Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787

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Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
Madison notes 1787 convention.jpg
Discovered in 1836
Author James Madison
Year Published 1840
Language English

The Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 is the record of debate notes kept during the Constitutional Convention by Founding Father James Madison. Several Founders took notes during the debates, but Madison's notes are considered to be the most in-depth and complete.

The existence of the very large volume of debate transcripts was not known until Madison passed away in 1836.[1] They reached publication four years after his passing.[2]


The notes which James Madison made of the proceedings of the Federal Convention which met in Philadelphia, May 25th and adjourned September 17, 1787, were in fact, though not in form, the notes of the proceedings of an international conference, to use the language of today, or of a continental conference, as its members might have phrased it had they not preferred the term federal, as we apparently prefer constitutional, convention. Each preference is, however, correct according to the point of view of the observer. It was indeed a constitutional convention or conference, in the sense that it drafted a constitution of a more perfect Union of and for the States ratifying it; it was a federal convention or conference, in the sense that it proposed a draft for a federation of the States which the framers of the Constitution called a more perfect Union than that created by the Articles of Confederation, which the Constitution was to replace; it was a continental convention or conference in that it was composed of twelve of the thirteen States of the American continent; it was an international convention or conference, in that it was composed of official representatives of twelve of the thirteen “ sovereign, free and independent ’-’ States of America, acting under instructions and meeting “ for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation ” in order to “ render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.”

The Union to be preserved had been composed but a short time previously of the thirteen American colonies, whose oflicial representatives in the Continental Congress, on July 4, 1776, declared,

That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

The Articles of Confederation

The official representatives in the Congress of the States thus declared to be free and independent drafted, and on November 15, 1777, approved Articles of Confederation, which, ratified by each of the thirteen States at various times, became effective on March 1, 1781, by the ratification of the State of Maryland, the last so to do. The contracting parties were thus the thirteen States declared to be free and independent by the Declaration of Independence; and the origin, the form and nature of the Union, its name and the relation of the States to one another and to the Confederation and perpetual Union, are thus stated in the caption and in the first three of the Articles of Confederation:

Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of Newhampshire, Massachusetts-bay, Rhodeisland and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina and Georgia.

Article I. The Stile of this confederacy shall be "The United States of America."

Article 11. Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States. in Congress assembled.

Article III. The said states hereby severally enter into a. firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence, the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence whatever.

The "Confederation and perpetual Union between the States" not proving to be "adequate to the exigencies of government & the preservation of the Union," the Congress, on February 21, 1787, deemed it "expedient that on the second Monday in May next 11 Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several states be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the states render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government & the preservation of the Union."

Convention begins

Pursuant to this resolution, twelve of the thirteen "sovereign, free and independent" States sent official delegates to the convention to be held in Philadelphia for the revision of the Articles of Confederation, and succeeded with much good will, concession, and compromise, in drafting, instead of revising the Articles, a constitution and a scheme of government of a. more perfect Union, which, submitted to the Congress of the Confederation, referred by it to the States, ratified in the course of 1787-88 by conventions in eleven of the States, became effective in accordance with the 7th Article of the Constitution, providing that “ The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”

The government of the more perfect Union was to go into operation on March 4, 1789, and, in the course of that and of the subsequent year, the people of the States of North Carolina and of Rhode Island ratified the Constitution, thus making it the union of all thirteen of the original States of America. [3]

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