The Constitutional Convention and the Debate Over Ratification
Resources and Links
Theme: American Political Thought:
The Constitution and American Democratic Institutions
Topic: The Constitutional Convention and the Debate Over Ratification
Date: November 2005
Resources and Links compiled and annotated by SALEM in History staff.
Alexander, John K. The Selling of the Constitutional Convention: A History of News Coverage. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1990.
This study of newspapers from 1787 reveals that media coverage both before and during the Constitutional Convention supported the work of the delegates and appeared to encourage the approval of the constitution.
Anderson, Thornton. Creating the Constitution: The Convention of 1787 and the First Congress. University Park: Pennsylvania State U. Pr., 1993.
Written by a political scientist, Creating the Constitution analyzes the factors that most influenced the delegates at the Constitutional Convention. Chapters include: “Ideas from England,” “Political Motivations,” “Economic Motivations,” in which Anderson argues that the convention was antidemocratic and that delegates could have abolished slavery in the Constitution.
Collier, Christopher and Collier, James Lincoln. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York: Random House, 1986.
This popular history focuses on the people behind the Constitutional Convention and asks what the document really meant to those that created it.
Conley, Patrick T. and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Constitution and the States: The Role of the Original Thirteen in the Framing and Adoption of the Federal Constitution. Madison, Wisc.: Madison House, sponsored by the U.S. Constitution Council of the Thirteen Original States and The Center for the Study of the American Constitution, 1988.
Gillespie, Michael Allen and Michael Lienesch, eds. Ratifying the Constitution. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
Both these collections contain 13 essays, one on each of the states that ratified the Constitution and the particular issues that each state faced with the ratification process. Include bibliographies.
Cornell, Saul. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Cornell argues that the Anti-Federalists were a more diverse and complex group than previously thought. In particular, Cornell reveals a strand of anti-Federalism among lower class Americans who wanted more equal distribution of wealth and more power in local institutions.
Jillson, Calvin C. Constitution Making: Conflict and Consensus in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York: Agathon, 1988.
Jillson analyzes roll calls held at the Constitutional Convention to show the alliances of delegates and how they shifted over the course of the convention and resulted in the final compromise.
Kaminski, John P. and Richard Leffler, eds. Federalists and Antifederalists: The Debate Over the Ratification of the Constitution. Madison, Wisc.: Madison House for the Tenter for the Study of the American Constitution, 1989.
This collection provides an introduction to the debates surrounding the Constitution and presents primary sources (newspaper articles, speeches, letters) presenting the viewpoints of the opposing sides. May be useful for teachers.
Rutland, Robert Allen. The Ordeal of the Constitution: The Antifederalists and the Ratification Struggle of 1787-1788. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.
This is a narrative account of the struggle for ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
Bernstein, David, comp. “The Constitutional Convention: Facts and Figures.” History Teacher 1987 21(1): 11-20.
A compilation of facts and figures about the Constitutional Convention for teachers to use in the classroom. Includes a short bibliography.
Einhorn, Robin L. “Patrick Henry’s Case Against the Constitution: The Structural Problem with Slavery.” Journal of the Early Republic 2002 22(4): 549-573.
In 1788 Patrick Henry urged Virginia to reject the Constitution because it failed to protect southern interests, including the institution of slavery.
Finkelman, Paul. “Garrison’s Constitution: The Covenant with Death and How it was Made.” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 2000 32(4): 230-245.
“Although the traditional view of the debates has focused on large versus small state representation, the question of slavery permeated discussions of representation, taxation, and commerce. Ultimately a ‘dirty compromise’ gave the Southern states a major victory in the form of the three-fifths representation, the electoral college, no tax on exports, and a fugitive slave clause…As William Lloyd Garrison pointed out, the compromise firmly planted slavery in the Constitution, and it took the Civil War and three amendments to remove it.”—American History & Life.
Kaminski, John P. “Ratifying the New Constitution.” This Constitution 1987 (17): 25-33.
Chronology of the major debates during the Constitutional Convention and the compromises that took place during ratification.
Kramnick, Isaac. “The ‘Great National Discussion’: The Discourse of Politics in 1787.” William and Mary Quarterly 1988 45(1): 3-32.
“Examines the language of the deliberations of the Federalists and Antifederalists during 1787-88 in the context of four dominant ideologies: republicanism, Lockean liberalism, work-ethic Protestantism, and state-centered theories of power and sovereignty.”—American History and Life.
Lewis, Jan. “’Of Every Age, Sex & Condition’: The Representation of Women in the Constitution.” Journal of the Early Republic 1995 15(3): 359-387.
“Analyzes the ideas of James Wilson, a delegate from Pennsylvania to the Constitutional Convention, whose proposal for representation included persons ‘of every age, sex, and condition.’ Although the specific language was changed, the concept was not, giving women certain social rights if not the right to vote. The citizenship of women came to be tied to the citizenship of free blacks, as neither had full rights.”—American History & Life.
McReynolds, R. Michael. “Studying the Constitution: Resources in the National Archives.” Prologue 1985 17(3): 181-189.
Discusses resources in the National Archives relating to the U.S. Constitution including the records of the Constitutional Convention, the US Supreme Court, the lower Federal Courts and the Department of Justice.
Merritt, Eli. “Sectional Conflict and Secret Compromise: The Mississippi River Question and the United States Constitution.” American Journal of Legal History 1991 35(2): 117-171.
“The control and disposal of western lands weighed heavily on the minds of the policymakers in the 1780s. Because western lands represented both short-term profits and long-term future states their administration was one of the pressing questions that arose just as the Articles of Confederation appeared to be failing and when the states called for a convention to strengthen the articles…Though not an issue of the first magnitude, the Mississippi River question helps explain why the 1787 Constitution invests a constitutional duty on the Senate to ratify treaties by a two-thirds vote. Westerners and Southerners wanted the two-thirds vote to prevent Northerners from negotiating away American claims to free navigation on the Mississippi River.”—American History & Life.
Slonim, Shlomo. “The Founders’ Fears of Foreign Influence.” Mid-America 1999 81(2): 125-146.
Looks at the concerns participants in the Constitutional Convention had about foreign influence in two areas: 1. what the citizenship requirement should be for Congress and the presidency and 2. the concern of some easterners that their counterparts from western states formerly under French and Spanish control would dominate debate at the convention.
Rakove, Jack N. “The Great Compromise: Ideas, Interests and the Politics of Constitution Making.” William and Mary Quarterly 1987 44(3): 424-457.
“The most pressing problem at the 1787 constitutional convention was that of representation. Since the government was to be so powerful, it was necessary that the political will be vested in a legislature, which would take into account the constituent interests. Analyzes James Madison's contributions and the dilemmas that he and other nationalists faced. Also examines the progression of arguments in the debates. Though Madison never developed a clear conception of the representative process, his ideas on an extended republic formed the basis of the debates.”—American History & Life
Wehtje, Myron F. “Boston and the Calling of the Federal Convention of 1787.” Historical Journal of Massachusetts 1987 15(2): 99-105.
“Analyzes Boston's influence on the calling of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. A few Bostonians cautioned against the possibility of a central government's overpowering the separate state sovereignty provided in the Articles of Confederation, but the majority favored a more powerful federal Congress with powers to pull into focus and act on the common concerns of the states whose isolated efforts had been ineffective.”—American History & Life
The American Constitution: A Documentary Record
Avalon Project at Yale Law School
Amendments Never Ratified for the U.S. Constitution
Emory University School of Law
This page of the Emory University website on the U.S. Constitution contains the text of six amendments that passed Congress but were not ratified by the states. They include a child labor amendment, an equal rights amendment, and an amendment giving the District of Columbia representation in Congress.
Constitution of the United States
Government Printing Office
The Government Printing Office supplies federal documents to the American public. From this webpage, you can download PDF versions or purchase hard copies of the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, and other federal documents. You can also download copies of more recent Supreme Court decisions on cases relating to the Constitution including “Acts of Congress Held Unconstitutional by the Supreme Court” and “State and Municipal Ordinances Held Unconstitutional by the Supreme Court”—which may be particularly interesting for high school history or government classes.
Guide to the U.S. Constitution
Library of Congress
This page of the Library of Congress website compiles links to digitized primary sources and online exhibits relating to the U.S. Constitution. Primary sources available online include early drafts of the Constitution, a diary kept by George Washington, and letters and notes taken by Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during the Constitutional Convention. One particularly interesting document is a 1787 letter written by Thomas Jefferson in which he states his belief in the need for a Bill of Rights. All the documents are searchable.
THOMAS: Legislative Information on the Internet
Library of Congress
This project of the Library of Congress includes historical documents relating to the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers and the U.S. Constitution and amendments. Documents are fully searchable. Background, describing the origin and impact of the documents, is also provided. (To access, click on the “Historical Documents” link near the bottom of the page.)
Massachusetts Historical Society
This electronic archive presents images of manuscripts and digital transcriptions from the Adams Family Papers, one of the most important collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The “Diary of John Adams” includes descriptions of events Adams witnessed as a Congressional delegate and descriptions of Congressional debates in 1789.
National Archives & Records Administration
This NARA online exhibit on the founding documents of the United States includes a page on the U.S. Constitution, which is housed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. On the website you can download high-resolution digital scans of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Amendments 11-27.
National Constitution Center
What does the U.S. Constitution actually say about contemporary issues? On this website, users can search the Constitution for phrases that relate to specific topics or Supreme Court cases, and how the phrases have been interpreted. For example, a search for “Roe v. Wade” results in phrases taken from the 9th and 14th Amendments which were used in the 1973 Supreme Court decision granting women the right to an abortion. The website is based on the book The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution by Linda R. Monk. (Note: the site is a bit confusing to navigate, at first. Students may need some guidance.) The National Constitutional Center also has an Interactive Timeline relating to the Constitution on their website: http://www.constitutioncenter.org/timeline/.
The Founder's Constitution
University of Chicago Press
This is the online version of a published anthology on the U.S. Constitution published by the University of Chicago Press. Primary sources include letters, documents, pamphlets and speeches, dating through the 1830s. Materials are arranged thematically and chronologically and are searchable.
Children/Young Adult Books
Banks, Joan. The U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001.
Bjornlund, Lydia D. The Constitution and the Founding of America. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2000.
Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September, 1787. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986.
Collier, Christopher, and James Lincoln Collier. Creating the Constitution, 1787. New York: Benchmark Books, 1999.
Collier, Christopher, and James Lincoln Collier. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York: Random House, 1986.
Faber, Doris, and Harold Faber. We the People: The Story of the United States Constitution Since 1787. New York: Scribner's, 1987.
Fritz, Jean. Shh! We're Writing the Constitution. New York: Putnam, 1987.
Maddex, Robert L., The U.S. Constitution A to Z. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2002.
Monk, Linda R. The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution. A Stonesong Press book. New York: Hyperion, 2003.
Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1996