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Tag: national archivesamerican history

What Franklin thought of the Constitution

The Scene at the Signing of the Constitution, oil painting (reproduction) by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940

The Scene at the Signing of the Constitution, oil painting (reproduction) by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940 (Architect of the Capitol)

All summer long, a group of men huddled in a stifling hot room in Philadelphia (Madison almost passed out from the heat) to develop the framework for a government that would govern the newly independent states of America.

There was debate, and there was arguing. There were grounds on which some delegates were immovable—Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry refused to sign as there was no Bill of Rights in the original Constitution. And there were some issues that were so contentious they were glossed over with broad words—slavery was barely addressed even though 18% of the population was in bondage at the time (according to the 1790 census).

There were arguments about how the number of Representatives in the House should be determined, how treaties should be signed, how roads should be built, canals dug, tariffs weighed.

But by September 17, 1787, after four months of secret debate and compromise, an 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin closed the convention with these words:

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information,

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