Constitution Week: About the signers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 22, 2011

On Sept. 17, 1787 the Constitutional Convention came to a close in the Assembly Room of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Seventy individuals were chosen to attend the meetings with the initial purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation. Rhode Island opted to not send any delegates. Fifty-five men attended most of the meetings; 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. Those who could not attend included Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Each of the 13 states, except Rhode Island, sent delegates, including five from North Carolina. The delegates ranged in age from Jonathan Dayton, aged 26, to Benjamin Franklin, aged 81, who was so infirm that he had to be carried to sessions in a sedan chair.
While offering incredible contributions, George Mason of Virginia, Edmund Randolph 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. Patrick Henry, one of the Founding Fathers, was initially opposed to the Constitution and made the comment that he ěsmelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchyî but was a supporter once he learned that the Bill of Rights was added.
Several of the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution became prominent figures in history for reasons other than the signing of this document. George Washington presided over the Convention and went on to be the first president of the United States. Alexander Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury. Benjamin Franklin was quite well known for his writings, his inventions, his influence, knowledge and leadership. James Madison was known as the ěfatherî of our Constitution. He wrote the document that formed the model for the Constitution and took detailed notes of the conventionís debates to educate future generations about the difficulties and challenges of constitution making. Madison went on to become president. Most of those signing the Constitution went on to serve in Congress, the Supreme Court, ambassadors to other countries, or positions of influence in their home states.
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 nationís 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.

Submitted by the Elizabeth Maxwell Steele Chapter of the DAR.