Grand Convention at Philadelphia, May to September, 1787, Quill Project 2021 Edition.
People: 59, Procedures: 391, Documents: 89, Decisions: 1468 View more »
The Constitution of the United States of America was written by a Constitutional Convention held in the summer of 1787. Between May and September, a group of delegates from most states met in secret to negotiate a text that was then presented to the states of the Union.
They adopted a formal process for their discussions, considering precisely worded motions in a series of committees as well as in the main Convention itself. The most important of these committees was the Committee of the Whole House, which met during the first weeks of the convention. This committee was comprised of every member of every delegation and allowed the delegates to relax the rules of procedure. The report of that committee was then reconsidered in detail by the Convention, which consisted of all the same members as the Committee of the Whole but was subject to stricter rules of debate. This allowed the delegates a second chance to consider the same issues. Some controversial issues were sent to smaller sub-committees, and then the whole report of the Convention was sent to a Committee of Detail. The report of that committee was then reconsidered clause by clause in the main Convention, with some final work and redrafting being done by smaller committees. This formal – sometimes even pedantic – process is what has informed the reconstruction of events offered here.
The work of the Convention is preserved in the Official Journal, as well as in a number of privately kept diaries. For any specific moment in the timeline, the Quill platform enables the process of debate to be examined in detail, reconciles the various motions presented to the Convention with the votes that have been taken, and reconstructs as accurately as possible the texts as they would have been available to members of the Convention at the requested point.
The Quill Project’s work on the 1787 Constitution of the United States is presented in three editions, of which the 2021 edition is the third and most current.
The 2019 Edition
The 2019 model, created and edited by Kieran Hazzard and Lauren Davis, provides a second edition of the model created principally by Grace Mallon and published by the Quill Project in 2016. Like the 2016 first edition, the 2019 second edition is chiefly based on Max Farrand’s 1911 publication, The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, with some modern additions that take into account recent publications and scholarship.
The second edition is much more detailed, accurate, and comprehensive than the 2016 proof of concept and employs a modeling philosophy designed to present the events in an easy-to-understand format. This edition also takes advantage of new technological features and developments within the Quill platform and has integrated additional source material. These materials include Lansing’s notes and the large body of material collected by James Hutson in his Supplement to Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. The result is a more consistent and complete presentation of the surviving records.
Committee of Detail Improved
Frustratingly, records were not kept, officially or privately, of the work of the Committee of Detail and the other subcommittees. Where it has not been possible to reconstruct the exact work of a committee, the available texts (such as the committee's final report) have been presented instead. However, this edition has modelled the documentary reconstruction undertaken by William Ewald and Lorianne Updike Toler in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. CXXXV, No. 3. This has resulted in a much clearer picture of the process of framing a constitution which took place in the Committee of Detail.
There are several new resource collections available to readers. Those looking for the alternative constitutional plans proposed to the Convention or the major milestones reached as the final document took shape will find these easily available. We have made the decision to include information about the informal meetings of delegates that took place outside of the official structure of the Convention. These meetings are attested to in diaries and private correspondence – though because of their nature, no presentation of such meetings can ever be complete. These fringe meetings give an insight into the side-line strategizing and negotiating, as well as the social events and friendships which existed among delegates.
The final major addition is an editorial commentary on the veracity of Madison’s Notes. Mary Sarah Bilder’s book, Madison’s Hand, details the nature and evidence of the edits Madison made to his convention notes several years after the fact. As his notes are the main source of information for what was said and done in the Convention (and often, in fact, the most detailed account of the proceedings), Bilder’s work has significant implications for our understanding of these proceedings, particularly in the convention’s last two months, after Yates and Lansing (two delegates who kept private diaries of the proceedings) had left.
Within the Quill model, all of Madison’s additions to his own notes that Farrand was able to identify have been placed within angled brackets. The commentary collections attached to these moments in the timeline will help readers to find where Madison made larger changes and provide Bilder’s account of the nature of these changes.
The editorial decisions made throughout the timeline are explained more fully in the description field of the relevant events and in editors’ notes that explore more difficult and technical points.
In modelling this edition of the work of the Convention, the starting point remained the official journal, kept by William Jackson, the Convention's secretary. The editors compared the journal record to other surviving records of each day, such as privately kept diaries and archive documents, in order to reconstruct the debates and procedure.
Only in extremely rare instances was there difficulty in reconstructing the wording being considered by the Convention or the Committee of the Whole at a given time. No significant discrepancies exist between surviving accounts. On the other hand, reconstructing the exact sequence of events within each session proved more difficult. Jackson in particular took liberties with that aspect of the record. Where any ambiguities exist, they are explained in the editors' notes. For the most part, however, the sequence of proposals and decisions can be confidently reconstructed from the surviving sources. Where ambiguities remain, it is as much the result of a slightly confusing process during the final stages of revision as a result of deficiencies in record-keeping.
Notes on the 2021 Edition
The 2021 edition of the model of U.S. Constitutional Convention builds on work undertaken for the 2019 edition (which remains available). The major change in this edition is our approach to the presentation of the primary sources which have been used to construct the model.
In the 2016 and 2019 Quill Project publications, the editors cited only the quotations from the source material used to justify a specific event. The hierarchy of source material was the Journal, Madison’s Notes, and other extant material, respectively. Duplicate information, however, was omitted. For example, if the Journal record alone was sufficient to reconstruct the fact that a particular proposal had been made, no other sources were presented.
A new approach has been taken for this edition. For the first time, this presentation allows readers to see the relevant quotations from all extant records that pertain to particular moments in the Convention. These quotations have been added as additional descriptions to each event in the committee timelines, even where information is described in nearly identical ways by multiple sources. We hope that this will allow readers to more easily compare the way in which particular events are described by different writers and give readers an overview of which events are attested to in which sources.
Adding these additional descriptions presented their own difficulties. The less well-known records of the Convention are sporadic in their coverage or written with less precision than Madison's Notes, making it sometimes difficult to attribute the record to particular moments in the timeline. Where appropriate, the editors have included notes explaining their choices. Perhaps of greatest interest, given recent debates over the nature of the sources, is the ability to directly compare what is written in the Journal with that which was recorded and published by Madison.
Most significant among other changes is that the presentation of the work of the Committee of the Whole has been adjusted to more consistently represent the process of debate, which brings greater clarity to these discussions. In addition, a revision of the presentation of voting records has been undertaken, including a more systematic attempt to track which delegations were quorate at particular times.
The work for the 2021 edition was undertaken by Lauren Davis, Elizabeth Green, and Grace Penn, at Pembroke College Oxford, over the course of 2020-21.
Part of: Founding the Federal Union.
This page shows the complete source-material for this negotiation.
Users with the appropriate permission can use this screen to make changes to the convention records from here.
This page gives access to the main visualizations used to explore the work of committees or individuals.
It is the best place to start if you have specific research questions to investigate.
This view shows a timeline of the events with an indication the
flow of documents between committees.
This will help make sense of the relationship between committees. The page also shows how busy committees were at different times.
This view offers a set of tools to examine shifting alliances.
This view shows a summary of the topic keywords associated with events during this negotiation, and
allows users to find events associated with each keyword.
This page offers a series of views for exploring the work of those involved in this process of negotiation, focusing on the hierarchical
relationship of proposals rather than on the sequence of events. Other tools presented here show the volume of work handled by each committee, or the number of events that each
individual played a leading roll in.
A tool mostly useful for those using Quill to run meetings.
This page shows the documents currently agreed to or under consideration by various committees.
Details of unofficial meetings, discussions and social events held by delegates to the Convention.
A collection of printed primary source material pertaining to drafts of the Constitution between August and September, 1787. This collection includes printed drafts with handwritten annotations produced by the convention; for handwritten drafts by the Committee of Detail, see "The Meeting of the Committee of Detail" resource collection.
A collection of primary source material detailing the state of the convention between 14 and 25 May, 1787. People include George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Richard Price, Thomas Jordan, Arthur Lee, John Dickinson, George Mason, Rufus King, Jeremiah Wadsworth, and George Read.
A collection of handwritten primary source material pertaining to the deliberations of the Committee of Detail. People include John Jay, George Washington, Richard Caswell, R.D. Spaight, Alexander Martin, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James McClurg.
This collection holds links to images of the Library of Congress copy of Madison's Notes. These colour images were newly available in 2018.
In 1819 John Quincy Adams oversaw a printed publication of the Journal of the Convention. This collection holds links to the Archive.org copy.
In 1819 John Quincy Adams oversaw a printed publication of the Journal of the Convention.
This is a manuscript copy of the journal from that time, a draft of what was published.
Analysis of Historical Society of Pennsylvania Item 1663: "United States Constitution first manuscript draft by James Wilson, 1787."
Roger Sherman's proposal in the First Committee on Representation, which demonstrates how Madison's proposed amendments could be amended and included as a supplement to the Constitution.
Transcriptions of the differing versions of the Virginia Plan, Pinckney Plan, New Jersey Plan, Hamilton Plan, and others, for comparison.
A collection of tables of population for each state presented to the Convention to inform apportionment of representation.
Constitutional History in the news and in scholarship, and news about the Quill platform and the Negotiated Texts Network.
Charts the main stages in drafting the Constitution, and contains the major documents produced by the Convention, allowing for quick comparison.
Contemporary reports of the weather during each day of the Convention in Philadelphia 1787
Cite as: Lauren Davis, Kieran Hazzard, Elizabeth Green, Grace Penn, and Grace Mallon (eds.), U.S. Constitutional Convention 1787 (2021 Edition), Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2021).