Constitutional Convention

The History and Delegates Who Attended

Painting of the Constitutional Convention
Public Domain

The Constitutional Convention was called in May of 1787 to make revisions to the Articles of Confederation. George Washington was immediately named the convention's president. The articles had been shown since their adoption to be very weak.

It was soon decided that instead of revising the articles, an entirely new government needed to be created for the United States. A proposal was adopted on May 30 that stated in part, "...that a national government ought to be established consisting of a supreme Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary." With this proposal, writing began on a new constitution.

The meeting of the Constitutional Convention began on May 25, 1787. Delegates met on 89 of the 116 days between May 25 and their final meeting on September 17, 1787. The meetings took place at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Twelve of the 13 original states participated by sending delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The only state that did not participate was Rhode Island, as it was against the idea of a stronger federal government. Further, New Hampshire delegates did not reach Philadelphia and participate until July 1787.

Key Delegates

There were 55 delegates who attended the convention. The most well-known attendees for each state were:

  • Virginia - George Washington, James Madison, Edmund Randolph, George Mason
  • Pennsylvania - Benjamin Franklin, Gouverneur Morris, Robert Morris, James Wilson
  • New York - Alexander Hamilton
  • New Jersey - William Paterson
  • Massachusetts - Elbridge Gerry, Rufus King
  • Maryland - Luther Martin
  • Connecticut - Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman
  • Delaware - John Dickinson
  • South Carolina - John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney
  • Georgia - Abraham Baldwin, William Few
  • New Hampshire - Nicholas Gilman, John Langdon
  • North Carolina - William Blount

A Bundle of Compromises

The Constitution was created through many compromises. The Great Compromise solved how representation should be determined in Congress by combining the Virginia Plan, which called for representation based on population, and the New Jersey Plan, which called for equal representation.

The Three-Fifths Compromise worked out how enslaved people should be counted for representation. It counted every five enslaved individuals as three people in terms of representation. The Commerce and Slave Trade Compromise promised that Congress would not tax the export of goods from any state and would not interfere with the trade of enslaved people for at least 20 years.

Writing the Constitution

The Constitution itself was based on many great political writings, including the Baron de Montesquieu's "The Spirit of the Law," Jean Jacques Rousseau's "Social Contract," and John Locke's "Two Treatises of Government." Much of the Constitution also came from what was originally written in the Articles of Confederation along with other state constitutions.

After the delegates finished working out resolutions, a committee was named to revise and write the Constitution. Gouverneur Morris was named the head of the committee, but most of the writing fell to James Madison, who has been called the "Father of the Constitution."

Signing the Constitution

The committee worked on the Constitution until September 17 when the convention voted to approve the document. Forty-one delegates were present. However, three refused to sign the proposed Constitution: Edmund Randolph (who later supported ratification), Elbridge Gerry, and George Mason.

The document was sent to the Congress of the confederation, which then sent it to the states for ratification. Nine states needed to ratify it for it to become law. Delaware was the first to ratify. The ninth was New Hampshire on June 21, 1788. However, it wasn't until May 29, 1790, that the last state, Rhode Island, voted to ratify it.

View Article Sources
  1. The Founding Fathers.” The U.S. Constitution: The Delegates,

  2. Founding Fathers.” National Constitution Center –

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Kelly, Martin. "Constitutional Convention." ThoughtCo, Feb. 24, 2021, Kelly, Martin. (2021, February 24). Constitutional Convention. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Constitutional Convention." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).