The new United States had a structure of government provided by the Articles of Confederation. In very secret sessions in the hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, our Founding Fathers, who dared not open the doors or windows of their meeting hall because what they were doing was NOT quite legal, ditched the Articles and brought forth a more perfect form of government in the form of the United States Constitution. They set the their own rules for this new Constitution to be ratified (approved) by the states and, in what historian Catherine Drinker Bowen called the Miracle at Philadelphia, they pulled it off, barely.
Now, let’s test your knowledge of the Constitutional Convention by having you write an essay in which you answer the following:
a) Why did our Founding Fathers decide to replace the Articles of Confederation? What were its 3 major weaknesses? What was the Northwest Ordinance, what did it do, and why is it considered crowning achievement of the Confederation Congress?
b) When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia, they had a secretary but he kept lousy notes. From whose writings do we know what really went on there?
c) Almost immediately at Philadelphia, two major plans for a new structure of the central government were proposed. What were the names of the plans, who was behind them, and what were the terms of each plan?
d) A compromise was reached between the two plans in part c. What was it called and what were its terms?
d) In fact, the whole Constitutional Convention can be summed up as a series of compromises. In addition to the one you discussed in part c, two other major compromises were reached–the Electoral College compromise and the Three-Fifths compromise. Explain each in detail–particularly how they worked–and tell how each provided for a balance between small and large states in the finished Constitution.
e) Finally, what was the major stumbling block to having the Constitution ratified? What were the names of the factions–pro and con–who debated the ratification of the new Constitution? Who led those factions? What series of writings laid out the arguments and tried to answer them? What was the deal that was worked out between those factions that allowed the Constitution to become our Law of the Land?