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The Constitutional Convention: Delegates & Purpose

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  • 0:00 The Constitutional Convention
  • 1:32 Major Players
  • 2:52 Constitutional Convention Goal
  • 3:17 Major Debates
  • 5:26 Aftermath
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucia Reyes
The Constitution of the United States is considered a living document, changing and growing since its ratification in 1787. Yet, the fundamental principles that it is based on have remained solid. This lesson will describe the Constitutional Convention, the meeting in which the U.S. plan for government was debated and created.

The Constitutional Convention

Did you know that the Constitution was not the first plan of government for the United States? After the thirteen American colonies won independence from Britain, the men of the Continental Congress created a plan for government known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave a lot of power to individual states and extremely limited power to the federal government. For example, the federal government couldn't enforce laws, levy taxes or even regulate taxes amongst the states. This didn't help the already damaged economy. In Massachusetts, inflated taxes led to huge debt for farmers, who rebelled in January of 1787. This event, known as Shay's Rebellion, finally prompted many state delegates to question the effectiveness of the Articles of Confederation and the limits it placed on federal power.

In the summer following Shay's Rebellion, a meeting was called to address the flaws of the government. This meeting became known as the Constitutional Convention. On a sweltering May afternoon in 1787, fifty- five representatives from twelve of the thirteen states met in the State House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A little over a decade earlier, many of them had met there to sign the Declaration of Independence. Later, this location was renamed Independence Hall.

Major Players

All delegates were male, white, educated, and relatively well off. Around half of the men were lawyers. Other professions included merchants, doctors, and Southern plantation owners. The majority of them had been in the Continental Congress and had helped develop their own state governments. These men, which included George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, would later be known as the Founding Fathers.

Washington was considered a hero after his dazzling performance as Commander during the Revolutionary War. He was chosen as president of the convention. Considered the 'Father of the Constitution,' Madison took copious notes throughout the entire Convention. His notes provide detailed insight of the events that took place behind the Convention's closed doors. Madison was extremely well informed on many forms of government and offered many valuable points during debates. Benjamin Franklin was a brilliant politician and inventor. He was highly influenced by the Enlightenment, a movement focusing on attaining knowledge through reason and science. He brought his ideas and those of other Enlightenment thinkers to the Convention.

Constitutional Convention Goal

Many of the Founding Fathers were afraid of giving the government too much power, placing themselves under the rule of another monarchy. They wanted to create a government that would protect the rights of the people. They aimed for a strong but limited government. As James Madison wrote, 'you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.'

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