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The successful creation of the Constitution is a suspense story. The Summer of 1787 takes us into the sweltering room in which delegates struggled for four months to produce the flawed but enduring document that would define the nation -- then and now.
George Washington presided, James Madison kept the notes, Benjamin Franklin offered wisdom and humor at crucial times. The Summer of 1787 traces the struggles within the Philadelphia Convention as the delegates hammered out the charter for the world's first constitutional democracy. Relying on the words of the delegates themselves to explore the Convention's sharp conflicts and hard bargaining, David O. Stewart lays out the passions and contradictions of the often painful process of writing the Constitution.
It was a desperate balancing act. Revolutionary principles required that the people have power, but could the people be trusted? Would a stronger central government leave room for the states? Would the small states accept a Congress in which seats were alloted according to population rather than to each sovereign state? And what of slavery? The supercharged debates over America's original sin led to the most creative and most disappointing political deals of the Convention.
The room was crowded with colorful and passionate characters, some known -- Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, Edmund Randolph -- and others largely forgotten. At different points during that sultry summer, more than half of the delegates threatened to walk out, and some actually did, but Washington's quiet leadership and the delegates' inspired compromises held the Convention together.
In a country continually arguing over the document's original intent, it is fascinating to watch these powerful characters struggle toward consensus -- often reluctantly -- to write a flawed but living and breathing document that could evolve with the nation.
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David O. Stewart is the author of the highly acclaimed The Summer of 1987: The Men Who Invented the Constitution and Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Jackson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Demigods and Coxcombs Assemble
James Madison reached Philadelphia on May 3, ten whole days before any other delegate (except for the ones who lived there), and eleven days before the Convention was scheduled to begin. His early arrival reflected both his eagerness and his lifelong habit of exacting preparation. Always gentle with his health when he could be, the Virginian gave himself ample time to recover from the grinding stagecoach ride from New York, where he had been representing Virginia in the Confederation Congress.
Although Philadelphia was the nation's largest city, home to about 40,000 people, lodging was at a premium. In addition to the Federal Convention (as it was called), the city was hosting a gathering of Presbyterian ministers from around the country. Also in town was the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Continental Army officers that some feared as a political force. The Pennsylvania Herald took pride in the confluence:
Here, at the same moment, the collective wisdom of the continent deliberates upon the extensive politics of the confederated empire, an Episcopal convention clears and distributes the streams of religion throughout the American world, and those veterans whose valor and perseverance accomplished a mighty revolution are once more assembled. . . .
Madison settled in at Mrs. House's boardinghouse at Fifth and Market, where Virginians on public business often stayed. It was familiar ground. Madison had lodged with Mrs. House in 1783 during his first term in the Confederation Congress, and the quiet, serious Virginian was little trouble. As one contemporary described him, "His ordinary manner was simple, modest, bland, and unostentatious, retiring from the throng and cautiously refraining from doing or saying anything to make himself conspicuous." Another attributed to him "an air of reflection which is not very distant from gravity and self-sufficiency," but also found "little of that warmth of heart."
In the ten days until the next delegate arrived, Madison could review the two essays he had written in anticipation of the great convention. The first was an examination of republics and confederacies throughout history, including Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany, along with classical examples -- the Lycian, Amphictyonic, and Achean republics. His second essay, called "Madison's Vices" in ironic tribute to its author's undoubted virtue, was an incisive catalog of the infirmities of the Articles. The vices numbered eleven, and the remedy for all of them was a strong central government. The Virginian was keenly aware of the risk that strong governments may take oppressive measures, as the British Parliament had. His goal was a government that not only was strong, but also would respect the rights of its citizens.
For Madison, the accommodation of competing forces was the central job of government. "All civilized societies are divided into different interests and factions," he wrote, including "debtors or creditors," "rich or poor," "members of different religious sects," "followers of different political leaders," "inhabitants of different districts," or "husbandmen, merchants or manufacturers." Government must be "sufficiently neutral between the different interests and factions, to control one part of the society from invading the rights of another."
During those ten days on his own, Madison did more than plan for the coming conclave. Correspondence from home forced his attention to his responsibilities as a slave owner. Had other servants or slaves assisted the escape of Anthony, a runaway brought back to the plantation? Madison had to judge the case from afar. He also called on Dr. Benjamin Franklin, his fellow delegate and recently installed as president of Pennsylvania. Feeling his eighty-one years, Franklin went out little but was happy to receive guests in his garden, particularly under a favorite mulberry tree. Knowing of the slight Virginian's role in pushing for the Convention and of his relationship with Washington, Franklin extended to the younger man the respect warranted by both.
General Washington arrived second, having taken five days to cover the 140 miles from Mount Vernon in his own carriage, driven by his slaves. The contrast with Madison's quiet entry into Philadelphia was stark.
At midday on May 13, the General was at Mrs. Withy's Inn in Chester, south of the city, dining with former army colleagues. The party pressed on to a greeting by the Philadelphia Light Horse, nattily turned out in white britches, high boots, and black and silver hats. The troopers escorted the hero over a floating bridge that spanned the Schuylkill River. An artillery company fired a thirteen-gun salute (once for each state), church bells pealed, and cheering crowds lined the streets despite what the Pennsylvania Herald called "the badness of the weather." It was another demonstration, if one was needed, that it was within the General's power to be an American Caesar.
Like Madison, Washington had taken rooms with Mrs. House. Alighting at her establishment, he was met by the financier Robert Morris and his wife, who prevented the General from unloading his luggage. Washington had declined the Morrises' written offer of lodging during the Convention, but they would not accept his refusal in person. They bundled the General to their home, acclaimed the finest in the city, a short walk away. Washington did not tarry there, but immediately set off to pay his own respects to Dr. Franklin. Along that four-block jaunt, he shook hands with Philadelphians, who cheered and gaped at the tall man with such an impressive bearing.
Though the Morrises' intervention meant that Madison and Washington would not share the same roof, the studious younger man must have felt a particular satisfaction in the General's arrival. Applying the General's stature to Madison's strategy, they had formed an effective partnership in bringing the Convention to pass. Madison was relying on that partnership to continue through the summer. Their challenges would increase as Philadelphia filled with delegates who had different visions of the nation to be formed, and different interests to protect.
On the next morning, May 14, Washington and Madison walked the short distance to the Pennsylvania State House (today called Independence Hall) for the scheduled opening of the Convention. They strode through a light drizzle with three more Virginians who had just arrived -- George Wythe, John Blair, and James McClurg.
Wythe, sixty-one, was America's first law professor. At the College of William and Mary he trained a generation of leaders that included Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and James Monroe. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and former Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Wythe was his state's leading judge from 1778 until his death in 1806. Blair, fifty-five, served alongside Wythe on Virginia's chancery court and had participated in his state's constitutional convention. McClurg, forty-one, a physician and professor at William and Mary, was a member of Virginia's executive council.
Thanks to a cold winter and a wet spring, the Virginians shared the streets with Philadelphia's aggravating black flies, which would linger through the humid summer. At the State House, they found only one other delegation, the Pennsylvanians led by Dr. Franklin. Raw weather had delayed many delegates, but the Pennsylvanians brought flair enough for the occasion.
The Pennsylvania Assembly elected its delegates in late 1786, almost two months before Congress endorsed the Convention. As the second largest state (after Virginia), Pennsylvania was essential to any effort to remake the government. The state's cosmopolitan outlook derived from its diverse population, which included German immigrants, Quakers, and free blacks. Where the Virginians had forebears rooted in their state's soil for a century and more, the eight Pennsylvanians were more mobile and more urban. Three were immigrants: Thomas Fitzsimons from Ireland, Robert Morris from England, and James Wilson from Scotland. Three hailed from other states: Connecticut (Jared Ingersoll), New York (Gouverneur Morris, who still lived there), and Massachusetts (Franklin).
All eight Pennsylvanians worked at city-based pursuits like trade and law. Only a week before, six of them had been at Dr. Franklin's for a session of the Society for Political Inquiries. The presentation was on American trade and manufacturing, matters of less than the first moment to Virginia planters, but central to the national future.
At the Convention, the most prominent Pennsylvania delegates were the ones chosen last. When the state Assembly voted, James Wilson and Gouverneur Morris trailed less-distinguished colleagues by a wide margin, while Franklin was omitted altogether because he was thought too ill to serve. He was later unanimously added to the delegation when his health proved adequate to the task. Each of those three brought noteworthy qualities.
None could match Dr. Franklin for political theater, beginning with his universally recognized title of "Doctor." The title dated from his honorary degree from St. Andrews in Scotland, granted for his scientific achievements (as were his honorary degrees from Oxford, Harvard, Yale, and William and Mary -- not bad for a man who left school at the age of ten).
When attending diplomatic soirées in Paris, his theatrical instincts had draped him in American homespun and crowned him with fur caps. Now he challenged American rusticity by traveling in a glass-windowed sedan chair from France, borne by four husky prisoners from the nearby Walnut Street jail. As Dr. Franklin progressed through Philadelphia's republican streets, his regal trappings drove home the message that honor in America grew from talent, not birth. Yet the swaying procession also must have brought a smile to those it passed, and to the doctor himself.
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Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743286928
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0743286928
Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2007. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110743286928