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 these 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.”
James Madison to Edmund Pendleton, New York, 22 April 1787
The absences of one or two States however will not materially affect the deliberations of the Convention. Disagreement in opinion among those present is much more likely to embarrass us. The nearer the crisis approaches, the more I tremble for the issue. The necessity of gaining the concurrence of the Convention in some system that will answer the purpose, the subsequent approbation of Congress, and the final sanction of the States, presents a series of chances, which would inspire despair in any case where the alternative was less formidable. The difficulty too is not a little increased by the necessity which will be produced by encroachments on the State Constitutions, of obtaining not merely the assent of the Legislatures, but the ratification of the people themselves. Indeed if such encroachments could be avoided, a higher Sanction than the Legislative authority would be necessary to render the laws of the Confederacy paramount to the Acts of its members.
James Wilson: Speech in the Pennsylvania Convention, 24 November 1787
To frame a government for a single city or state is a business both in its importance and facility, widely different from the task entrusted to the Federal Convention, whose prospects were extended not only to thirteen independent and sovereign states, some of which in territorial jurisdiction, population, and resource equal the most respectable nations of Europe, but likewise to innumerable states yet unformed, and to myriads of citizens who in future ages shall inhabit the vast uncultivated regions of the continent. The duties of that body, therefore were not limited to local or partial considerations but to the formation of a plan commensurate with a great and valuable portion of the globe.