of July.
Then the “John Wayne” of the 18th century, Abraham Baldwin of Georgia, came to save the day.
The vote to have both the House and the Senate representation by population was 5 to 5 with Georgia the last to vote. If this vote passed Baldwin knew the small states would walk out; no new constitution and the United States would be no more.
Georgia was expected to vote “aye”, meaning the measure would pass. Though Baldwin favored representation by population in both houses of Congress he voted “no”. Since the other Georgia delegate voted “aye” the state of Georgia was divided 1-1 and the final vote was 5 states “aye”, 5 “no” and 1 divided with the measure failing to get enough votes to pass.
The delegates then voted to form the “Grand Committee” composed of one delegate from each state chaired by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts to try to break the impasse.
When the delegates returned on Thursday July 5, after a two day break to celebrate the 4th of July, New York said the new constitution would create a national government that was too powerful and trample on the rights of the states, including ending New York’s lucrative state import duties.
Also, the Confederation Congress had only authorized the Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation not create a whole new constitution. New York felt the new constitution was illegal. But the other states seemed to be more flexible and breaking the law to create a new constitution was not a problem for them.
Alexander Hamilton of New York had already left on June 30 because he wasn’t getting along with the other two delegates from New York.
Then the entire rest of the New York delegation quit the convention and returned to New York.
The most moving scene in the movie “A More Perfect Union” (Source #5, A More Perfect Union) was Thursday July 5 when the two remaining New York delegates, Yates and Lansing, left. A hush fell over the entire convention. The delegates were scared. If more states left, the Constitutional Convention would fail. Not only would America’s great experiment in democracy fail, but the delegates, aka “demi-gods according to Thomas Jefferson, had staked their reputations on the success of this convention. And no delegate had more to lose in reputation than the biggest “demi-god” of them all, George Washington.
As I said, Rhode Island never did send a delegation to the convention. They felt the new Constitution would trample on their state rights like New York, including the right for Rhode Island to print its own money. (Comes in real handy when its time to pay your bills). So after July 5 both New York and Rhode Island had no legal say in writing the Constitution.
New Hampshire missed the whole raucous fighting on the representation in Congress because they didn’t show up until July 23; something about the state not wanting to reimburse their delegates’ travel expenses. No fat expense accounts for the delegates from cheap New Hampshire.
“As the large and small state delegates argued, their hostility for one another increased until on July 16 some men wanted to adjourn the convention[again]…and the convention might have ended without producing a constitution.” (Source #17, The Founders, p. 11)
Jacob Broom of Delaware (Lawyer, prosperous businessman and “a plain good Man”)
“Suddenly Jacob Broom leaped to his feet. They must not part in anger without producing a constitution, he insisted. Coming from the gentlemanly and soft-spoken Delawarean, this speech convinced the delegates to work out their disagreements. Some historians credit Jacob Bloom with saving the convention.” (Source #17 The Founders, p.11)
Anecdote: Because many of his friends and family were Quakers, who did not believe in killing because it was against their religion, Broom would not fight in the Revolution. (I have great respect for the Quakers because at a time when nearly everyone accepted slavery without question they were the first group to say slavery was morally wrong and actively worked to abolish it.)
To break the impasse over representation in the Senate Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the House of Representatives be apportioned by population and the Senate have equal votes for each state.
By the end of Monday July 16 the small states and the large states made a deal on representation in Congress based on Roger Sherman’s “Great Compromise”. The Founding Fathers were more willing to compromise than today’s politicians. The vote was 5-4 with Massachusetts divided. (Ayes: CT, NJ, DE, MD and NC, Noes: PA, VA, SC and GA) RI, NY and NH absent.
I don’t know where you come from but where I come from a 5-4 decision doesn’t sound much like a compromise. It sounds more like the “Great Compromise” was a narrow political victory for the small states. (See the video, A More Perfect Union, Source #5)
Some people say the Great Compromise was to satisfy the Southern slave states. Some say it was to satisfy the needs of the small stares who were afraid of always being outvoted by the big states. The real reason was good old fashioned political extortion. The small states threatened to leave the Convention if they didn’t get their way on equal representation in the Senate. If they left the convention there would be no new Constitution. No new Constitution and the United Stares of America would have dissolved into 3 or 4 idependent countries,(New England, the Southern slave states and the middle Atlantic states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and maybe New York. And one or two of the split off countries would have alliance with foreign countries like Spain, France or even Great Britain.
The large states believed the threat by the small states to leave the convention was real and so they caved in on this issue. And that’s the real reason the U.S. Senate is apportioned equally by state and not by the more democratic method of representation by population.
Now the convention could finally move on to the many other important issues that still needed to be decided, including how to select the President.
Note: The “Great Compromise” also included the 3/5 rule allowing the Southern slave states to have extra representatives in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College because 3/5 of the number of their slaves would be counted as “real” people for representation purposes, as was done under the old Articles of Confederation.
Slaves were 30% of the population in the 5 Southern slave states and 3% of the population in the 8 Northern states (per 1790 census). Only Massachusetts had outlawed slavery by 1787.
“[The Constitution] was done by bargain and compromise…on the adoption of it depends…whether we shall become a respectable nation or a people torn to pieces by commotions and rendered contemptible for ages.” Nicholas Gilman of New Hampshire (Source: #17, Founders, p. 107-8)
“A stand for compromise is not the stuff of heroism, virtue, or moral certainty. But it is the essence of the democratic process.” (italics & bolding mine) Barbara Oberg (Yale scholar), Benjamin Franklin, An American Life by Walter Isaacson p. 459
Nicholas Gilman was considered the most handsome man in New Hampshire. (So ladies, what do you think? Is he really that handsome?) He made no speeches at the Convention but believed that the Constitution was the only thing that would save the nation. Note: He died at age 58. He never married. I leave that up to your speculation why the “most handsome man in New Hampshire” never got married.
It’s now Tuesday July 17 and they debated on how to choose the president. They had three options and all were seriously flawed.
#1. The 13 state legislatures would select the president. But the whole purpose of creating a new constitution was to increase the power of the federal government in relation to the states. If the states selected the president, the states would have too much power over the president.
#2. Why not elect the president by popular vote of the people? James Wilson of Pennsylvania thought this was a great idea and tried to get the other delegates to support him. The vote on July 17 to elect the president by popular vote was defeated 9 states to 1! The Founding Fathers clearly did not want the people to choose the president in 1787.
“In fact, only a small minority of delegates believed that the ordinary citizens of America were insufficiently intelligent to make a wise choice for their president….Rather, nearly all of the delegates–with the notable exception of Wilson–believed that the sheer expanse of America would frustrate any effort to create an informed electorate.” (Source #12, p. 130-131)
It was 1100 miles from Portland, Maine to Savannah, Georgia at a time when people and news traveling by horse drawn carriage averaged 20-30 miles/day by land and sailing vessels averaged 5 miles/hour by sea. (Not counting storms, the wind blowing the wrong way and shipwrecks) (Source: Wikipedia)
You do the math to see how long news takes to reach Savannah, Georgia from Portland, Maine. No staying up til 2 am on election night to see who won the election in the first presidential election (December 15, 1788 – January 10, 1789). They actually didn’t officially count the Electoral College votes until the first Congress met on March 1, 1789 and President Washington wasn’t inaugurated until April 30, 1789.
“[Most] Founders intended the Electoral College to be a buffer against the potential abuses of democracy [a.k.a. “Mob rule”]….They did not want a demagogue, a despot, or a tyrant, who would flatter the people for votes, and thought it was better to have an appointed executive [rather than a president elected by the people]. (Source: The Founding Fathers Guide to the Constitution by Brian McClanahan p. 129) He is an author and holds a Ph.D in American History from the Univ. of South Carolina.
See what “Mob rule” looked like in 18th century America and why so many Founding Fathers were afraid of an “excess of democracy” by the “people”.
The “Fort Wilson” story, 1779
Constitutionalists (Hardworking farmers from rural western Pennsylvania (a.k.a. “Flyover States”, 18th century style) vs. Republicans(wealthy, well educated bankers and lawyers from large cities in eastern Pennsylvania, like Philadelphia.)
According to the Constitutionalists, the Pennsylvania Republicans (no relation to today’s Republican Party) rigged the elections, so the Constitutionalists decided the only way to get “freedom and justice for all” was to do that Revolutionary War thing and start an armed revolt (It worked in ’76, so why not now?)
Since future Founding Father James Wilson was one of those wealthy lawyers from Philadelphia, the Constitutionalists (a.k.a. mob) decided to attack his home, with real guns, to get more favorable legislation on tax & debt relief for the “middle class”, like them.
In response Wilson and his friends barricaded his house and got their own guns. And ever since his home was known as “Fort Wilson”.
“As the disorderly crowd drew abreast of Wilson’s house, Captain Campbell called out peremptorily from a window ordering the soldiers [the mob] to move on. The answer was a musket shot that killed him instantly. Fire blazed from the house and the siege began.”
The result: five of the mob dead and one of Wilson’s friends, Captain Campbell. The Governor’s Executive Council later pardoned the rebels. (Source: James Wilson, Founding Father, 1742-1798 by Charles Page Smith, p. 135-139) This was the “mob rule” that many of the “elites” were so afraid of in the 18th century.
Brian McClanahan thinks the delegates at the Constitutional Conventoon believed the uneducated people could be duped by a demagogue. (Some people today still think the “average voter” is not intelligent enough to make good choices for president.)
“The objections to a popular election…were a lack of confidence in the knowledge and judgement of the people…” (Source: The Framing of the Constitution of the United States by Max Farrand, p. 166)
There were two other reasons why the vote was 9 states to 1 against choosing the president by the people. The Southern slave states would be at a disadvantage since 30% of their population were slaves and couldn’t vote. And the small states were afraid of always being outvoted by the big population states.
#3. The third option was for Congress to choose the president, like in Great Britain. Their Prime Minister is elected by parliament, not by the people.
Congress already had the power to impeach the president and if Congress selected the president too it could “hire and fire” the president. Then the president would be beholden to Congress for his job and would not have enough independence to act as a check on excessive power by Congress.
They had to figure out some way to chose a president. They finally decided to have Congress choose the president as the “lesser of three evils”.
On August 24 selecting the president by the Electoral College came up again, after being previously rejected. How should the Electors in the Electoral College be selected? They voted against having the people choose the Electors in the Electoral College by a vote of 6 states to five (Close, but no cigar).
Not only did our Founding Fathers not want the people to choose the president they didn’t even want the people to choose the Electors in the Electoral College so they could choose the president. In our democracy (which in Greek means rule of tthe people) the Founding Fathers really didn’t have much faith in the people to run the country. I can only imagine their horror at finding out today we actually let the people vote directly on state ballot measures to change laws themselves. No wonder they called the first democracy in the modern world a republic instead of a democracy. If fact the word democracy doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution.
It’s now August 31 with only 17 days before the convention ended. To address the many issues still left to decide, they created the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters with one member from each state to make recommendations on how to finish the Constitution so they all could go back home to their families, farms and businesses after debating and arguing for four months in the summer heat.
And remember, no A/C in 1787. And to make the heat even worse, the windows were closed to keep out the biting flies and eavesdroppers because the convention rules required the proceedings to be secret. And the northern delegates wore dress woolen clothes. No short sleeve cotton shirts or short pants during the sweltering summer heat
(Hugh Williamson, Convention delegate and Founding Father from North Carolina)
“Committee people [on the Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters] were chosen for their ability to compromise and work with others.”, (Source: Hugh Williamson’s biography, p. 188) That’s the difference between statesmen and politicians.
The committee was chaired by David Brearley of New Jersey (lawyer, Colonel in the New Jersey militia during the Revolutionary War and in 1787 was Chief Justice of New Jersey’s Supreme Court.)
We’re finally getting to the part where the Constitutional Convention decides to use the Electoral College to choose the president.
The Committee on Postponed Matters recommended Congress choose the president. But when John Dickinson (Lawyer and previous governor of Delaware and Pennsylvania), suggested they reconsider having Congress choose the president, Gouverneur Morris from Pennsylvania (Born wealthy, Columbia University graduate and lawyer) jumped at the chance to choose the president by any way other than Congress. (No, that’s not a typo, Gouverneur really was his first name.) He had seen way too much politics in the Continental Congress to want the new Congress to choose the president.
Although his soft voice made him a poor speaker, (he addressed the convention 150 times and served in the Virginia legislature and the Continental Congress.) he helped revived the Electoral College, which had previously been dismissed, to choose the president. Since no one was really happy with Congress choosing the president, as the “lesser of three evils”, the other delegates listened to their arguments why the Electoral College would be a better way to choose the president.
The Electors in the Electoral College would be chosen by a method decided by each of the states. That would get the support of the states who feared a too powerful national government.
Each state would get one Elector for each of their representatives in the House of Representatives and one for each senator in the Senate. That would give the large states an advantage when the Electoral College voted, although not as big an advantage if the voting was by the people. In 1787 the largest state, Virginia, would outnumber the smallest state, Delaware, by 10 to 1 in the House of Representatives but only by 12 to 3(4 to 1) in the Electoral College.
Today California, the largest state, outnumbers Wyoming, the smallest state, by 53 to 1 in the House of Representatives but only by 55 to 3 (18.3 to 1) in the Electoral College.
Transportation and Communication in 18th century America:
(Picture of 18th Newspaper)
The “Mass Media” were 2-4 page mostly weekly newspapers only available in the larger cities and towns when 10% of the Northern population was illiterate and 30% in the South. (Source needed) Many voters wouldn’t have a clue about candidates for president in neighboring states, let alone 1,000 miles away.
Because of poor transportation and communication in 1787 the delegates at the convention expected 95% of the time (according to George Mason of Virginia) that the Electors in the Electoral College would vote for “favorite sons” from their home state and no candidate would receive a majority of the Electoral College votes. Then the Senate (later changed to the House of Representatives with each state getting one equal vote), would choose the president from the top five vote getters in the Electoral College (later changed to the top three by the 12th Amendment in 1804). (Note: the House voted by the 13 states not by the 65 individual members of the House.) That would get the support of the small states (Delaware, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey) since there were more small states than large states in the country (Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts).
The Southern slave states (Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia) liked the Electoral College because they got extra votes in the Electoral College because their slaves, which they treated as property, were counted as 3/5 of a “real” person in representation in the House and as an Elector in the Electoral College.
The wealthy “elites”, just about every delegate at the convention, liked the Electoral College because it prevented the “ignorant poor” from electing a president that favored “Leveling Laws” that redistributed wealth from the “elites” to the poorer “average citizens” (18th Century version of socialism)
And everyone saw that if the Electoral College chose the president the president could maintain his independence from Congress and be a check on Congress from becoming too powerful and tyrannical.
All of the factions at the convention got some of what they wanted in the Electoral College (Except James Wilson of Pennsylvania who wanted the president to be elected by the people or at least have the Electors in the Electoral College chosen by the people and Alexander Hamilton who wanted the President to be elected for life like a king.) So on September 6 the convention approved the Electoral College to choose the president by a vote of 10 states to 1.
And that’s the story of why the Founding Fathers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 decided to use the Electoral College to select our President.
On September 17 the final version of the Constitution was signed by 39 delegates. These three delegates attending refused to sign because they thought the new Constitution made the federal government too powerful over their states or it lacked a Bill of Rights. (There were five other delegates that also didn’t like the Constitution and didn’t sign but they had already left the convention before September 17.)
1. George Mason of Virginia (Wealthy plantation owner and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776.) He later was a major player in getting the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution.
2. Edmund Randolph, (Governor of Virginia, lawyer and aide-de-camp to Washington during the Revolutionary War) He later changed his mind and helped Virginia approve the Constitution at Virginia’s state ratifying convention in 1788.
3. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (Wealthy, Harvard graduate and politician). He invented gerrymandering in 1812.
Gerrymandering: “Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts as a dragon-like “monster”. Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a blend of that word and Governor Gerry’s last name.” (Wikipedia)
Patrick Henry, of Revolutionary War fame, “Give me Liberty, or give me death!”, didn’t sign the Constitution either. He was invited to the Constitutional Convention but declined. He thought the new constitution would make the national government too powerful. He was the leading opponent of the Constitution in the Virginia state ratifying convention. The Virginia state delegates included representatives from Kentucky and West Virginia, which were still part of Virginia in 1787. Thanks to Madison’s arguments, Virginia was the 10th state to ratify the Constitution by a vote of 89 to 79 on June 21, 1788.
Benjamin Franklin’s closing address to the convention:
“I confess that I do not entirely approve this Constitution at present; but sir, I am not sure I will never approve it. For having lived long  I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that, the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement and pay more respect to the judgement of others….I agree to this Constitution with all its faults…I doubt too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution….It therefore astonishes me, sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does…Thus I consent, sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.”
“Max Farrand, in his succinct work The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, [p. 175] sums up the attitude of the Framers toward the electoral college: ‘For of all things done in the convention the members seemed to have been prouder of that than of any other, and they seemed to regard it as having solved the problem for any country of how to choose a [President]”
Inventing the American Presidency edited by Thomas Cronin, “Designing the Electoral College” essay by Schlomo Slonim (Professor of American Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
“After signing [the Constitution on September 17, 1787] the delegates adjourned to the City Tavern…for a farewell dinner. Behind the conviviality lurked unspoken fears, and Washington, for one, doubted that the new federal government would survive…twenty years.” (Source: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, p. 241)
Because all of the proceedings at the Constitutional Convention were kept secret everyone else in the country was anxious to find out what changes to their government the convention had proposed. So after the Constitutional Convention ended, Mrs. Palmer, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, asked Benjamin Franklin, “Do we have a monarchy or a republic?” Franklin famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The Founding Fathers fought to keep our republic in 1787. We’re still fighting to keep it today.
p.s. When most of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates arrived in Philadelphia in May and June of 1787 they came representing the 13 original states. That is evident by the original wording of the preamble to the Constitution:
“We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain, declare, and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and Our Posterity.” (Source: TenthAmendmentCenter.com, “The Original, Forgotten Preamble to the Constitution” by Gary North, June 28, 2016.)
But after four months at the Convention the delegates began to change. They started to think of themselves, not as citizens of 13 separate states, but as citizens of one United States of America.
Thanks to Gouverneur Morris, who changed the preamble at the last minute, when the 39 delegates signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787 the preamble read:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish the Constitution for the United States of America.”
Appendix B. Exciting Biographies of Selected Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787
Character sketches (in quotes) of the 20 most important delegates (out of the 55 that attended the Constitutional Conventiom) by fellow delegate William Pierce of Georgia. Also included are some additional personal information.
William Pierce of Georgia, (Army officer in the Revolutionary War, Merchant, Polititian and studied art under Charles Willson Peale)
Pierce did not sign the Constitution because he left the convention on June 30 to attend the Confederation Congress in New York and for personal business reasons. [for a duel that was ironically prevented by his second, and fellow convention delegate, Alexander Hamilton.]
The delegates of the 12 states represented at the convention (only 11 states signed at the end) are in geographical order from North to South (New Hampshire first to Georgia last, per the method of calling for votes at the convention, with Rhode Island absent.
1. New Hampshire
(Wealthy, fought in the Revolutionary War & built privateer ships to fight the British, member of the Continental Congress, Governor of New Hampshire and the first delegate to sign the Constitution.)
New Hampshire’s delegates arrived two months late to the convention on July 23 because the state was too cheap to pay their travel expenses. If Mr. Langdon hadn’t paid the travel expenses for the two delegates out of his own pocket, New Hampshire might never have taken part in the Constitutional Convention.
My favorite quote: “Langdon built ships for the new American Navy [during the Revolutionary War], including the Ranger, which naval hero John Paul Jones commanded. [“I have not yet begun to fight!”] In the summer of 1777, the Ranger became the first warship to fly the new American flag, the Stars and Stripes.” (Source: (#15) p. 104)
Sidebar: You have to read the exciting story of how John Paul Jones defeated the 50 gun British ship H.M.S. Serapis in 1779 (Go USA!) in the book, John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy by Evan Thomas (Amazon.com $9.86)
“Mr. Langdon is a Man of considerable fortune, possesses a liberal mind, and a good plain understanding. about 40 years old.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Wealthy, Harvard Graduate and Politician. Elbridge Gerry invented gerrymandering in 1812. Refused to sign the Constitution because it didn’t have a Bill of Rights.)
My favorite quote: “If we do not come to some agreement among our ourselves some foreign sword will probably do the work for us.” (Source needed)
“Mr. Gerry’s character is marked for integrity and perseverance. He is a hesitating and laborious speaker; —possesses a great degree of confidence and goes extensively into all subjects that he speaks on, without respect to elegance or flower of diction. He…cherishes as his first virtue, a love for his Country. Mr. Gerry is very much of a Gentleman.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
Miniature by John Trumbull “Rufus King, American Federalist” by Robert Ernst p. 137, Amazon.com $10.00 (Used)
(Lawyer, wealthy, Harvard graduate, staunch opponent of slavery, future U.S. senator from New York and ambassador to Great Britain)
My favorite quote: “King’s best known work in his two and a half years in the Confederation Congress was in pushing for the exclusion of slavery in the Northwest Territory [Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin]…after Massachusetts abolished [slavery] he was not much aroused by its persistence in other states since they had sole jurisdiction over slavery within their borders. But slavery in federal territory [the West] was quite a different thing, and from 1785 until his death Rufus King decried slavery on federal lands.” (Source: “Rufus King, American Federalist” by Robert Ernst, p. 53-54), Amazon.com $5.48 (Used))
“Mr. King is a Man much distinguished for his eloquence and great parliamentary talents. He was educated in Massachusetts, and is said to have good classical as well as legal knowledge. He has served for three years in the Congress of the United States with great and deserved applause….This Gentleman is about thirty three years of age….his public speaking…is natural, swimming, and graceful, but there is a rudeness of manner sometimes accompanying it…he may with propriety be ranked among the Luminaries of the present Age.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Wealthy, lawyer, Mayor of New Haven, CT and father of 15 children by two wives)
My favorite quote: “…the equality of votes [in the Senate] not so much as a security for the small States; as for the State Govts, which could not be preserved unless they were represented & had a negative in the Genl. Government.” (See source below, p. 98)
(Sherman was the original supporter for limited government and for states rights to balance the voices at the Constitutional Convention for a very powerful federal government, as we now have in Washington. (Source: “Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic” by Mark David Hall, p. 121), Amazon.com $30.00)
“Mr. Sherman exhibits the oddest shaped character I ever remember to have met with. He is awkward, un-meaning, and unaccountably strange in his manner. But in his train of thinking there is something regular, deep, and comprehensive; yet the oddity of his address, the vulgarisms that accompany his public speaking, and that strange new England cant which runs through his public as well as his private speaking make everything that is connected with him grotesque and laughable; —and yet he deserves infinite praise, —no Man has a better Heart or a clearer Head. If he cannot embellish he can furnish thoughts that are wise and useful. He is an able politician, and extremely artful in accomplishing any particular object; —it is remarked that he seldom fails. I am told he sits on the Bench in Connecticut, and is very correct in the discharge of his Judicial functions. In the early part of his life he was a Shoe-maker; —but despising the lowness of his condition, he turned Almanack maker, and so progressed upwards to a Judge. He has been several years a Member of Congress, and discharged the duties of his Office with honor and credit to himself, and advantage to the State he represented. He is about 60.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Lawyer, judge and 3rd Chief Justice of the U.S., Princeton graduate and a member of the Continental Congress. He left the convention on August 24 to attend to his judicial duties in Connecticut and so did not sign the Constitution.)
My favorite quote: “….the only chance we have to support a [national] government is, to graft it on the state governments. I want to proceed in this ground, as the safest, and I believe no other plan is practicable.”, “The Life of Oliver Ellsworth” by William Garrett Brown, Amazon.com. $10.45
“Mr. Elsworth is a Judge of the Supreme Court in Connecticut; —he is a Gentleman of a clear, deep, and copious understanding; eloquent, and connected in public debate; and always attentive to his duty. He is very happy in a reply, and choice in selecting such parts of his adversary’s arguments as he finds make the strongest impressions, —in order to take off the force of them, so as to admit the power of his own. Mr. Elsworth is about 37 years of age, a Man much respected for his integrity, and veneratedt for his abilities.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
4. New York
(He was an illegitimate child born on the Caribbean island of Nevis, British West Indies, attended Columbia University, an aide to Washington during the Revolutionary War, lawyer and wanted the president to be elected for life.)
My favorite quote, “Best of wives and best of women.” Written about his beloved wife Eliza. He married her at age 25 and remained married until he was killed in a duel at age 49. They had 8 children.
He Left on June 30 because of a dispute with the other two delegates from New York, but returned after George Washington “asked” him to come back. He returned for one week in early August (“on and off for the summer”) and returned on September 6 to become a member of the Committee on Style which put the finishing touches on the Constitution, including the opening words, “We the People….”.
Because New York required two delegates to have a legal quorum and Hamilton was the sole delegate from New York after July 5th, Hamilton could take part in debates but when it came time to vote on issues he was not allowed to vote.
Hamilton was killed in a famous duel by his political rival Aaron Burr in 1804.
No delegate had more proposals for the Constitution voted down. And no delegate worked harder to get the states to ratify the Constitution because he knew that without this new Constitution the country was doomed.
The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 but it still had to be ratified by 2/3 of the states (9) to become law. When the New York State ratifying Convention met(Hamilton was from New York) 2/3 of the delegates were against ratifying the Constitution. Despite his best persuasive arguments in the Federalist Papers Hamilton couldn’t get a majority of the New York delegates to vote for ratification.
Well, the city of New York was for ratification even though most of the rest of the state was not. So Hamilton spread the rumor that if the state of New York did not ratify the Constitution the city of New York would secede from the state and join the rest of the United States as it’s own state. Enough delegates believed this threat was real and so when the final vote for ratification was taken it passed by three votes. And you thought our Founding Fathers were all great statesmen and not just shrewd politicians.
“Colo. Hamilton is…a practitioner of the Law, and reputed to be a finished Scholar…it is my opinion that he is rather a convincing Speaker, [than] a blazing Orator. Colo. Hamilton requires time to think, —he enquires into every part of his subject with the searchings of philosophy, and when he comes forward he comes highly charged with interesting matter….He is about 33 years old, of small stature, and lean…His manners are tinctured with stiffness, and sometimes with a degree of vanity that is highly disagreeable.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
5. New Jersey
(Brearley went to Princeton University, but did not graduate, served with Washington at Valley Forge, lawyer and Chief Justice of New Jersey’s Supreme Court. Chair of the important Committee on Postponed Matters that was responsible for the Electoral College choosing the President.)
“Mr. Brearly is a man of good, rather than of brilliant parts…and is very much in the esteem of the people. As an Orator he has little to boast of, but as a Man he has every virtue to recommend him. Mr. Brearly is about 40 years of age.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
“James Wilson, Founding Father, 1742-1798” by Charles Page Smith, Amazon.com $58.
(James Wilson studied at St. Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities in Scotland but never earned a degree. He came to America and became a successful lawyer, served on the first U.S. Supreme Court, first law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and would die in poverty facing debtor’s prison due to speculation in western land.)
My favorite quote: “Can we forget for whom we are forming a government? Is it for men or the imaginary beings called states?”
Anecdote: Because 81 year old Benjamin Franklin found it difficult to stand to give speeches he asked fellow Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson to read his speeches for him. Well, this resulted in the awkward situation once of Wilson having to read Franklin’s speech in favor of originating money bills in the House in contradiction to what Wilson had just said opposing requiring money bills originating in the House giving the impression he was opposing his previous statement. #9 Fifty-Five Fathers, p. 36
“Mr. Wilson ranks among the foremost in legal and political knowledge…Government seems to have been his peculiar Study, all the political institutions of the World he knows in detail, and can trace the causes and effects of every revolution from the earliest stages of the Grecian commonwealth down to the present time….he draws the attention not by the charm of his eloquence, but by the force of his reasoning. He is about 45 years old.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Born wealthy, graduated from Columbia University at age 16 and lawyer. He was absent the entire month of June for personal business reasons, but still spoke at the convention 173 times, more than any other delegate. He was famous for his wooden leg when he was run over by a carriage while fleeing from the irate husband of one of his lovers.)
My favorite quotes: “[May 30] Morris…bluntly asked the question, ‘Do we want a confederation [of 13 independent states] or a nation?” (Source: Hugh Williamson, Physician, Patriot, and Founder by George F. Sheldon, MD, p. 173)
“…the inhabitant of Georgia and South Carolina who goes to the coast of Africa and, in defiance of the most sacred laws of humanity, tears away his fellow creatures from their dearest connections and damns them to the most cruel bondages, shall have more votes in government [because slaves, although treated as property, were counted as 3/5 of a “real” person when counting representation in the House of Representatives and therefore also in the Electoral College.] instituted for the protection of the rights of mankind than the citizen of Pennsylvania or New York who views with laudable horror so nefarious a practice.” (Source: “Gentleman Revolutionary, The Rake Who Wrote the Constitution” by Richard Brookhiser, p. 85-86)
“Like many flirtatious men who oozed charm. The ‘Tall Boy’ was thought superficial, even decadent, by more austere observers. [like John Adams]….According to John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, ‘Gouverneur’s leg has been a tax on my heart. I am also tempted to wish he had lost something else.’ Morris’s peg leg did not seem to detract from his sexual appeal and may even have enhanced it.” (Source: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, p. 240)
Anecdote: “Hamilton and Morris were discussing how Washington signaled to people that they should remain a respectful distance and not behave too familiarly with him. Hamilton wagered Morris that he would not dare to accost Washington with a friendly slap on the back. Taking up the challenge, Morris found Washington standing by the fireplace in a drawing room and genially cuffed him on the shoulder: ‘My dear general, how happy I am to see you look so well.’ Washington fixed Morris with such a frigid gaze that Morris was sorry that he had ever taken up Hamilton’s dare.” (Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, p. 240)
“Mr. Governeur Morris is one of those Genius’s in whom every species of talents combine to render him conspicuous and flourishing in public debate…But with all these powers he is fickle and inconstant, —never pursuing one train of thinking…No Man has more wit, —nor can any one engage the attention more than Mr. Morris. He was bred to the Law, but I am told he disliked the profession, and turned Merchant…This Gentleman is about 38 years old, he has been unfortunate in losing one of his Legs, and getting all the flesh taken off his right arm by a scald, when a youth.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(He made so much money as a printer he was able to retire at age 42. He invented bifocals, the lightning rod and was ambassador to France. He was critical in getting France to be our ally, without whose support we would not have won the Revolutionary War.)
Note 1: “At 81, Franklin was the oldest delegate [at the Constitutional Convention]….Since his gout and kidney stones made it painful for him to walk, he was carried to the daily sessions in a sedan chair he had brought from Paris–a chair balanced on long poles held aloft by four husky prisoners from the Walnut Street jail.”Becoming Ben Franklin p. 71
Note 2: Since it was difficult for him to stand, he wrote down his speeches and had fellow Pennsylvania delegate James Wilson read them for him. (See story of Wilson contradicting himself under the James Wilson biography.)
Note 3: When Washington arrived in Philadelphia on May 13, 1787 the first thing he did after getting settled into Robert Morris’s mansion, where he stayed during the convention, was to pay a visit to Benjamin Franklin.
My favrite quotes: “Our new Constitution is now established , and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” (Source needed)
“Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the president’s chair, at the back of which a…sun happened to be painted….said, ‘I have often and often in the course of the session…looked at [the sun behind the president], without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”
The First American, The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H.W. Brands p. 691
“Dr. Franklin is well known to be the greatest phylosopher (sic) of the present age; all the operations of nature he seems to understand, —the very heavens obey him, and the Clouds yield up their Lightning to be imprisoned in his rod….he is no Speaker…he is, however, a most extraordinary Man, and tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard…He is 82 [actually 81] years old, and possesses an activity of mind equal to a youth of 25 years of age.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Lawyer and former governor of both Delaware and Pennsylvania. Princeton University(Honorary LLd). Served in Revolutionary War. He missed many debates due to illness and even had to have fellow delegate from Delaware, George Reed, sign for him on September 17.)
“Mr. Dickinson has been famed through all America, for his Farmers Letters; he is a Scholar, and said to be a Man of very extensive information….I had often heard that he was a great Orator, but I found him an indifferent Speaker….He is, however, a good writer and will be ever considered one of the most important char-acters (sic) in the United States. He is about 55 years old, and was bred a Quaker.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Lawyer and graduate of Princeton University. He left on September 5 and did not sign the Constitution because he thought the new Constitution would create a powerful national government that would destroy the states that were the true source of liberty.)
My favorite quote: “The tireless champion of the sovereignty of the states…” (The original “states rights” defender.) (Source: Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet, The Life of Luther Martin” by Bill Kaufman, p. XIX), Amazon.com $23.82
“Mr. Martin was educated for the Bar, and is Attorney general for the State of Maryland. This Gentleman possesses a good deal of information, but he has a very bad delivery, and so extremely prolix [given to speaking or writing at great or tedious length] that he never speaks without tiring the patience of all who hear him. He is about 34 years of age.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(He was elected presiding officer of the convention unanimously and to remain neutral only voiced his opinion twice. Without his great national prestige the Constitutional Convention would have failed and our Constitution would never have become the supreme law of the land.)
Note: Washington freed all 123 slaves that he owned after his death, unlike Thomas Jefferson who did not free his 600 slaves. Legally Washington was not able to free the other 194 slaves owned by his wife Mary.
My favorite quote, “[political parties]…are likely in course of time…by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government….”
Anecdote: (Nathaniel Gorham, delegate from Massachusetts, prosperous merchant and served in the Massachusetts legislature and the Continental Congress)
Note: This quote has nothing to do with George Washington but I really like it. Since I don’t have a bio of Nathaniel Gorham I stuck it here. I knew everyone would read George Washington’s bio; Nathaniel Gorham’s not so much.
“Convinced that only a very powerful leader could hold the new nation together, Gorham wrote to Prince Henry of Prussia (a German Kingdom), asking him to consider becoming king of the United States. Fortunately, few people besides Nathaniel Gorham took his proposal seriously.” (Source #?, p. 72)
On September 17, the last day of the convention, the Constitution was all printed and the 39 delegates were getting ready to get the quill pen to sign the famous document when Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts made a literally last minute change. He proposed that in the House of Representatives the states should have one representative for each 30,000 people instead of 40,000, (Today it’s about 700,000.) thereby increasing the total number of representatives in the House to 65 (fact check needed) (vs. 435 today). George Washington thought this was a great idea and couldn’t resist voicing his approval. The convention would probably have voted this proposal down but when Washington said he liked it, the proposal was passed unanimously. This was why George Washington only participated in the debates just twice. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts proposed that a national standing army be limited to 3,000 soldiers. Washington added that foreign invading armies should also be limited to 3,000 soldiers. And coming from the victorious commander of the U.S. Army in the Revolutionary War he would know.
“Genl. Washington is well known as the Commander in chief of the late American Army. Having conducted these States to independence and peace….now only seeks for the approbation of his Countrymen by being virtuous and useful. The General was conducted to the Chair as President of the Convention by the unanimous voice of its Members. He is in the 52d. year of his age.” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Although his soft voice made him a poor speaker, he addressed the convention 150 times and served in both the Continental Congress and the Virginia legislature. Madison owned 100 slaves and later was a member of the American Colonization Society which promoted resettling former slaves in Africa. And of course Madison was our 4th president, 1809-1817.)
He is known as the “Father of the Constitution” and arrived in Philadelphia for the convention a on May 3rd, 11 days before the opening date of May 14, when many other delegates didn’t arrive for days or even weeks after the official start date.)
My favorite quote: “[Madison thought] the small states need not worry about being dominated by the larger ones like…New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia, were all so different from each other that they would never form an alliance…at the expense of the small states. [He] also thought other states with similar economic and social conditions could ally with a large one, making the point of large state dominance a moot one.” (Source: “The Constitutional Convention of 1787” by Charles River Editors, p.4)
“Mr. Maddison….blends together the profound politician, with the Scholar…tho’ he cannot be called an Orator, he is a most agreable, eloquent, and convincing Speaker…he always comes forward the tbest informed Man of any point in debate. The affairs of the United States, he perhaps, has the most correct knowledge of, of any Man in the Union. He has been twice a Member of Congress, and was always thought one of the ablest Members that ever sat in that Council. Mr. Maddison is about 37 years of age…” – Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Wealthy plantation owner and owned 600? slaves, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 and later was a major player in getting the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. Refused to sign the Constitution because it didn’t protect the economic interests of his state of Virginia, created a too powerful president and lacked a Bill of Rights.)
“In reality, the omission of a bill of rights may have owed as much to the delegates’ desire to go home as it did to constitutional theory. Mason undoubtedly could have provided a draft [of a Bill of Rights] within a matter of hours; [on September 12, only five days before the end of the convention] how long it would have taken the convention to agree on a draft is another matter.” (Source: George Mason, Forgotten Founder by Jeff Broadwater, p. 203)
My favorite quote: August 31, “I would sooner chop off my right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands….I wish to see some points not yet decided brought to a decision before being compelled to give a final opinion on this article. Should these points be improperly settled, my wish would then be to bring the whole subject before another general convention.”
On September 15 Randolph of Virginia proposed state ratifying conventions could submit amendments to a second Constitutional Convention….No state voted “aye”. (Source: “George Mason, Forgotten Founder” by Jeff Broadwater, p. 204-205).
(After four months of grueling debates, arguing and almost giving up several times, no way were the delegates going to come back and do it again with no guarantee that they would reach a second agreement.)
“Mr. Mason is a Gentleman of remarkable strong powers, and possesses a clear and copious understanding. He is able and convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of the best politicians in America. Mr. Mason is about 60 years old…” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Governor of Virginia, lawyer and aide-de-camp to Washington in the Revolutionary War. Refused to sign the Constitution, but later changed his mind and helped Virginia to vote for it at the Virginia state ratifying convention in 1788.)
My favorite quote: “[I support] a firm energetic government; to enforce my objections to the Constitution, and to concur in any practical scheme of amendments, but I never will assent to any scheme that will operate [toward] a dissolution of the Union…”
“Mr. Randolph is Governor of Virginia, —a young Gentleman in whom unite all the accomplishments of the Scholar, and the Statesman. He came forward with the…first principles, on which the Convention acted, and he supported them with a force of eloquence and reasoning that did him great honor. He has a most harmonious voice, a fine person and striking manners. Mr. Randolph is about 32 years of age.” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
10. North Carolina
(Princeton graduate, born in England, Colonel in the Revolutionary War, lawyer and founder of the University of North Carolina in 1793. He left the convention on August 11 for legal business, so did not sign the Constitution. But he supported ratification in the two North Carolina ratifying conventions of 1788 and 1789.)
My favorite quote, “…North Carolina will never confederate on any terms that do not rate the blacks at least as three-fifths. If the [Northern] states…exclude [blacks] altogether, the business is at an end.”
“Mr. Davey is a Lawyer of some eminence in his State. He is said to have a good classical education, and is a Gentleman of considerable literary talents. He was silent in the Convention [but not in the North Carolina delegation]…but his opinion was always respected. Mr. Davy is about 30 years of age.” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Doctor to North Carolina Troops in the Revolutionary War, scientist like Ben Franklin, graduate University of Pennsylvania, served in North Carolina legislature and the Continental Congress)
My favorite quote: “In September [Williamson] moved to have the three-fouths majority in both houses required to override the president’s veto changed to two-thirds, as the former put too much power in the president’s hands.” (Source: Hugh Williamson, Physician, Patriot, and Founding Father by George F. Sheldon, MD, p. 176)
“Mr. Williamson is a Gentleman of education and talents. He enters freely into public debate from his close attention to most subjects, but he is no Orator. There is a great degree of good humour and pleasantry in his character; and in his manners there is a strong trait of the Gentleman. He is about 48 years of age.” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
11. South Carolina
(Governor and Chief Justice of South Carolina, wealthy [owned 60 slaves, but at his death owned just one.], lawyer, Named his son “States”, attempted suicide after the death of his wife and was saved by a slave)
My favorite quote: “If the Constitution abolishes slavery South and North Carolina and Georgia will never sign,” (Source: Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina by Richard Barry, p. 328)
Chairman of the Committee of Detail. The committee labored for 11 days from July 26 to August 6 to write the first complete draft of the Constitution, while the rest of the delegates were relaxing on break. (George Washington went fishing with Gouverneur Morris. Later Washington visited Valley Forge where he and his troops spent that terrible winter in 1777-78.)
“Mr. Rutledge is one of those characters who was highly mounted at the commencement of the late revolution; —his reputation in the first Congress gave him a distinguished rank among the American Worthies. He was bred to the Law, and now acts as one of the Chancellors of South Carolina. This Gentleman is much famed in his own State as an Orator, but in my opinion he is too rapid in his public speaking to be denominated an agreeable Orator. He is undoubtedly a man of abilities, and a Gentleman of distinction and fortune. Mr. Rutledge was once Governor of South Carolina. He is about 48 years of age.” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
(Yale graduate, not rich, Chaplain to Continental Army in the Revolutionary War and Lawyer. Born in Connecticut and then moved to Georgia. Helped found University of Georgia, the first publicly supported college in the country and last delegate to sign the Constitution.)
“Mr. Baldwin is a Gentleman of superior abilities, and joins in a public debate with great art and eloquence. Having laid the foundation of a complete classical education at Harvard College, he pursues every other study with ease. He is well acquainted with Books and Characters, and has an accommodating turn of mind, which enables him to gain the con-fidence of Men, and to understand them. He is a practicing Attorney in Georgia, and has been twice a Member of Congress. Mr. Baldwin is about 38 years of age.” Delegate William Pierce of Georgia
Anecdotes of 8 other delegates:
Charles Pinckney of South Carolina, “For two years he had been in love with Mary Eleanor Laurens, a 16 year old South Carolina girl known as Polly. But Polly’s father had decided that she was too young to marry and must wait until she was eighteen. The very day of her eighteenth birthday, Polly and Charles Pinckney were wed.” (Source: #15 Founders p. 100-101)
John Lancing, Jr. of New York Went to mail a letter from a NYC hotel in 1806 and was never see alive again.
Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, One of America’s richest men. To finance the Battle of Yorktown in the Revolutionary War he reportedly spent a million dollars out of his own pocket. Because he had spent so much of his own money helping to win the Revolution and through land speculation, he spent three and a half years in debtors’ prison.
Dr. James McHenry of Maryland, Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where the flag flew that inspired Francis Scott Key to compose ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ in 1814, was named for James McHenry.
William Blount of North Carolina, During the Revolutionary War he was paymaster for North Carolina soldiers and made large profits selling goods to the soldiers. He also claimed he “lost” $300,000 of the soldiers’ payroll. During the convention he didn’t take part in the debates. But he made up for his shortcomings by helping to persuade North Carolina to adopt the Constitution on November 21, 1789, the next to the last state to ratify the Constitution.
Pierce Butler of South Carolina, Had he not suggested the proceedings be kept secret, state legislatures would have found out that the convention was illegally creating a whole new constitution, instead of just amending the Articles of Confederation. Then many states might have withdrawn their delegates to the convention, ala New York, and we would have had no Constitution and therefore no more United States of America. (Source needed)
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney of South Carolina, His wife Eliza introduced the Indigo plant (used to make blue dye), which along with rice, were the two most important crops in South Carolina before Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1793 made cotton the “King of the South”. Note: Eli Whitney technically didn’t invent the cotton gin. He stole the idea from an enterprising negro slave who was tired of picking all those d#%* seeds from the cotton bolls.
George Wythe of Virginia, Left on June 4 to take care of his dying wife Elizabeth. In 1806 his grandnephew, and heir, put arsenic in his morning coffee and he later died.
Appendix C. 30 Great Sources and References
Note: Amazon.com prices listed are subject to change. That’s legalize for the prices listed may be wrong. Caveat emptor. That’s Latin for “buyer beware”.
by Fred Rodell (Professor, Yale Law School)
“The separation of powers….was to protect, not all, but a part of the people from a type of government the delegates themselves feared even more [than tyranny of a president turned dictator.] That type of government was government by all the people. It was democracy, undiluted, as then practiced in the states. It was the kind of democracy that, more than any other single thing, had brought the Convention together, to put a stop to it.
For, that democracy had scant respect for property rights. It soaked the rich with paper money laws, “leveling laws,” high taxes on business, and other schemes tending toward a more equal distribution of wealth. [18th century version of socialism]. And the delegates…wanted none of it in the [new] government they were founding.” p. 167-168.
I don’t agree with this author that the 55 Founding Fathers were primarily motivated in writing the Constitution to protect their own property rights. But there are others who do agree.
by Clinton Rossiter, (Professor of History, Emeritus, Columbia University)
“The major contribution of the [Committee on Postponed Matters presented on September 5] was an acceptable scheme for electing the President. If some delegates found it..too complicated, that was because the committee had been warned off the simple but unacceptable schemes of election directly by the people or election by a joint session of Congress, and also because…it had to strike a politically viable balance between large states and small.” p. 219
”The election of 1800…introduced [organized political parties] into the American political system for which the Constitution…had made no provision….[political parties] altered the ingenious system for electing a President [in the Electoral College] almost beyond recognition.” p. 313
by Carol Berkin (Professor American History, Baruch College, New York)
“In the [state] ratifying conventions the presidency was virtually ignored…The explanation for this lack of controversy is simple: George Washington….Thus it would be difficult to find anyone in the country who cared how the president was chosen or how long he served – as long as his name was George Washington.” p. 178
by Akhil Reed Amar (Professor, Yale Law School)
“Once some states began to let their voters a have a direct say in their choice of electors [in the Electoral College] – as happened from the beginning – it would prove hard in the long run for other states to withhold this privilege from their own voters. By 1804 most states let voters pick electors, and after 1828, only one state – South Carolina – continued to resist the democratic tide.” p. 152
By Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
The most moving scene in the movie “A More Perfect Union” was Thursday July 5 when the two remaining New York delegates, Yates and Lansing, left. A hush fell over the entire convention. The delegates were scared. If more states left, the Constitutional Convention would fail. Not only would America’s great experiment in democracy fail, but the delegates had staked their reputations on the success of this convention. And no delegate had more to lose in reputation than the biggest “demi-god” of them all, George Washington.
By William Peters(Director Yale University Films)
“[Edmund Randolph] ‘in case the final form of the Constitution should not permit me to accede to it, that the state [ratifying] conventions should be at liberty to propose amendments to be submitted to another general convention, which may reject or incorporate them as shall be judged proper.’ If there was groan from the delegates at the thought of yet another convention, James Madison did it record it.” Page ??)
Although there would probably be no new amendments specifically to change the Electoral College, given that the proposed amendments would be different from all the states at the second convention and seeing how difficult it was to come to any agreement at the first convention it was very probable that no agreement would be reached at the second convention and no Constitution, in any form, would have been ratified.
By Donald Scarinci (Corporation Counsel for Union City & Passaic, New Jersey)
”…the state delegations were putting together [The Committee of Eleven on Postponed Matters on Aug 31] not only capable of, but committed to reaching the difficult compromises needed to avert another convention [including how to select the President].” p. 195
by Christopher Collier (Professor of History, Univ. of Connecticut) & James Collier
”The electors [in the Electoral College] were to be chosen in any manner the individual state legislatures wished….It would allow the states to leave the choice of the president, in the hands of the state legislatures, or even state governors, if they wished. It was not a mandate for election by the people. Nonetheless, it left open the door for the popular election that James Wilson wanted – yet another of the bargains made to see that everybody got a little something.” p. 302-303
by Selma Williams (Junior High American History Teacher and author, Lexington, MA), 1970
”…there was not the slightest doubt at the Convention that George Washington wound become the first President of the United States. And he would be great. And he would always have the nation’s best interests firmly in mind.
But who would follow him?
The gnawing doubts and fears brought on by this question made the arguments over how to elect a President continue until almost the last week of the Convention.” p. 96
“The [Committee on Postponed Matters report on September 6 ] additional heated debate on the part of the entire Convention – plus impatience, exhaustion, and a haunting fear of failure – all conspired to bring about agreement.” p. 99
”…discouraged by the constant discord George Washington (my bolding) dispatched a letter (July 2?) to Alexander Hamilton [who had left June 30] – a letter that he made no effort to keep secret: ‘Please return as soon as possible. We can no longer spare your vigorous nationalistic support. I am bitterly disappointed in those delegates who oppose strong and energetic government. They are nothing more than narrow-minded politicians who allow local considerations to overshadow the good of the entire nation.’ Page ?
Recoiling at being considered ‘narrow-minded politicians’ [a criticism from the most respected person in the entire country]….They concluded that they absolutely had to produce a new Constitution, even though there were bound to be features with which every delegate could…find fault. The alternative was unthinkable: the downfall of the United States, followed by foreign takeover.” p. 57
”Pierce Butler continued: These leaders [ie., Patrick Henry of Virginia, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia and Sam Adams of Tea Party fame from Massachusetts and did not attend the Convention] do not trust the delegates of this Convention who are wealthy aristocrats, to pay attention to the needs of and rights of all the people. No one is here to represent the small farmers, city workers, debtors, frontiersmen – the bulk of our population. Perhaps amending the Articles [of Confederation] would be enough – instead of discarding them completely for a new and untried Constitution.” Page ??
“Designing the Electoral College”, essay by Shlomo Slonim, (Professor of American Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem)
“The smaller states clearly were concerned that in a straight-out popular election the larger states would overwhelm them. The smaller states had not fought for equality in one branch of the legislature only to see control of the executive [presidency] go by default.” p. 38
”The right of suffrage much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern states; and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of the Negroes. The substitution of electors obviated this difficulty and seemed on the whole to be liable to the fewest objections.” p. 41
by Jack Rakove (Professor of American History, Stanford University)
“The electoral college…owed more to the…defects in alternative modes of election than to any great confidence than this ingenious mechanism would work in practice.” p. 267
by Richard Beeman (Professor of History, Univ. of Pennsylvania)
“The constitution of the newly independent states [The Articles of Confederation] reflected Americans’ profound distrust of [presidential] power. In almost all cases the new state constitutions relegated the powers of the [governor] to a distinctly subordinate role in relation to the state legislature. The Articles of Confederation neglected to provide for a [president] altogether.”, p. 125
”Americans have argued about the nature and extent of presidential power from the time of George Washington to the present. But it was another George…who played an even more important role in conditioning American attitudes toward the presidency – King George III.”, p. 125
by Pauline Maier (Professor American History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
”[In January 1788 The Massachusetts Ratifying Convention debated less than a full day on Article II, the presidency] Nathaniel Gorham…argued that it was better to have the president chosen by the electors [in the Electoral College] than by Congress or the people at large.” p. 189
by Edward Larson (Professor of History & Law, Univ. of Georgia) & Michael Winship (Professor of History, Univ. of Georgia)
Tuesday July 17, “The Convention then turned its attention to the question of how to elect the [president]. [They envisioned the president] as a single person chosen by [Congress] for one seven-year term. Many delegates had their doubts about this arrangement. Some that having [Congress] choose the [president] would make the [president] too dependent on [Congress]. Others worried that not allowing the [president] to run for a second term would deter qualified candidates from seeking the position. On this day the delegates debated the relative merits of having the people or [Congress] elect the [president].” p. 91-92
by Stuart Leibiger, (Associate Professor, History Department, LaSalle University, Chicago)
“Designing the presidency, insisted James Wilson [Pennsylvania], was ‘in truth the most difficult’ challenge the convention faced.” p. 159
by Richard Morris (Professor of History, Columbia University)
”Grave doubts were entertained whether a central government could effectively extend its rule over an immense expanse of territory [do to the very poor transportation and communication in the 18th century] and remain a republic.” p. xii [Many constitutional scholars in 1787 felt that a country as large as the United States (1100 miles from Portland, Maine to Savannah, Georgia was just too big geographically to operate effectively as a democracy.]
by Dennis Fradin (Children’s Author), Illustrated by Michael McCurdy, For grades 5-8
If you have time to read only one of my sources, read this one. It’s only 162 pages. Has interesting, short biographies of the 39 signers of the Constitution and informative of what happened at the Constitutional Convention, especially the seven page introduction. It’s also the easiest to read. Although its written for grades 5-8, adults will find it very informative. In fact, of all the sources I used, I used this source more than any other in writing this blog post.
by Brian McClanahan, (Holds a PhD. In American History from the University of South Carolina)
“The popular vote was not tallied until 1824…That clearly shows what little regard the founding generation had for the people at large in the election process. George Mason of Virginia wondered aloud during the Philadelphia Convention if a presidential election should be ‘performed by those who know least….’[ie, the people].” p. 129
”…the records from the Philadelphia Convention clearly illustrate that the Founders intended the Electoral College to be a buffer against the potential abuses of democracy….They did not want a demagogue , a despot, a tyrant, and thought it was better to have an appointed [President] than one who would flatter the people for votes.” p.29
by David Brian Robertson (Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri-St. Louis)
by David Stewart (Lawyer in Washington, D.C.)
“In fact Franklin sometimes spoke not to [persuade] but to defuse. He suggested prayer….He told jokes. Even the humorless Madison recorded Franklin’s tale of how Scottish lawyers elevate to judgeships the [best lawyers] in order to get rid of them, and share their practice among themselves. (It was probably funnier when Franklin told it; [William Pierce, delegate from Georgia] admitted that Franklin ‘tells a story in a style more engaging than anything I ever heard.’)”
by Woody Holton (Professor of History, Univ. of Richmond)
”Even as the [Founding Fathers] lamented that excessive democracy (my italics) – an over reliance on the popular will – had turned the United States into a farmers’ paradise [at the expense of bankers, merchants and the rich elites in general], many of the farmers themselves complained that they could redress their many grievances only by taking up arms.”
I don’t agree with many of his ideas, but that’s what makes America great; we don’t all have to agree.
by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah)
Despite the author’s glaring contradiction of worshiping our Constitution while praising “The Forgotten Founders” who tried to kill it in 1787, it’s still included in the 24 most important sources for my blog post. Why? Because it’s a prime example of what you can learn from listening to people you disagree with.
Vol. II (July 14 – Sep 17) by Max Farrand, 1937 (Professor of History, Yale University)
Note: Max Farrand’s four volume tome is the “Bible” of the facts of what happened at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787.
by John Vile (Dean of the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro,)
by Joseph Morton, (Professor of History, Northeastern University, Chicago)
(Short biographies of all of the 55 delegates that attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787)
National Archives and Records Administration
(Short biographies of all of the 55 delegates that attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787)
Founding the American Presidency
Amazon.com $7.49 (Used)
by Richard Ellis, Editor
(Short biographies of all of the 55 delegates that attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787)
Appendix D. – Order of states that ratified the Constitution with vote tallies (ayes-noes)
1. Delaware, December 7, 1787, 30-0
2. Pennsylvania, December 12, 1787, 46-23
3. New Jersey, December 18, 1787, 38-0
4. Georgia, January 2, 1788, 26-0
Note: Parts of Alabama and Mississippi were part of Georgia in 1787.
5. Connecticut, January 9, 1788, 128-40
6. Massachusetts, February 6, 1788, 187-168 (52.7%)
Note: Maine was a part of Massachusetts in 1787.
7. Maryland, April 28, 1788, 63-11
8. South Carolina, May 23, 1788, 149-73
9. New Hampshire, June 21, 1788, 57-47 (54.8%)
(N.H. was the 9th state to ratify, making the Constitution the law of the land.
10. Virginia, June 27, 1787,
Note: West Virginia and Kentucky were part of Virginia in 1787.
11. New York, July 26, 1788,
Note: Vermont was a part of New York in 1787.
Note: North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified too late to participate in the first presidential election in 1788. Also, New York couldn’t participate in the 1788 presidential election because the New York legislature couldn’t agree on who to send for electors to the Electoral College. Dysfunction in legislative bodies is not a recent event in American politics.
12. North Carolina, November 21, 1789, 194-77
Note: Tennessee was part of North Carolina in 1787.
The first time North Carolina voted on ratification, August 4, 1788 it voted 184-84 “neither to ratify nor reject the Constitution proposed for the government of the United States.” (Legally this was the same as voting not to ratify.)
13. Rhode Island, May 29, 1790, 34-32 (51.5%)
Rhode Island never sent any delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 nor did they hold a state ratifying convention. Rhode Island really didn’t like the new Constitution, partly because the new Constitution wouldn’t let Rhode Island print their own money. (Really comes in handy when it’s time to pay your bills.)
How presidential electors in the Electoral College we’re chosen in the 1792 presidential election (the first election where all 13 original states participated). By 1792 Vermont and Kentucky has become states so there were 15 states.
During the Convention the delegates couldn’t agree on how the Electors in the Electoral College should be chosen. On August 24 they voted on having the Electors chosen by popular election by the people.(How all 51 states do it today) It was defeated 6 states to 5. Close, but no cigar.
So the Convention passed the buck to the states and let them each decide how to chose their Electors. In the 1792 election 6 states(40%) chose their Electors by popular vote and 9 states(60%) chose their Electors by the state legislatures. By the 1832 every state, except South Carolina, chose their Electors by popular vote of the people.
Delegates that did not sign the Constitution
A. 16 delegates (29% of total of 55) that attended the Constitutional Convention did not sign the Constitution (in order of dates they left the convention).
B. 8 delegates (14.5% of total of 55) didn’t like the Constitution because it granted too much power to the federal government, lacked a Bill of Rights or both.
* Robert Yates – New York, Left July 5
* John Lansing, Jr. – New York, Left July 5
* John Mercer – Maryland, Left August 17 (Didn’t arrive until August 6. Only attended 12 days)
* Alexander Martin – North Carolina, Left end of August, Dissatisfied that Convention was heading to create a too strong federal government (Reference C. Shapers of the Great Debate, p. 191)
* Luther Martin – Maryland, Left September 4
* Edmund Randolph – Virginia, September 17, refused to sign
* George Mason – Virginia, September 17, refused to sign
* Elbridge Gerry – Massachusetts, September 17, refused to sign
C. (8) delegates (14.5% of total of 55) left the Convention for personal/business reasons.
* George Wythe (rhymes with Smith) – Virginia, Wife’s illness, June 4
* William Churchill Houston – New Jersey, Illness, June 6
* William Pierce – Georgia, July 1, Due to drop in price of rice, returned home to prevent bankruptcy. He was not successful. He was also scheduled to take part in a duel with John Auldjo of New York. Alexander Hamilton was his second and mediated to prevent the duel.
* William Houstoun – Georgia, personal reasons, (Absent July 2-Aug 6, Left Aug 25) (or left Aug 6)
* William Davie – North Carolina, professional business needs, August 13
* Dr. James McClurg – Virginia, Felt he was not needed in Virginia delegation, Mid-August
* Oliver Ellsworth – Connecticut, family matters, August 23
* Caleb Strong – Massachusetts, family illness/disagreement with own delegation, end of August
Note: Rhode Island never sent any delegates to the convention at all.
New Hampshire did not show up until July 23 due to lack of travel expense money.
Final Note: After the Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787, it still had to be ratified by 9 of the 13 states (2/3) to become the law of the land. The first state was Delaware on December 7, 1787. This is why the motto on Delaware’s license plate is, “The First State”. New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify on June 21, 1788. To find out how the struggle for ratification was won, read, “Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788” by Pauline Maier. Amazon.com $16.00
“The delegates decided that the Constitution would take effect when nine state conventions approved it. For tactical and philosophical reasons, state legislatures were bypassed in favor of independent ratifying conventions. This would prevent state officials who were hostile to the new federal government from killing it off. Also, by having autonomous conventions approve the Constitution, the new republic would derive its legitimacy not from the state houses but directly from the [people], enabling federal law to supersede state legislation.” (Source: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, p. 241)
This is political maneuvering 18th century style. You still think our Founding Fathers were all great statesmen and not shrewd politicians?
Amazon.com, Used $4.00
If you have time to read just one book on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 read this easy to read short book (161 Pages with lots of illustrations). Of my 30 great sources this is the one I used the most.
“….when Americans of the 1770’s and the and the 1780’s wrote letters or newspaper articles, they usually wrote the country’s name as “united states” or “united States.”
On the other hand, when writing about individual states, Americans of that era almost always used a capital S, such as the “State of Pennsylvania,” the “State of South Carolina.” or the “State of Virginia.”
There was a reason that the new country’s citizens capitalized “States” when referring to individual states but wrote “united states” or “united States” when referring to the entire nation….In fact, they didn’t exactly think of the United States as being a country. Although all thirteen states had worked together to break free of Britain, most Americans viewed this as a temporary necessity to win the Revolution and considered their states more important than the nation as a whole. Americans also feared that a strong federal government would tax them relentlessly and exert too much control over their lives. The Articles of Confederation pleased most Americans by creating a weak central government, saying that the “united states” was merely a “League of Friendship” between the “States.” (Somewhat similar to the European Union today.)
A good example of this was in 1861. At the start of the Civil War president Lincoln offered the command of the entire U.S. army to Robert E. Lee, but he turned it down. Why? Because his loyalty to his state [of Virginia] was greater then his loyalty to his country and he felt he could not take up arms against his own state of Virginia. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that this attitude changed and Americans felt greater loyalty to their country than to their state, as is still the case today. (source needed)
Steve Scott, U.S. Citizen & Voter, Sarasota, Florida
Your comments, both positive and negative, will be greatly appreciated.