The Men Who Made it (3 of 20)

Only 39 of the 62 persons elected to the Constitutional Convention approved and signed this greatest of all political documents.

Seven of those elected did not consider the assignment of sufficient importance to even bother to attend the convention, and of the 55 who reported at one time or another, only 42 exhibited the interest to remain to the end of the deliberations. Three of these refused to sign and the remaining 39 gained immortality by subscribing their names to this peerless document.

The men who actively participated in the work of framing the Constitution were the most eminent, the most trained, and the most competent group of statesmen that were ever assembled under one roof at one time in the know history of the world.

They were masters of the common law of England; they loved freedom as few men have, and their devotion had been tried in the furnace of eight long years of revolution. Against overwhelming odds they had been weighed in the balances and not found wanting. In the four years between the peace of 1783 and the Convention of 1787 they had struggled with the inefficiency and impotency of the Confederacy, had been subjected to a serious postwar inflation and had been shamed by the throttling and selfish restrictions imposed by the thirteen sovereign republics on nearly all interstate commerce.

Not only were they idealists in the cause of freedom and the rights of men, but they were practical politicians, and statesmen. Forty-one had served in the Continental Congress and 26 in state legislatures; 14 had served as state judges or attorneys, 13 in state constitutional conventions, and seven had been governors of states. They were the leaders in war and in peace. In the darkest days of the revolution they had been the firebrands who inspired the disheartened armies of the colonies. When the merciless heel of George III ground heaviest upon their rights and privileges as Englishmen, theirs had been the most compelling cries of objection.

The group contained 28 lawyers, and all members are believed to have been God-fearing men. Ellsworth, Rutledge and Wilson subsequently served on the Supreme Court. Washington and madison became presidents and Alexander Hamilton was secretary of the treasury in the nation’s first cabinet.

To select any one and say he was the greatest man in the assembly would be difficult. But as in all groups there were some who excelled in stature and leadership.

George Washington, commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Army, and destined to be elected twice to the high office of president, was chairman of the convention. His steady impartiality and the respect which all men bore him, set him apart as the great balance wheel of the convention. When the debates and quarrels were hot and the compromises difficult to achieve, the hand of a less able and discreet chairman might have swung the convention to the alternative of dissolution.

James Madison is considered by many to have been the pillar of the convention, and Washington himself called him the Father of the constitution. Through 79 arduous 7-hour work days Madison faithfully recorded the proceedings and debates without ever missing a single speech. Then for hours upon end, after each day’s adjournment, he would rewrite his notes for the day. These notes were sold to the government by his widow in 1837 for the sum of $30,000. In addition to this self-imposed duty he led out in many of the debates and discussions both on the floor of the convention and in the caucuses of the Virginia delegates.

Benjamin Franklin then in the 82nd year of his illustrious life and enjoying national fame for his best seller, Poor Richard’s Almanac, was dean of the Convention. His was the role of peace maker, for which position his long experience in the capitals of Europe as a representative of the Colonial government had fully fitted him. It was he who arose on the 28th of June, when the convention had struck an impasse and was on the verge of dissolving, to urge the delegates to “employ the assistance of Heaven.”

James Wilson of Pennsylvania is considered by many to have been the most important man in the Convention next to Madison. To Gouverneur Morris of the same state goes much of the credit for the literary style of the final document. He, it is reputed, was the only man with sufficient daring to welcome Washington with a slap on the back.

John Adams who had served on the committee which drafted the Declaration of Independence, and who was destined to become president, was in England at the time. Thomas Jefferson also was abroad. John Hancock, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine were all men of national standing and renown but were not members of the convention.

There are those who believe, and the author is one, that the document signed in the convention on the 17th of September in 1787 did not emanate from the wisdom of the Founding Fathers alone, wise and experienced as they were. Rather the inspiration of the Almighty was with that little body, and they were led to prepare a Constitution which would preserve the rights and privileges of men on this earth so long as men were endowed with sufficient virtue to support those God-given freedoms.

This Article was serialized in 20 segments
which appeared on the editorial page (page 4) of
The Deseret News, 19 March 1945 through 10 April 1945.

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