Today marks the 225th Anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution by the delegates from the various states at the Federal Convention that was in session from May to September 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although the document was signed on September 17, 1787, it did not become effective until June 21, 1788 when the ninth state (New Hampshire) ratified it.
This document did not arise out of a vacuum. There was a thirty-plus year period of unrest and growing conflict with the British government before the colonies finally resorted to armed rebellion. After several years of war, the colonies gained their independence and at first operated under the Articles of Confederation [drafted by Benjamin Franklin], which established a system that was wholly inadequate for governing the new nation.
The Articles failed to properly regulate commerce between the States, and the states with ports were routinely extracting excessive port fees from those states who did not. For example, New Jersey was being robbed by New York and Pennsylvania and North Carolina was being robbed by Virginia and South Carolina, who had larger established ports than the state between them.
Maryland and Virginia negotiated an agreement in 1785 on commercial issues at George Washington's home that became known as the Mount Vernon Compact. That meeting led to the Annapolis Convention the next year that was attended by more states. 12 delegates from five states (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia) met and unanimously called for a constitutional convention. Alexander Hamilton, who had long lobbied for such a convention, played a leadership role in this meeting, the formal title of which was "a Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government."
The convention met from September 11 to September 14, 1786. The commissioners felt that there were not enough states represented to make any substantive agreement. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina had appointed commissioners who failed to arrive in Annapolis in time to attend the meeting, while Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia had taken no action at all.
They produced a report which was sent to the Congress and to the states. The report asked support for a broader meeting to be held the next May in Philadelphia. It expressed the hope that more states would be represented and that their delegates or deputies would be authorized to examine areas broader than simply commercial trade.
The direct result of the report was the Philadelphia (or Federal) Convention of 1787, which produced the United States Constitution.
The Philadelphia Convention met from May to September in 1787 and was a closed meeting, not privy to the observation of the people and their deliberations were secret. James Madison kept meticulous notes of the convention and he, in turn, kept them secret until his death, when they were to be printed.
You can read for yourself what happened in the convention of the states that produced the US Constitution by downloading the documents below:
Writings of Madison Vol 3 Convention P1 PDF | Kindle
Writings of Madison Vol 4 Convention P2 PDF | Kindle
You can access the entirety of James Madison's writings below:
The Writings of James Madison, comprising his Public Papers and his Private Correspondence, including his numerous letters and documents now for the first time printed, ed. Gaillard Hunt (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900). 9 vols. [LINK]
The full text of that world-changing document that came out of the Philadelphia Convention follows:
Items that are hyperlinked have since been amended or superseded.
Presidt and deputy from Virginia
Text Courtesy of the National Archives.