This Week in History: The Philadelphia Convention Begins

By Dave Benner - Posted at the Tenth Amendment Center:

When delegates gathered in Philadelphia 230 years ago this week to consider changes to the structure of the general government, many prominent delegates brought plans to create a much stronger central authority, shifting power away from the states. However the Constitution that actually came out of that convention established a limited general government with power remaining primarily in the states.

On May 14, 1787, delegates from the several states convened in Philadelphia, forming a convention with the initial aim of proposing amendments to the Articles of Confederation. Over the course of the next four months, they formulated a model for a new general government which would require the positive ratification of nine states. According to Article VII, it was a compact between states “so ratifying the Same.”

James Madison and Edmund Randolph went to the Philadelphia Convention advocating for a “National Legislature” with a general legislative authority. Instead, this form of legislature was rejected in favor of a specific list of enumerated powers, reserving the remainder to the states. The two Virginians called for the executive to be elected by a “National Legislature” much like in their own state. Instead, a state-based electoral college was created to elect the executive.

Madison and Randolph supported a bicameral legislature, where both houses would be apportioned by population and the lower house would elect the upper house. Instead, one house of apportioned by population while the other would have equal suffrage. Madison and Randolph drew plans to allow for a powerful federal judiciary, with the power to rule on all cases of perceived importance.

Instead, the Constitution authorized a less powerful judiciary that could only adjudicate original certain types of cases. Madison and Randolph went to the Philadelphia Convention with the hope that the Congress would have a veto power over state laws. This proposal was exceedingly unpopular, and Madison complained about it in the months after the convention, eventually describing his disdain toward the omission in an October 1787 letter to Thomas Jefferson.

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