Who Picked the Committees at the Constitutional Convention?

Signing of the Constitution by Louis S. Glanzman, 1987.
(Independence National Historical Park Collection)

By David O. Stewart - Posted at the Journal of the American Revolution:

Through four months in the summer of 1787, passionate arguments over political principles filled the Pennsylvania State House while hard-nosed political horse-trading buzzed in the taverns and drawing rooms of Philadelphia. Fifty-five American politicians were writing a new charter of government for the United States, the Constitution. They produced the longest-surviving constitutional republic in human history, and that summer has drawn the rapt attention of historians and legal scholars ever since.

One part of that constitutional story, however, has proved elusive. Although the debates among the delegates sometimes were electrifying and often were important, many of the most difficult questions were resolved by specially-appointed committees of a few delegates.[1]

Because key constitutional provisions were produced by committees, not on the convention floor, we might learn a good deal about the dynamics of the convention if we knew how the committee members were chosen. That, in turn might explain why certain delegates were included on a committee and why others were omitted, and that could illuminate much about the attitudes of the delegates toward each other, and toward the challenging issues before them.

But we don’t know how the delegates chose the members of each committee. Neither the convention nor any delegate left a record of the procedure they followed. The most likely answer, it turns out, has been hiding in plain sight all along.[2]


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