Constitution Fun Facts
What historians and philosophers influenced Madison’s thinking in drafting the framework for the Constitution?
|Madison was a liberally educated scholar, and the influences on his thinking are too vast to list comprehensively. He had asked Thomas Jefferson to send him some 200 volumes from Paris just to prepare for the Constitutional Convention. Two trunks of books had arrived by January of 1786. Two sources that he drew upon heavily for his investigations into ancient and modern confederacies were the (recently published and not-yet-finished) Enlightenment collection, Encyclopédie méthodique, as well as Felice’s Code de l’humanité. Probably no philosopher was more influential on Madison’s thinking about constitutions than the French Enlightenment thinker, Baron de Montesquieu.|
Why is James Madison called the “Father of the Constitution?”
|Charles Jared Ingersoll first called James Madison the "Father of the Constitution" in 1827, and there are several reasons for bestowing that title on him. Madison had been the one to draft the Virginia Plan: a proposal that had shaped most of the discourse at the Constitutional Convention. He had given some of the most able defenses for our Constitution throughout the Convention debates, when writing some of the most important Federalist Papers, and at Virginia’s ratifying convention. As a Congressman, Madison also drafted the proposal for a Bill of Rights, and navigated the difficult amendment process through the First Congress. Finally, Madison had taken the only comprehensive set of notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention, and he spent his retirement years preparing those notes for a posthumous publication. Today, Madison's Notes on the Convention (with commentary) can easily be accessed online by visiting The Constitutional Notes.|
What was the Virginia Plan?
|In the weeks before the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, James Madison wrote an outline of government that he shared, via letters, with two of the other Virginia delegates: George Washington and Governor Edmund Randolph. These suggestions were solidified in the "Virginia Plan" – a proposal for government that was delivered to the Convention just a few days after it officially opened. Other competing plans were offered throughout the Convention – from Charles Pinckney, William Paterson, and Alexander Hamilton – but all the others were summarily rejected. Although the final Constitution differed in many important respects from Madison’s original Plan, his proposal became the basis for all their debates throughout the summer.|
|Who attended the Constitutional Convention?||
Delaware: George Read, Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Dickinson, Richard Bassett, and Jacob Broom
Maryland: James McHenry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Daniel Carroll, Luther Martin, and John Francis Mercer
Virginia: George Washington, John Blair, James Madison, Jr., James McClurg, George Wythe, George Mason, and Edmund Randolph
North Carolina: William Blount, Richard Dobbs Spaight, Hugh Williamson, William R. Davie, and Alexander Martin
South Carolina: John Rutledge, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, and Pierce Butler
Georgia: William Few, Abraham Baldwin, William Houston, and William Pierce
New Hampshire: John Langdon and Nicholas Gilman
Massachusetts: Nathaniel Gorham, Rufus King, Caleb Strong, and Elbridge Gerry
Connecticut: William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Ellsworth
New York: Alexander Hamilton, John Lansing, and Robert Yates
New Jersey: William Livingston, David Brearley, William Paterson, Jonathan Dayton, and William C. Houston
Pennsylvania: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Mifflin, Robert Morris, George Clymer, Thomas FitzSimons, Jared Ingersoll, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris
|Who took notes during the Constitutional Convention?||Robert Yates of New York had been taking fairly rigorous notes during the first half of the Constitutional Convention, but he left in disgust midway through the proceedings. His notes were therefore incomplete. And James Madison also commented that Yates, "though a highly respectable man, was a zealous partisan, and has committed gross errors in his desultory notes." Other delegates – such as John Lansing, James McHenry, Rufus King, and William Pierce – had also been taking down sparse, intermittent notes of the debates at the Constitutional Convention. But by far the most comprehensive and faithful scribe was James Madison. He later wrote: "I was not absent a single day, nor more than a casual fraction of an hour in any day, so that I could not have lost a single speech, unless a very short one." Madison’s Notes on the Convention (with commentary) can now be accessed online by visiting The Constitutional Notes|
|Who signed — and didn’t sign— the Constitution?||
Those who signed the Constitution were:
Abraham Baldwin, Richard Bassett, Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Blair, William Blount, David Brearley, Jacob Broom, Pierce Butler, Daniel Carroll, George Clymer, Jonathan Dayton, John Dickinson, William Few, Thomas FitzSimons, Benjamin Franklin, Nicholas Gilman, Nathaniel Gorham, Alexander Hamilton, Jared Ingersoll, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, John Langdon, William Livingston, James Madison, Jr., James McHenry, Thomas Mifflin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, William Paterson, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, Charles Pinckney, George Read, John Rutledge, Roger Sherman, Richard Dobbs Spaight, George Washington, Hugh Williamson, and James Wilson.
Those who left before signing were:
*(Note: John Dickinson left early, but he asked his colleague, George Read, to sign for him)
Those who refused to sign were:
|Which states voted to ratify the Constitution?||The Constitution specified that only nine of the original thirteen states needed to ratify the Constitution in order to establish the compact among those ratifying states. The first nine states to ratify were: Delaware (Dec. 7, 1787), Pennsylvania (Dec. 12, 1787), New Jersey (Dec. 18, 1787), Georgia (Jan 2, 1788), Connecticut (Jan. 9, 1788), Massachusetts (Feb. 6, 1788), Maryland (April 28, 1788), South Carolina (May 23, 1788), and New Hampshire (June 21, 1788). When Virginia ratified the Constitution just four days later (June 25, 1788), they had not yet heard that New Hampshire had ratified. Virginia’s delegates therefore believed at the time that they were the crucial ninth state. A month later (July 26, 1788), New York ratified. But in North Carolina on August 2, 1788, their state ratifying convention rejected the Constitution. Earlier, Rhode Island had refused to call a ratifying convention and had rejected the Constitution by popular referendum on March 24, 1788. Therefore, two of the original thirteen states – North Carolina (Nov. 21, 1789) and Rhode Island (May 29, 1790) – would not ratify the Constitution until after the new government was already in place.|
|When did the U.S. Constitution take effect?||The Constitution was unofficially ratified when the ninth state, New Hampshire, voted for ratification on June 21, 1788. The Confederation Congress formally announced the Constitution’s ratification on September 13, 1788. It decided that the Electoral College should choose a President on the first Wednesday in February, 1789. The First Congress was seated on March 4, 1789, and President Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789.|
|How did the media influence the ratification vote?||Advocates and opponents of the new Constitution wrote opinion pieces for the newspapers and sometimes commissioned independent pamphlets. The authors of both the Federalist and the Antifederalist tracts wrote pieces that ranged widely in both quality and quantity. Some were insightful inquiries into the nature and tendency of the proposed government, but others were no better than scare-mongering bombast. These tracts not only influenced the people’s opinions directly, but they provided "talking points" to be argued at the state ratifying conventions. History has generally considered the collection known as The Federalist Papers – authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay – to be the most authoritative commentary on the United States Constitution.|
|Why are more recent constitutions longer than the U.S. Constitution?||As laws have become more complex, they have often become more voluminous. Even in our own Constitution, the amendments passed after the eighteenth century have tended to be increasingly more verbose. Also, more recent constitutions throughout the world have sought to include more rights (and satisfy more interests) than existed when our own Constitution was drafted. The United States has preferred to settle only the most fundamental political questions constitutionally; lesser matters are decided through the ordinary (and more flexible) legislative process.|
|Why did Madison think the government needed checks and balances?||James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51: "It may be a reflection on human nature that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." Checks and balances are necessary because men are susceptible to being corrupted, and unchecked power corrupts absolutely.|
|What does the Constitution say about religious freedom?||Even before the Bill of Rights had been added to the Constitution, it had already leaned in the direction of religious liberty. It had provided in several places that a person may take an "oath or affirmation." This was done in deference to certain sects, such as the Quakers and Mennonites, whose religion forbade them from swearing oaths. And Article VI specified that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." With the addition of the First Amendment, however, the Constitution went even further to protect religious freedom. It declared that the federal "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." James Madison had wanted to add another amendment that would have guaranteed that states could not "violate the equal rights of conscience." He insisted that this provision was "the most valuable amendment in the whole list," but the Senate expunged it from the final Bill of Rights.|
|What are some of the other ways that were considered to elect the President?||The many heated debates at the Constitutional Convention concerning the election of the President reveal that no problem seemed to confound the delegates more than this one. The Framers considered and rejected what seems like every possible permutation of election before they resigned themselves, somewhat reluctantly, to an electoral college. They considered: a choice directly by the people, by the state legislatures, by the Lower House of the federal government, by its Upper House, and by the states' executive branches (even though two states did not provide for a chief magistrate in their constitutions). They even considered a complicated process whereby a small number from the national legislature would be chosen by lot, and then, like a college of cardinals, Congress would have to make their selection immediately before there could be any danger of outside influences.|
|Why did they settle on the Electoral College?||The Framers faced an immense difficulty when deciding on a method of election for the President. They were afraid that any body entrusted with the task of electing such an exalted office might become corrupted by ambitious candidates for that office. For instance, if Congress were to select the President, then prospective candidates could bribe them with promises of lucrative appointments. If the people at large were to elect the president directly, then ambitious demagogues might bribe them (just as the Caesars had done in ancient Rome) by promising them "bread and circuses." The Framers finally agreed to the Electoral College because they thought that this body of electors – who would change from one election to the next – would be the least prone to corruption.|
|Did all the delegates agree on the need for a Bill of Rights?||The delegates to the Constitutional Convention barely even considered the question of adding a Bill of Rights. The subject did not even come up in the Convention until September 12, less than a week before the summer-long Convention adjourned. George Mason, who had been the primary author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, acknowledged that he "wished the plan had been prefaced with a bill of rights." Mason’s idea did win over a few of the delegates, but the proposal lost on a tied vote following a very short and lackluster debate. The Framers had just finished a grueling summer of divisive wrangling, and they were exhausted. They were unwilling to open up any new business that would detain them in Philadelphia any longer than necessary. Antifederalists would seize on the omission of a Bill of Rights as a primary reason why the Constitution should be rejected. James Madison, who had originally believed a Bill of Rights unnecessary, changed his mind when he realized how important it was to others. He championed the cause of a Bill of Rights in the First Congress.|
|What two amendments did Congress propose that did not make it into the Bill of Rights?||The First Congress proposed twelve amendments to the states, but only ten of them were adopted as the Bill of Rights. The first amendment that Congress proposed was a complicated rule of proportioning representation for the House. Unlike the rule found in Article I of the Constitution, this amendment made allowances for the expected growth in population. This proposed amendment was never adopted by the states. What was submitted as the second amendment specified that no law raising the salaries of Senators and Representatives would "take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." This amendment likewise failed to win enough immediate support to make it into our Bill of Rights. Nonetheless, unlike the first failed amendment, it did not simply die an anonymous death. Over 200 years later, what was submitted to the states as the second amendment in 1789 was adopted as the Twenty-Seventh Amendment in 1992.|
|Why did the delegates to the Constitutional Convention exclude “Indians not taxed” from the Census, and what did “three-fifths of all other Persons” mean?||
The Framers of the Constitution had wanted to include in the nation’s Census every person who was politically relevant to the United States. But that goal made certain classes of people problematic. Most Native Americans at this time were organized as separate, sovereign nations, even though they dwelt within the borders of the United States. Some Native Americans, on the other hand, had been integrated into American society. The Constitution distinguishes between the two groups by specifying that "Indians not taxed" are excluded from the Census.
Similarly, there was much disagreement about how to address the large population of slaves then existing in some of the states. The Northern states, which had few slaves in 1787, had wanted to exclude them from the Census altogether. They argued that, since slaves could not represent themselves politically, they should not be counted for the purpose of increasing representation. If they had been counted fully, then that would have been a political boon to Southern slaveholders, since every increase in the way that slaves were counted would increase the number of Congressmen for the Southern states. Many delegates from the Southern states, however, argued that since slaves enriched the whole country, they should be counted equally with free inhabitants. The Convention compromised by counting slaves (or "other persons") as three-fifths of freemen.
|When was Constitution Day first celebrated?||On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed what would later be ratified as the United States Constitution. More than 100 years later, Iowa was the first state to commemorate that day as "Constitution Day." Several other states soon followed suit. In 1956, Congress declared the week beginning on September 17 to be "Constitution Week." It was not until 2004, however, that Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia proposed legislation that would officially designate September 17 as Constitution Day. His bill required all schools receiving federal funding to teach about the Constitution on that day in order to promote a better understanding of this important document.|