Monday, November 8, 2010

In the Mind of Those at the Constitutional Convention

Little is actually known about what happened in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, PA as men from around the country gathered to decide the new direction for our federal government. Due to the secrecy of the meeting only a few letters and the notes of James Madison remain as our window into the proceedings that took place at the Constitution Convention. This meeting sprung to life from the complete failures of the first system government for the United States, the Articles of Confederation. Something had to be done to right these wrongs so the United States could have a bright and prosperous future. One small glimpse into this monumental event comes from a letter written by George Mason to his son around the time the convention was supposed to have started in mid-May 1787.

Travelling to anywhere in the United States was not only time consuming but borderline dangerous. It can also be very expensive to do so in a safe manner and Mason’s travel was no exception. Once he and his Virginian brethren arrived they stayed at the Indian Queen located on Fourth Street where, according to Mason, they were “very well accommodated, have a good room to ourselves.” In addition their servants and horses were well taken care of but their overall fees excluded “club liquors.”

By the time George Mason had arrived in Philadelphia he stated that he could only identify that Virginia and Pennsylvania were “fully represented.” There were a couple delegates from New York and the Carolinas however the rest were still absent. Everyone, except Rhode Island had agreed to come to the conference but with busy schedules and long trips it was taking time. According to Mason that did not stop the Virginia delegates from getting things started. The group would meet two to three hours a day. Occasionally they would converse with delegates from other states but the overall goal of the Virginians was to gain a full understanding and possible consensus on the new form of government. After speaking with various individuals Mason concluded that,  
“the most prevalent idea in the principal States seems to be a total alteration of the present federal system, and substituting a great national council or parliament, consisting of two branches of the legislature… with full legislative powers upon all subjects of the Union; and an executive: and to make the several States legislatures subordinate to the national.”  - George Mason to George Mason Jr, May 20, 1787.

It is interesting to see how the consensus among some of the delegates at the start involved throwing out the Articles of Confederation. Mason also identified major elements of the federal government’s structure that will eventually be included in the Constitution such as a strong legislature, bi-cameral, and an executive branch. He knew that it would not be the final say or even go unopposed because smaller states or industrial locations might not see it the same. Mason understood the importance of this convention and that the “expectations and hopes of all the Union centre in this Convention. God grant that we may be able to concert effectual means of preserving our country from the evils which threaten us.”    


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...