By the time the Northwest Ordi- nance was enacted, American leaders were in the midst of drafting a new and stronger constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation . Their presiding officer, George Washing- ton, had written accurately that the states were united only by a “rope of sand .” Disputes between Maryland and Virginia over navigation on the Potomac River led to a confer- ence of representatives of five states at Annapolis, Maryland, in 1786 . One of the delegates, Alexander Hamilton of New York, convinced his colleagues that commerce was bound up with large political and economic questions . What was re-


quired was a fundamental rethink- ing of the Confederation .

The Annapolis conference issued a call for all the states to appoint representatives to a convention to be held the following spring in Philadel- phia . The Continental Congress was at first indignant over this bold step, but it acquiesced after Washington gave the project his backing and was elected a delegate . During the next fall and winter, elections were held in all states but Rhode Island .

A remarkable gathering of no- tables assembled at the Federal Convention in May 1787 . The state legislatures sent leaders with expe- rience in colonial and state govern- ments, in Congress, on the bench, and in the army . Washington, re- garded as the country’s first citizen because of his integrity and his mili- tary leadership during the Revolu- tion, was chosen as presiding officer .

Prominent among the more active members were two Pennsylvanians: Gouverneur Morris, who clearly saw the need for national government, and James Wilson, who labored in- defatigably for the national idea . Also elected by Pennsylvania was Benjamin Franklin, nearing the end of an extraordinary career of public service and scientific achievement . From Virginia came James Madison, a practical young statesman, a thor- ough student of politics and history, and, according to a colleague, “from a spirit of industry and application . . . the best-informed man on any point in debate .” He would be recognized as the “Father of the Constitution .”

Massachusetts sent Rufus King and Elbridge Gerry, young men of ability and experience . Roger Sher- man, shoemaker turned judge, was one of the representatives from Connecticut . From New York came Alexander Hamilton, who had pro- posed the meeting . Absent from the Convention were Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as minister repre- senting the United States in France, and John Adams, serving in the same capacity in Great Britain . Youth pre- dominated among the 55 delegates — the average age was 42 .

Congress had authorized the Convention merely to draft amend- ments to the Articles of Confedera- tion but, as Madison later wrote, the delegates, “with a manly confidence in their country,” simply threw the Articles aside and went ahead with the building of a wholly new form of government .

They recognized that the para- mount need was to reconcile two different powers — the power of local control, which was already being exercised by the 13 semi-in- dependent states, and the power of a central government . They adopted the principle that the functions and powers of the national government — being new, general, and inclusive — had to be carefully defined and stated, while all other functions and powers were to be understood as be- longing to the states . But realizing that the central government had to have real power, the delegates also generally accepted the fact that the government should be authorized,




among other things, to coin money, to regulate commerce, to declare war, and to make peace .

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