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Constitutional Convention 1787

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Grand Convention at Philadelphia, May to September, 1787, Quill Project 2016 Edition.

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 to debate 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 sub-committees as well as in the main Convention itself. The formal --- sometimes even pedantic --- nature of this process is what has enabled the reconstruction of events offered here.

The most important of these subordinate committees was the 'Committee of the Whole', which met during the first weeks of the convention and involved every member of every delegation. The report of that committee was then reconsidered in detail by the same members sitting as the Convention itself, which gave them 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 being done by smaller committees.

The work of the Convention is preserved in the Official Journal, as well as in a number of privately kept diaries. Frustratingly, the work of the Committee of Detail (and that of the smaller subcommittees) was not recorded by Jackson, the Convention's secretary, nor by any extant private diary. However, for most of the other parts of the Convention, the Quill platform enables the process of debate to be examined in detail. For any requested moment, Quill reconciles the various motions presented to the Convention with the votes that have been taken, reconstructing as accurately as possible the texts as they would have been available to members of the Convention at the requested point. Where it has not been possible to reconstruct the exact work of a committee, the available texts (at least, for example, the committee's final report) have been presented instead.

The texts presented here are based on the 1911 publication, Records of the Federal Convention, by Max Farrand. In modelling the debates for the 2016 Quill presentation of these records, the editors have had to make a number of choices that are explained more fully in the Editors' Commentary.

An overview of the tools available for exploring these records is available below.

A more detailed introduction by the editors is available as part of Quill's commentary collections.

Secretary's Desk

Secretary's Desk

This view offers a reconstruction of the papers left on the secretary's desk at the end of each committee session.

This view is useful for getting a quick overview of the progress made by a committee. It is recommended as a starting point for new users, and as a high-level overview of a process of negotiation.

Secretary's Desk »

Activity Summary

Activity Summary

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.

Activity Summary »

Calendar View

Calendar View

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.

Calendar View »

Readers' View

Readers' View

This view offers a high-level overview of all of the committee sessions that make up this process of negotiation together with summary information.

From here, readers can choose to examine committee sessions in more detail or view visualiztions of the decision-making process within each committee.

Readers' View »

Topic Overview

Topic Overview

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.

Topic Overview »

Full Record

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.

Full Record »