Constitution 225: No quorum, no Constitution!

Resolution passed by the Confederation Congress authorizing the Constitutional Convention, February 21, 1787.

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is the first in a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document.

Eleven years after the Declaration of Independence announced the birth of the United States, the survival of the young country seemed in doubt. The War for Independence had been won, but economic depression, social unrest, interstate rivalries, and foreign intrigue appeared to be unraveling the fragile confederation.

On February 21, 1787, the Continental Congress resolved that “it is expedient that on the second Monday in May next a Convention of delegates who shall have been appointed by the several States be held at Philadelphia for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”

The original states, with the exception of Rhode Island, collectively appointed 70 individuals to the Constitutional Convention, but a number did not accept or could not attend.

On May 14, 1787, the Federal Convention convened in the State House—now known as Independence Hall—in Philadelphia.

Almost no one showed up.

Only delegates from two states, Pennsylvania and Virginia, were present on that first day. This meant that the members met and adjourned each day until May 25, when the convention obtained a quorum of seven states.

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, James Madison blamed bad weather for delaying the arrival of delegates to the convention. It was a slow, soggy start to four months of discussion and sometimes heated debate among the young nation’s best minds. Throughout that long summer in Philadelphia, the now-familiar concepts included in the final product were anything but certain.

In honor of the 225th anniversary of the Constitution, we’ll trace the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention over the next four months. You are invited to watch the evolution of the Constitution unfold at the National Archives Tumblr blog.

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