Constitution 225: It takes a committee to write a Preamble

WPA: Federal Theater Project: figures silhouetted against backdrop of Constitution, ca. 1935 (ARC 197267)

Today’s post was written by National Archives volunteer Paul Richter. It is part of a series tracing the development of the Constitution in honor of the 225th anniversary of this document on September 17, 2012.

By the second week of September, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had hammered out nearly all of the details of new government. They had carefully recorded each article they adopted throughout the summer, but they had not focused much energy on making them presentable as a whole.

Aware that they would soon lift their self-imposed veil of secrecy and present the finished document to the rest of the nation, they referred the entire document to the Committee of Style.  The Committee of Style was charged with organizing the articles and polishing the language to impart the Constitution with a consistent voice commensurate with its status as the foundation of the United States government.

The five delegates selected to serve on Committee of Style were William Samuel Johnson, Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, and Rufus King.

Perhaps the most iconic edit proposed by the Committee of Style appears in the first line of the Preamble to the Constitution. While earlier drafts listed each state individually, the Preamble presented to the Convention on September 12 began succinctly “We the People of the United States.”

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