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17 September - Rewriting the History of the Signing?

by khazzard

Cite as: khazzard, ‘17 September - Rewriting the History of the Signing?’ in Kieran Hazzard, Bilder and Doubts Over Madison's Notes, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2020), item 293.


Bilder suggest that Madison’s Notes for the last day of the Convention show particular evidence of later composition. She points to how Madison recorded Franklin’s two speeches as being of the most interest.

Madison placed one speech early in the session, followed by Franklin’s famous remarks about the rising sun later. These had appeared in publication in December 1787 in the ‘American Museum’. Madison may have copied the speeches before leaving, but Bilder points out that his version is very similar to that published.

She also suggests that he may have changes the order of events. McHenry recorded that the Constitution was read, amended by Gorham, and then Franklin spoke. Madison recorded the speech coming just after the reading.

This change may have been made for literary reasons, as Madison started to consider publication of his notes. Framing the last day with a speech by Franklin praising the Constitution, Bilder suggests, was away of foreshadowing ratification. Similarly, the sun anecdote was a perfect closing moment, that may have only been said to one or two people. Though Madison may not have heard it on the day.

Added to this, the last three and a half weeks of the Convention contain some of the most important developments in the framing of the constitution, yet Bilder suggests that Madison’s record of these events may have been altered.

She states that there is “no evidence proves that these sheets were written in August-September 1787.” Instead the evidence points to their being written in late 1789.

The most compelling evidence to Bilder is that Madison incorporated what looks like large parts of text from the Journal into the body of his notes, whereas previously these were clearly made as additions to his earlier writings. There are far fewer corrections and changes to these sheets, and are the notes are written on different paper to previous sessions. This therefore suggests that they were later compositions or replacements.

Approved for publication