One of the most difficult tasks facing the Constitutional Convention was the creation of a strong national executive. Recent experience under the Articles of Confederation without a separate federal executive and the expectation that George Washington would be the first President encouraged the formation of a strong executive. In fact, during the ratification debate, Thomas Jefferson in France, and Antifederalists “Federal Farmer” and Hugh Ledlie of Connecticut suggested that Washington was the most dangerous man in America because the Constitutional Convention had given too much power to the President expecting that Washington would fill that office. Although everyone felt confident that Washington would not abuse those powers, Jefferson, Ledlie, and “Federal Farmer” worried about subsequent administrations under a President Slushington.
Eighty-two years ago in 1939, three states belatedly ratified the U.S. Bill of Rights in a symbolic action commemorating Congress’ proposal of the amendments 150 years earlier in September 1789. In December 1789, Georgia was the only state that rejected all twelve of the amendments proposed by Congress, stating that the amendments were premature. Connecticut and Massachusetts also failed to ratify in 1789–1791 because their bicameral legislatures disagreed on how many of the twelve amendments should be ratified and neither state submitted an exemplification of what they had adopted.
A quarter century before the landmark decision of Marbury v. Madison enunciated the concept of judicial review, the Confederation Congress advocated the authority of courts to rule unconstitutional acts to be null and void. It was part of the process of making the Articles of Confederation into a viable uniquely-American parliamentary system of government.
Americans looked upon the Constitutional Convention with great anticipation. They hoped for much; but, with such high expectations, they feared the consequences of a lost opportunity. In two excerpts, written before and after the Convention sat, James Madison and James Wilson, two of the most important delegates, described what the Convention saw as its goal. According to Wilson: “The magnitude of the object before us filled our minds with awe and apprehension.”