Signers of the Constitution
This is the second in a series of articles submitted by the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to commemorate Constitution Week, Sept. 17-23.
The Constitutional Convention was held in 1787 in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The convention was called to revise the Articles of Confederation, which was a loose agreement providing for cooperation on matters of mutual interest but also a document with no enforcement powers. However, rational thinking intervened, and instead of upgrading the Articles, the convention wrote a completely new document. Proponents, such as James Madison and Alexander Ham-ilton, had the intention of creating a new government rather than trying to fix the inadequate existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The resulting document framed by the delegates was the U.S. Constitution, which was signed on Sept. 17, 1787.
Twelve of the 13 states selected 74 individuals who represented a cross-section of 18th century American leadership. Almost all of them were well-educated men of means who were leaders in their communities. Rhode Island, the 13th state, opted to not send any delegates because its politicians were suspicious of the convention delegates' motivations. Fifty-five men attended most of the meetings; however, there were never more than 46 present at any one time. Ultimately, only 39 actually signed the Constitution, along with William Jackson, secretary of the Constitutional Convention, who also signed. John Dickinson is listed as a signer but did not actually sign the document. He fell ill during the convention and could not attend the day it was signed. He authorized George Read to sign for him by proxy.
Prominent Founding Fathers who could not attend included Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and John Hancock. Thomas Jefferson was serving as U.S. minister to France and John Adams as the U.S. Minister to Great Britain. John Hancock was sick and could not be there
The delegates ranged in age from Jonathan Dayton, 26, to Benjamin Franklin, 81, who was so infirm that he had to be carried to sessions in a sedan chair. Of the 55 delegates who attended the convention, 34 were lawyers, eight had signed the Declaration of Independence and almost half were Revolutionary War veterans. The remaining members were planters, educators, ministers, physicians, financiers, judges and merchants. About a quarter of them were large land owners, and all of them held some type of public office (39 were former Congressmen, and eight were present or past governors).
While offering incredible contributions, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, both of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign the final document because of basic philosophical differences. Mainly, they were fearful of an all-powerful government and wanted a bill of rights added to protect the rights of the people. Among those who were concerned about this were Founding Fathers Richard Henry Lee and Samuel Adams, who refused to attend. Patrick Henry, another Founding Father who refused to attend, was initially opposed to the Constitution and made the comment that he "smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy" but was a supporter once he learned that the Bill of Rights would be added.
Those who wrote the Constitution believed that no government can create freedom, but that government must guard freedom rather than encroach upon the freedoms of its people. The Constitution by itself cannot guarantee liberty. A nation's people can remain free only by being responsible citizens who are willing to learn about the rights of each arm of government and require that each is accountable for its own function.