The Constitutional Convention

Essential Questions

What were the roles of the Framers in writing and ratifying the Constitution?

The Constitutional Convention

After the Revolutionary War, each state handled its economic problems differently. Massachusetts tried to pay its war debts by collecting taxes on land. Massachusetts's tax policy hit farmers hard. As landowners, they had to pay the new taxes. However, farmers had trouble paying their debts. The courts began forcing them to sell their property. In August 1786, farmers in Massachusetts lead by Daniel Shay began a revolt. Bands of angry citizens closed down courts in western Massachusetts. Their reasoning was simple-with the courts shut down, no one's property could be taken. When Massachusetts had asked the national government to help put down Shays's Rebellion, Congress could offer little help. Shay's rebellion lasted until January 1787 before it was put down by state troops.

Shays's Rebellion showed the weakness of the Articles of Confederation government. It also took half a year to put a stop to an armed rebellion. They wanted leaders who would be able to protect the nation in times of crisis and began calling for a stronger central government. It led some Americans to admit that the Articles of Confederation had failed to protect the ideals of liberty set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

Earlier in 1786, the Virginia legislature had called for a national conference. It wanted to talk about economic problems and ways to change the Articles of Confederation. The meeting took place in Annapolis, Maryland, in September 1786. Nine states decided to send delegates to the Annapolis Convention but some of their delegates were late and missed the meeting. Because of the poor attendance, the participants called on all 13 states to send delegates to a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in May 1787. The delegates said they were going to revise the Articles of Confederation to better meet the needs of the nation. However, the delegates planned to make an entirely new U.S. Constitution. This decision angered some of the participants because they were technically committing treason.

Most of the delegates were well educated, and many had served in state legislatures or Congress. Several important voices were absent. Women, African Americans, and Native Americans did not take part because they did not yet have the rights of citizens.

James Madison

Known as the "Father of the Constitution" because of his role in shaping the ideas in it. Wrote the Virginia Plan.

George Washington

Presided over the Constitutional Covention

Roger Sherman

Wrote the Great Compromise (or Connecticut Compromise). His plan helped save the convention from disintegrating and established the basis of the present system of the federal government. He also helped draft the Bill of Rights.

Gouverneur Morris

Advocated the need for a strong central government. Pushed for national unity. Meaning people start thinking of themselves as American rather than the state they are from (New Yorker, Virginian, etc). He served on the committee that wrote the final draft of the United States Constitution and as a member of the Committee of Style, he was largely responsible for the final wording of the Constitution

James Wilson

Emphasized the rights of the common man. Wilson is best known for his role in drafting the Constitution's Preamble, helping to frame both the presidency and judiciary, including the Electoral College, and in crafting the Three-Fifths Compromise.

William Paterson

Wrote the New Jersey plan

John Jay

One of the author of the Federalist Paper which worked to convince people to ratify the new Constitution.

Alexander Hamilton

One of the authors of the Federalist Paper which worked to convince people to ratify the new Constitution.

Discussion Questions

  • What was the Great Compromise? What debate did it settle?

  • What were the debates over slavery? What were their compromises?

  • What type of government did a Federalist want?

  • What type of government did an Anti-Federalist want?

  • What was the status of American Indians under the Commerce Clause (Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution)?

Activity 1: What were the roles of the Framers in writing and ratifying the Constitution?

Using the information from this lesson, answer the questions in a thinking map. Complete this assignment digitally or on paper. It will be collected in your portfolio.

Extension Activities

NEWSELA: Conceived of Compromises: Creating the U.S. Constitution

NEWSELA: Federalists and Anti-Federalists Fight Over the Constitution