University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Philadelphia Convention

In September 1787 those who were of a nationalist mindset, gathered at a convention in Annapolis, Maryland. They were charged with discussion possible solutions to the country’s many commercial problems. Nine states elected commissioners, but when only five delegations attended, they precipitously wrote a report and adjourned. Most importantly, the report called for a convention to be held at Philadelphia the following May to discuss a broader agenda. That gathering was the Philadelphia Convention. Below you will find various topics and materials related to that historic gathering in the summer of 1787.

Instructions Given to the Convention Delegates

State legislatures instructed their delegates to the general Convention. Some instructions were based on the report of the Annapolis Convention while others were premised on the congressional resolution of 21 February 1787 calling for a convention to meet in Philadelphia.

Plans of Government Proposed at the Convention

Throughout the summer of 1787, there were two plans that framed the debates. The Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Amendments were the major proposals that framed most of the discussion. Two other plans were presented; one by Charles Pinckney and another by Alexander Hamilton.

The Campaign Against the Early Critics of the Constitution

Before and during the meeting of the Philadelphia Convention, most Americans wanted to accept whatever the Convention proposed. As news circulated that the Articles of Confederation might be abandoned altogether, small pockets of opposition formed. A variety of charges were leveled at these critics of a new constitution. Of particular note is Alexander Hamilton’s public criticism of New York Governor George Clinton beginning in the summer of 1787.

Assessments of the Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention has long been the focus of scholarly and popular inquiry. The assessments range from critical to complimentary. We have assembled a collection of primary sources that offer insights into several issues relating to the Convention itself.

Assessments of Individual Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

Those who served at the Constitutional Convention were subjects of much speculation. After the Convention adjourned on 17 September 1787, newspapers were filled with a wide variety of opinion on the roles played by many of the delegates. Our selections feature perspectives on several of the more prominent individuals at the Convention.

The Transmittal of the Constitution from the Convention to Congress (Coming Soon)

The Transmittal of the Constitution from Congress to the States

The Constitutional Convention recommended that the new Constitution should be submitted to state conventions for ratification. Once nine state conventions ratified, the Constitution would be implemented among the ratifying states. Congress, whose approbation was not needed for ratification, was to serve as a conduit through which the Constitution was forwarded to the state legislatures.