Constitution Day

Faces Behind the Constitution

The thirteen original states, except for Rhode Island, sent delegates to the Constitutional Convention. In all, 70 delegates were invited, but only 55 attended. Most notably missing were Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. Of the 55 delegates in attendance, 39 actually signed the Constitution.

You can find out more about the Constitutional Convention delegates by either choosing a state or one of the delegate's names from the drop down menus below.

Choose a or choose a

Connecticut

Oliver Ellsworth

Oliver Ellsworth

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: April 29, 1745, in Windsor, Connecticut
Schooling: Ellsworth entered Yale in 1762 but transferred to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the end of his second year. He continued to study theology and received his A.B. degree after 2 years. Soon afterward, however, Ellsworth turned to the law. After 4 years of study, he was admitted to the bar in 1771.

Involvement with the Constitution
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787 Ellsworth represented Connecticut and took an active part in the proceedings. During debate on the Great Compromise, Ellsworth proposed that the basis of representation in the legislative branch remain by state, as under the Articles of Confederation. He also left his mark through an amendment to change the word "national" to "United States" in a resolution. Thereafter, "United States" was the title used in the convention to designate the government.

Ellsworth also served on the Committee of Five that prepared the first draft of the Constitution. Ellsworth favored the three-fifths compromise on the enumeration of slaves but opposed the abolition of the foreign slave trade. Though he left the convention near the end of August and did not sign the final document, he urged its adoption upon his return to Connecticut and wrote the Letters of a Landholder to promote its ratification.


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William Samuel Johnson

William Samuel Johnson

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1727 in Stratford, Connecticut
Schooling: Johnson graduated from Yale in 1744. About 3 years later, he received a master of arts degree from the same institution and an honorary master's from Harvard. Resisting his father's wish that he become a minister, Johnson embraced law instead - largely by educating himself and without benefit of formal training.

Involvement with the Constitution
Playing a major role in the Constitutional Convention, Johnson missed no sessions after arriving on June 2; espoused the Connecticut Compromise; and chaired the Committee of Style, which shaped the final document. He also worked for ratification in Connecticut.


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Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1721 in Dorchester, Massachusetts
Schooling: As a boy, Sherman was spurred by a desire to learn and read widely in his spare time to supplement his minimal education at a common school.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787, Sherman represented his state at the Constitutional Convention, and attended practically every session. Not only did he sit on the Committee on Postponed Matters, but he also probably helped draft the New Jersey Plan and was a prime mover behind the Connecticut, or Great, Compromise, which broke the deadlock between the large and small states over representation. He was, in addition, instrumental in Connecticut's ratification of the Constitution.


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Delaware

Richard Bassett

Richard Bassett

Image courtesy of The Baltimore Museum of Art.

Biography
Born: April 1745 in Cecil County, Maryland
Schooling: Bassett read for the law at Philadelphia and in 1770 received a license to practice in Dover, DE.

Involvement with the Constitution
Bassett attended the Constitutional Convention diligently but made no speeches, served on no committees, and cast no critical votes. Like several other delegates of estimable reputation and talent, he allowed others to make the major steps. In the Delaware ratifying convention, he joined in the 30-0 vote for the Constitution.


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Gunning Bedford, Jr.

Gunning Bedford, Jr.

Image courtesy of The Architect of the Capital.

Biography
Born: 1747 in Philadelphia
Schooling: In 1771, Bedford graduated with honors from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he was a classmate of James Madison. After reading law with Joseph Read in Philadelphia, Bedford won admittance to the bar and set up a practice.

Involvement with the Constitution
Bedford numbered among the more active members of the Constitutional Convention, and he missed few sessions. A large and forceful man, he spoke on several occasions and was a member of the committee that drafted the Great Compromise. An ardent small-state advocate, he attacked the pretensions of the large states over the small and warned that the latter might be forced to seek foreign alliances unless their interests were accommodated. He attended the Delaware ratifying convention.


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Jacob Broom

No image available.

Biography
Born: 1752 in Wilmington, Delaware
Schooling: Broom was educated at home and probably at the local Old Academy.

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, he never missed a session and spoke on several occasions, but his role was only a minor one.


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John Dickinson

John Dickinson

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1732 at Crosiadore estate, near the village of Trappe in Talbot County, Maryland
Schooling: Dickinson had private tutors as a youth. In 1750 he began to study law with John Moland in Philadelphia. In 1753 Dickinson went to England to continue his studies at London's Middle Temple.

Involvement with the Constitution
Delaware sent Dickinson to the Constitutional Convention. He missed a number of sessions and left early because of illness, but he made worthwhile contributions, including service on the Committee on Postponed Matters. Although he resented the forcefulness of Madison and the other nationalists, he helped engineer the Great Compromise and wrote public letters supporting constitutional ratification. Because of his premature departure from the convention, he did not actually sign the Constitution but authorized his friend and fellow-delegate George Read to do so for him.


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George Read

George Read

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1733 near the village of North East in Cecil County, Maryland
Schooling: Read attended school at Chester, PA, and Rev. Francis Alison's academy at New London, PA, and about the age of 15 he began reading with a Philadelphia lawyer.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1786, Read attended the Annapolis Convention. The next year, he participated in the Constitutional Convention, where he missed few if any sessions and championed the rights of the small states. Otherwise, he adopted a Hamiltonian stance, favoring a strong executive. He later led the ratification movement in Delaware, the first state to ratify.


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Georgia

Abraham Baldwin

Abraham Baldwin

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1754 in Guilford, Connecticut
Schooling: After attending a local village school, Abraham studied at Yale, in nearby New Haven. He graduated in 1772. Baldwin studied law and in 1783 gained admittance to the bar at Fairfield, CT.

Involvement with the Constitution
Baldwin attended the Constitutional Convention, from which he was absent for a few weeks. Although usually inconspicuous, he sat on the Committee on Postponed Matters and helped resolve the large-small state representation crisis. At first, he favored representation in the Senate based upon property holdings, but possibly because of his close relationship with the Connecticut delegation he later came to fear alienation of the small states and changed his mind to representation by state.


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William Few

William Few

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CP-157.)

Biography
Born: 1748 in Maryland
Schooling: Few received minimal schooling. He won admittance to the bar, based on earlier informal study, and set up practice in Augusta.

Involvement with the Constitution
Few was appointed as one of six state delegates to the Constitutional Convention, two of whom never attended and two others of whom did not stay for the duration. Few himself missed large segments of the proceedings, being absent during all of July and part of August because of congressional service, and never made a speech. Nonetheless, he contributed nationalist votes at critical times. Furthermore, as a delegate to the last sessions of the Continental Congress, he helped steer the Constitution past its first obstacle, approval by Congress. And he attended the state ratifying convention.


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William Houston

William Houston

Image courtesy of The Georgia Historical Society.

Biography
Born: 1755 in Savannah, Georgia
Schooling: Houston received a liberal education, which included legal training at Inner Temple in London.

Involvement with the Constitution
When the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787, Houston presented his credentials as one of Georgia's delegates. He stayed for only a short time, from June 1 until about July 23, but he was present during the debate on the representation question. Houston split Georgia's vote on equal representation in the Senate, voting "nay" against Abraham Baldwin's "aye."


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William Leigh Pierce

No image available.

Biography
Born: Probably born in 1740 in Georgia
Schooling: Not known

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention Pierce did not play a large role, but he exerted some influence and participated in three debates. He argued for the election of one house of the federal legislature by the people and one house by the states; he favored a 3-year term instead of a 7-year term in the second house. Because he agreed that the Articles had been insufficient, he recommended strengthening the federal government at the expense of state privileges as long as state distinctions were not altogether destroyed. Pierce approved of the resulting Constitution, but he found it necessary to leave in the middle of the proceedings.


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Maryland

Daniel Carroll

Daniel Carroll

Image courtesy of The Maryland Historical Society.

Biography
Born: 1730 in Upper Marlboro, Maryland
Schooling: Carroll studied for 6 years (1742-48) under the Jesuits at St. Omer's in Flanders.

Involvement with the Constitution
Carroll did not arrive at the Constitutional Convention until July 9, but thereafter he attended quite regularly. He spoke about 20 times during the debates and served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. Returning to Maryland after the convention, he campaigned for ratification of the Constitution but was not a delegate to the state convention.


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Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1723 at Coates Retirement (now Ellerslie) estate, near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland
Schooling: Little is known about his childhood or education.

Involvement with the Constitution
Jenifer was one of 29 delegates who attended nearly every session of the Constitutional Convention. He did not speak often but backed Madison and the nationalist element.


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Luther Martin

Luther Martin

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1748 in Brunswick, New Jersey
Schooling: Martin attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), from which he graduated with honors in 1766. He began to study the law and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1771.

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention Martin opposed the idea of a strong central government. When he arrived on June 9, 1787, he expressed suspicion of the secrecy rule imposed on the proceedings. He consistently sided with the small states and voted against the Virginia Plan. On June 27 Martin spoke for more than 3 hours in opposition to the Virginia Plan's proposal for proportionate representation in both houses of the legislature. Martin served on the committee formed to seek a compromise on representation, where he supported the case for equal numbers of delegates in at least one house. Before the convention closed, he and another Maryland delegate, John Francis Mercer, walked out.

In an address to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1787 and in numerous newspaper articles, Martin attacked the proposed new form of government and continued to fight ratification of the Constitution through 1788. He lamented the ascension of the national government over the states and condemned what he saw as unequal representation in Congress. Martin opposed including slaves in determining representation and believed that the absence of a jury in the Supreme Court gravely endangered freedom. At the convention, Martin complained, the aggrandizement of particular states and individuals often had been pursued more avidly than the welfare of the country. The assumption of the term "federal" by those who favored a national government also irritated Martin.


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James McHenry

James McHenry

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1753 in Ballymena, County Antrim, Ireland
Schooling: McHenry enjoyed a classical education at Dublin. In 1772, he continued schooling at Newark Academy in Delaware and then studied medicine for 2 years under the well-known Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia.

Involvement with the Constitution
McHenry missed many of the proceedings at the Philadelphia convention, in part because of the illness of his brother, and played an insubstantial part in the debates when he was present. He did, however, maintain a private journal that has been useful to posterity. He campaigned strenuously for the Constitution in Maryland and attended the state ratifying convention.


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John Francis Mercer

John Francis Mercer

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: May 17, 1759 in Stafford County, Virginia
Schooling: Mercer attended the College of William and Mary. After a brief stint in the military, he went back to the College of William and Mary studied law in 1780.

Involvement with the Constitution
Mercer attended the Constitutional Convention as part of Maryland's delegation when he was only 28 years old, the second youngest delegate in Philadelphia. Mercer was strongly opposed to centralization, and both spoke and voted against the Constitution. He and fellow Marylander Luther Martin left the proceedings before they ended.


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Massachusetts

Elbridge Gerry

Elbridge Gerry

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts
Schooling: Gerry graduated from Harvard in 1762.

Involvement with the Constitution
Gerry was one of the most vocal delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He presided as chairman of the committee that produced the Great Compromise but disliked the compromise itself. He antagonized nearly everyone by his inconsistency and, according to a colleague, "objected to everything he did not propose." At first an advocate of a strong central government, Gerry ultimately rejected and refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights and because he deemed it a threat to republicanism. He led the drive against ratification in Massachusetts and denounced the document as "full of vices." Among the vices, he listed inadequate representation of the people, dangerously ambiguous legislative powers, the blending of the executive and the legislative, and the danger of an oppressive judiciary. Gerry did see some merit in the Constitution, though, and believed that its flaws could be remedied through amendments. In 1789, after he announced his intention to support the Constitution, he was elected to the First Congress where, to the chagrin of the Antifederalists, he championed Federalist policies.


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Nathaniel Gorham

No image available.

Biography
Born: 1738 in Charlestown, Massachusetts
Schooling: Gorham's education was minimal

Involvement with the Constitution
The next year, at age 49, Gorham attended the Constitutional Convention. A moderate nationalist, he attended all the sessions and played an influential role. He spoke often, acted as chairman of the Committee of the Whole, and sat on the Committee of Detail. As a delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, he stood behind the Constitution.


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Rufus King

Rufus King

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1755 in Scarboro (Scarborough), Massachusetts (present Maine)
Schooling: At age 12, after receiving an elementary education at local schools, King studied at Dummer Academy in South Byfield, MA, and in 1777 graduated from Harvard.

Involvement with the Constitution
At age 32, King was not only one of the most youthful of the delegates at Philadelphia, but was also one of the most important. He numbered among the most capable orators. Furthermore, he attended every session. Although he came to the convention unconvinced that major changes should be made in the Articles of Confederation, his views underwent a startling transformation during the debates. With Madison, he became a leading figure in the nationalist caucus. He served with distinction on the Committee on Postponed Matters and the Committee of Style. He also took notes on the proceedings, which have been valuable to historians.


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Caleb Strong

Caleb Strong

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CP-156.)

Biography
Born: January 9, 1745 in Northampton, Massachusetts
Schooling: Strong received his college education at Harvard, from which he graduated with highest honors in 1764. Strong chose to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1772.

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, Strong counted himself among the delegates who favored a strong central government. He successfully moved that the House of Representatives should originate all money bills and sat on the drafting committee. Though he preferred a system that accorded the same rank and mode of election to both houses of Congress, he voted in favor of equal representation in the Senate and proportional in the House. Strong was called home on account of illness in his family and so missed the opportunity to sign the Constitution. However, during the Massachusetts ratifying convention, he took a leading role among the Federalists and campaigned strongly for ratification.


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New Hampshire

Nicholas Gilman

Nicholas Gilman

Image courtesy of Phillips Exeter Academy.

Biography
Born: 1755 in Exeter, New Hampshire
Schooling: Gilman received his education in local schools.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787 he represented New Hampshire at the Constitutional Convention. He did not arrive at Philadelphia until July 21, by which time much major business had already occurred. Never much of a debater, he made no speeches and played only a minor part in the deliberations. He did, however, serve on the Committee on Postponed Matters. He was also active in obtaining New Hampshire's acceptance of the Constitution and in shepherding it through the Continental Congress.


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John Langdon

John Langdon

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1741 in or near Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Schooling: Langdon's education was intermittent. He attended a local grammar school, worked as an apprentice clerk, and spent some time at sea.

Involvement with the Constitution
Langdon was forced to pay his own expenses and those of Nicholas Gilman to the Constitutional Convention because New Hampshire was unable or unwilling to pay them. The pair did not arrive at Philadelphia until late July, by which time much business had already been consummated. Thereafter, Langdon made a significant mark. He spoke more than 20 times during the debates and was a member of the committee that struck a compromise on the issue of slavery. For the most part, his sympathies lay on the side of strengthening the national government. In 1788, once again as state president (1788-89), he took part in the ratifying convention.


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New Jersey

David Brearly

David Brearly

Image courtesy of Trenton Free Public Library.

Biography
Born: 1745 in Spring Grove near Trenton
Schooling: Brearly attended but did not graduate from the nearby College of New Jersey (later Princeton).

Involvement with the Constitution
Brearly was 42 years of age when he participated in the Constitutional Convention. Although he did not rank among the leaders, he attended the sessions regularly. A follower of Paterson, who introduced the New Jersey Plan, Brearly opposed proportional representation of the states and favored one vote for each of them in Congress. He also chaired the Committee on Postponed Matters.


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Jonathan Dayton

Jonathan Dayton

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CC-7-1.)

Biography
Born: 1760 in Elizabethtown (present Elizabeth), New Jersey
Schooling: Dayton obtained a good education, graduating from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1776.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787, he was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention after the leaders of his political faction, his father and his patron, Abraham Clark, declined to attend. Dayton did not arrive at Philadelphia until June 21 but thereafter faithfully took part in the proceedings. He spoke with moderate frequency during the debates and, though objecting to some provisions of the Constitution, signed it.


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William C. Houston

No image available.

Biography
Born: Around 1746
Schooling: Houston attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) and graduated in 1768.

Involvement with the Constitution
Houston represented New Jersey at both the Annapolis and Philadelphia conventions. Though illness forced him to leave after 1 week, he did serve on a committee to consider the distribution of seats in the lower house. Houston did not sign the Constitution, but he signed the report to the New Jersey legislature.


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William Livingston

William Livingston

Image courtesy of New York Historical Society.

Biography
Born: 1723 in Albany, New York
Schooling: Livingston attended Yale and graduated in 1741.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787 Livingston was selected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, though his gubernatorial duties prevented him from attending every session. He did not arrive until June 5 and missed several weeks in July, but he performed vital committee work, particularly as chairman of the one that reached a compromise on the issue of slavery. He also supported the New Jersey Plan. In addition, he spurred New Jersey's rapid ratification of the Constitution (1787).


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William Paterson

William Paterson

Image courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court.

Biography
Born: 1745 in County Antrim, Ireland
Schooling: Paterson attended local private schools and the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). He took a B.A. in 1763 and an M.A. 3 years later.

Involvement with the Constitution
Paterson was chosen to represent New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention, which he attended only until late July. Until then, he took notes of the proceedings. More importantly, he figured prominently because of his advocacy and co-authorship of the New Jersey, or Paterson, Plan, which asserted the rights of the small states against the large. He apparently returned to the convention only to sign the final document. After supporting its ratification in New Jersey, he began a career in the new government.


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New York

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton

Image courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1757 on the island of Nevis, in the Leeward group, British West Indies
Schooling: A Presbyterian clergyman provided Hamilton with a basic education, and he learned to speak fluent French. In 1772, bearing letters of introduction, Hamilton traveled to New York City. Patrons he met there arranged for him to attend Barber's Academy at Elizabethtown (present Elizabeth), New Jersey. Late the next year, 1773, Hamilton entered King's College (later Columbia College and University) in New York City, but the Revolution interrupted his studies.

Involvement with the Constitution
Because of his interest in strengthening the central government, he represented his state at the Annapolis Convention in 1786, where he urged the calling of the Constitutional Convention. In 1787 Hamilton served in the legislature, which appointed him as a delegate to the convention. He played a surprisingly small part in the debates, apparently because he was frequently absent on legal business, his extreme nationalism put him at odds with most of the delegates, and he was frustrated by the conservative views of his two fellow delegates from New York. He did, however, sit on the Committee of Style, and he was the only one of the three delegates from his state who signed the finished document. Hamilton's part in New York's ratification the next year was substantial, though he felt the Constitution was deficient in many respects. Against determined opposition, he waged a strenuous and successful campaign, including collaboration with John Jay and James Madison in writing The Federalist.


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John Lansing, Jr.

John Lansing, Jr.

Image courtesy of Schaffer Library, Union College, Schenectady, NY.

Biography
Born: January 30, 1754 in Albany, New York
Schooling: At age 21 Lansing had completed his study of the law and was admitted to practice.

Involvement with the Constitution
Lansing went to Philadelphia as part of the New York delegation to the Constitutional Convention. As the convention progressed, Lansing became disillusioned because he believed it was exceeding its instructions. Lansing believed the delegates had gathered together simply to amend the Articles of Confederation and was dismayed at the movement to write an entirely new constitution. After 6 weeks, John Lansing and fellow New York delegate Robert Yates left the convention and explained their departure in a joint letter to New York Governor George Clinton. They stated that they opposed any system that would consolidate the United States into one government, and they had understood that the convention would not consider any such consolidation. Furthermore, warned Lansing and Yates, the kind of government recommended by the convention could not "afford that security to equal and permanent liberty which we wished to make an invariable object of our pursuit." In 1788, as a member of the New York ratifying convention, Lansing again vigorously opposed the Constitution.


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Robert Yates

No image available.

Biography
Born: January 27, 1738 in Schenectady, New York
Schooling: Yates received a classical education in New York City and later studied law with William Livingston.

Involvement with the Constitution
When he traveled to Philadelphia in May 1787 for the federal convention, he expected that the delegates would simply discuss revising the existing Articles. Yates was on the committee that debated the question of representation in the legislature, and it soon became apparent that the convention intended much more than modification of the current plan of union. On July 5, the day the committee presented its report, Yates and John Lansing (to whom Yates was related by marriage) left the proceedings. In a joint letter to Gov. George Clinton of New York, they spelled out the reasons for their early departure. They warned against the dangers of centralizing power and urged opposition to adopting the Constitution. Yates continued to attack the Constitution in a series of letters signed "Brutus" and "Sydney" and voted against ratification at the Poughkeepsie convention.


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North Carolina

William Blount

William Blount

Image courtesy of Tennessee State Museum, Tennessee Historical Society Collection.

Biography
Born: 1749 near Pamlico Sound, North Carolina
Schooling: Blount apparently received a good education.

Involvement with the Constitution
Appointed as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention at the age of 38, Blount was absent for more than a month because he chose to attend the Continental Congress on behalf of his state. He said almost nothing in the debates and signed the Constitution reluctantly - only, he said, to make it "the unanimous act of the States in Convention." Nonetheless, he favored his state's ratification of the completed document.


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William Richardson Davie

William Richardson Davie

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: June 20, 1756 in Egremont, Cumberlandshire, England
Schooling: Davie attended Queen's Museum College in Charlotte, North Carolina, and graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1776.

Involvement with the Constitution
During the Constitutional Convention Davie favored plans for a strong central government. He was a member of the committee that considered the question of representation in Congress and swung the North Carolina delegation's vote in favor of the Great Compromise. He favored election of senators and presidential electors by the legislature and insisted on counting slaves in determining representation. Though he left the convention on August 13, before its adjournment, Davie fought hard for the Constitution's ratification and took a prominent part in the North Carolina convention.


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Alexander Martin

Alexander Martin

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1740 in Hunterdon County, New Jersey
Schooling: Martin attended the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), received his degree in 1756.

Involvement with the Constitution
Of the five North Carolina delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Martin was the least strongly Federalist. He did not take an active part in the proceedings, and he left Philadelphia in late August 1787, before the Constitution was signed. Martin was considered a good politician but not suited to public debate. A colleague, Hugh Williamson, remarked that Martin needed time to recuperate after his great exertions as governor "to enable him again to exert his abilities to the advantage of the nation."


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Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr.

Richard Dobbs Spaight, Sr.

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1758 in New Bern, North Carolina
Schooling: When Spaight was orphaned at 8 years of age, his guardians sent him to Ireland, where he obtained an excellent education. He apparently graduated from Scotland's Glasgow University before he returned to North Carolina in 1778.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787, at the age of 29, Spaight joined the North Carolina delegation to the Philadelphia convention. He was not a leader but spoke on several occasions and numbered among those who attended every session. After the convention, he worked in his home state for acceptance of the Constitution.


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Hugh Williamson

Hugh Williamson

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CCD-70a.)

Biography
Born: 1735 in West Nottingham, Pennsylvania
Schooling: Hoping he would become a Presbyterian minister, his parents oriented his education toward that calling. After attending preparatory schools at New London Cross Roads, DE, and Newark, DE, he entered the first class of the College of Philadelphia (later part of the University of Pennsylvania) and took his degree in 1757. In 1764 Williamson studied medicine at Edinburgh, London, and Utrecht, eventually obtaining a degree from the University of Utrecht.

Involvement with the Constitution
Williamson was chosen as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Attending faithfully and demonstrating keen debating skill, he served on five committees, notably on the Committee on Postponed Matters, and played a significant part in the proceedings, particularly the major compromise on representation. After the convention, Williamson worked for ratification of the Constitution in North Carolina.


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Pennsylvania

George Clymer

George Clymer

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1739 in Philadelphia
Schooling: A wealthy uncle reared and informally educated Clymer.

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, where he rarely missed a meeting, he spoke seldom but effectively and played a modest role in shaping the final document.


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Thomas Fitzsimons

Image not available.

Biography
Born: 1741 in Ireland
Schooling: Not known

Involvement with the Constitution: His attendance at the Constitutional Convention was regular, but he did not make any outstanding contributions to the proceedings. He was, however, a strong nationalist.


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Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts
Schooling: Franklin received some formal education but was principally self-taught.

Involvement with the Constitution
At the Constitutional Convention, though Franklin did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes.


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Jared Ingersoll

Jared Ingersoll

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CP-130.)

Biography
Born: 1749 in New Haven, Connecticut
Schooling: Ingersoll received an excellent education and graduated from Yale in 1766. Later, he took up the study of law, and won admittance to the Pennsylvania bar.

Involvement with the Constitution
Although Ingersoll missed no sessions at the Constitutional Convention, had long favored revision of the Articles of Confederation, and as a lawyer was used to debate, he seldom spoke during the proceedings.


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Thomas Mifflin

Thomas Mifflin

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1744 in Philadelphia
Schooling: Mifflin studied at a Quaker school and then at the College of Philadelphia (later part of the University of Pennsylvania), from which he won a diploma at the age of 16.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787 he was chosen to take part in the Constitutional Convention. He attended regularly, but made no speeches and did not play a substantial role.


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Gouverneur Morris

Gouveneur Morris

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1752 in Westchester (present Bronx) County, New York
Schooling: Gouverneur was educated by private tutors and at a Huguenot school in New Rochelle. He attended King's College (later Columbia College and University) in New York City, graduating in 1768 at the age of 16. Three years later, after reading law in the city, he gained admission to the bar.

Involvement with the Constitution
Morris emerged as one of the leading figures at the Constitutional Convention. His speeches, more frequent than those by anyone else, numbered 173. Although sometimes presented in a light vein, they were usually substantive. A strong advocate of nationalism and aristocratic rule, he served on many committees, including those on postponed matters and style, and stood in the thick of the decision-making process. Above all, it was apparently he who actually drafted the Constitution.


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Robert Morris

Robert Morris

Image courtesy of Independence National Historical Park.

Biography
Born: 1734 near Liverpool, England
Schooling: Brief schooling in Philadelphia

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787, he attended the Constitutional Convention, where he sympathized with the Federalists but was, for a man of his eminence, strangely silent. Although in attendance at practically every meeting, he spoke only twice in debates and did not serve on any committees.


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James Wilson

James Wilson

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1741 or 1742 in Carskerdo, near St. Andrews, Scotland
Schooling: Wilson was educated at the universities of St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.

Involvement with the Constitution
Wilson reached the apex of his career in the Constitutional Convention (1787), where his influence was probably second only to that of Madison. Rarely missing a session, he sat on the Committee of Detail and in many other ways applied his excellent knowledge of political theory to convention problems. Only Gouverneur Morris delivered more speeches. That same year, overcoming powerful opposition, Wilson led the drive for ratification in Pennsylvania, the second state to endorse the instrument.


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South Carolina

Pierce Butler

Pierce Butler

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CCD-81a.)

Biography
Born: 1744 in County Carlow, Ireland
Schooling: Not known

Involvement with the Constitution
The next year, Butler won election to both the Continental Congress (1787-88) and the Constitutional Convention. In the latter assembly, he was an outspoken nationalist who attended practically every session and was a key spokesman for the Madison-Wilson caucus. Butler also supported the interests of southern slaveholders. He served on the Committee on Postponed Matters. On his return to South Carolina Butler defended the Constitution but did not participate in the ratifying convention.


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Charles Pinckney

Charles Pinckney

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CCD-54.)

Biography
Born: 1757 in Charleston, South Carolina
Schooling: Pinckney apparently received all his education in the city of his birth.

Involvement with the Constitution
Pinckney's role in the Constitutional Convention is controversial. Although one of the youngest delegates, he later claimed to have been the most influential one and contended he had submitted a draft that was the basis of the final Constitution. Most historians have rejected this assertion. They do, however, recognize that he ranked among the leaders. He attended full time, spoke often and effectively, and contributed immensely to the final draft and to the resolution of problems that arose during the debates. He also worked for ratification in South Carolina (1788).


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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1746 in Charleston, South Carolina
Schooling: Pinckney received tutoring in London, attended several preparatory schools, and went on to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he heard the lectures of the legal authority Sir William Blackstone and graduated in 1764. Pinckney next pursued legal training at London's Middle Temple and was accepted for admission into the English bar in 1769. He then spent part of a year touring Europe and studying chemistry, military science, and botany under leading authorities.

Involvement with the Constitution
Pinckney was one of the leaders at the Constitutional Convention. Present at all the sessions, he strongly advocated a powerful national government. His proposal that senators should serve without pay was not adopted, but he exerted influence in such matters as the power of the Senate to ratify treaties and the compromise that was reached concerning abolition of the international slave trade. After the convention, he defended the Constitution in South Carolina.


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John Rutledge

John Rutledge

Image courtesy of The J.B. Speed Art Museum.

Biography
Born: 1739 in or near Charleston, South Carolina
Schooling: He received his early education from his father, an Irish immigrant and physician, and from an Anglican minister and a tutor. After studying law at London's Middle Temple in 1760, he was admitted to English practice.

Involvement with the Constitution
One of the most influential delegates at the Constitutional Convention, where he maintained a moderate nationalist stance and chaired the Committee of Detail, he attended all the sessions, spoke often and effectively, and served on five committees. Like his fellow South Carolina delegates, he vigorously advocated southern interests.


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Virginia

John Blair

John Blair

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-GW-533b.)

Biography
Born: 1732 in Williamsburg, Virginia
Schooling: Blair graduated from the College of William and Mary and studied law at London's Middle Temple.

Involvement with the Constitution
Blair attended the Constitutional Convention religiously but never spoke or served on a committee. He usually sided with the position of the Virginia delegation. And, in the commonwealth ratifying convention, Blair helped win backing for the new framework of government.


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James Madison

James Madison

Image courtesy of the Collection of Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa.

Biography
Born: 1751 in Port Conway, King George County, Virginia
Schooling: Madison received his early education from his mother, from tutors, and at a private school. In 1771 he graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), where he demonstrated special interest in government and the law. But, considering the ministry for a career, he stayed on for a year of postgraduate study in theology.

Involvement with the Constitution
Madison was highly instrumental in the convening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He had also written extensively about deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation. Madison was clearly the preeminent figure at the convention. Some of the delegates favored an authoritarian central government; others, retention of state sovereignty; and most occupied positions in the middle of the two extremes. Madison, who was rarely absent and whose Virginia Plan was in large part the basis of the Constitution, tirelessly advocated a strong government, though many of his proposals were rejected. Despite his poor speaking capabilities, he took the floor more than 150 times, third only after Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson. Madison was also a member of numerous committees, the most important of which were those on postponed matters and style. His journal of the convention is the best single record of the event.

Madison also played a key part in guiding the Constitution through the Continental Congress. Playing a lead in the ratification process in Virginia, too, Madison defended the document against such powerful opponents as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee. In the U.S. House of Representatives (1789-97), Madison helped frame and ensure passage of the Bill of Rights. He also assisted in organizing the executive department and creating a system of federal taxation.


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George Mason

George Mason

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CP-121.)

Biography
Born: 1725
Schooling: Mason's education was profoundly shaped by the contents of his uncle's 1500-volume library, one-third of which concerned the law.

Involvement with the Constitution
Virginia's Declaration of Rights, framed by Mason in 1776, was widely copied in other colonies, served as a model for Jefferson in the first part of the Declaration of Independence, and was the basis for the federal Constitution's Bill of Rights.

At Philadelphia in 1787 Mason was one of the five most frequent speakers at the Constitutional Convention. He exerted great influence, but during the last 2 weeks of the convention he decided not to sign the document.

Mason's refusal prompts some surprise, especially since his name is so closely linked with constitutionalism. He explained his reasons at length, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. He then discussed the provisions of the Constitution point by point, beginning with the House of Representatives. The House he criticized as not truly representative of the nation, the Senate as too powerful. He also claimed that the power of the federal judiciary would destroy the state judiciaries, render justice unattainable, and enable the rich to oppress and ruin the poor. These fears led Mason to conclude that the new government was destined to either become a monarchy or fall into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy.

Two of Mason's greatest concerns were incorporated into the Constitution. The Bill of Rights answered his primary objection, and the 11th amendment addressed his call for strictures on the judiciary.


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James McClurg

No image available.

Biography
Born: 1746 near Hampton, Virginia
Schooling: McClurg attended the College of William and Mary and graduated in 1762. McClurg then studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and received his degree in 1770. He pursued postgraduate medical studies in Paris and London.

Involvement with the Constitution
When Richard Henry Lee and Patrick Henry declined to serve as representatives to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, McClurg was asked to join Virginia's delegation. In Philadelphia, McClurg advocated a life tenure for the President and argued for the ability of the federal government to override state laws. Even as some at the convention expressed apprehension of the powers allotted to the presidency, McClurg championed greater independence of the executive from the legislative branch. He left the convention in early August, however, and did not sign the Constitution.


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Edmund Randolph

Edmund Randolph

Image courtesy of National Archives, Records of Exposition, Anniversary, and Memorial Commissions (148-CCD-40.)

Biography
Born: August 10, 1753 in Tazewell Hall, Williamsburg, Virginia
Schooling: Edmund attended the College of William and Mary and continued his education by studying the law under his father's tutelage.

Involvement with the Constitution
Four days after the opening of the federal convention in Philadelphia, on May 29, 1787, Edmund Randolph presented the Virginia Plan for creating a new government. This plan proposed a strong central government composed of three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial, and enabled the legislative to veto state laws and use force against states that failed to fulfill their duties. After many debates and revisions, including striking the section permitting force against a state, the Virginia Plan became in large part the basis of the Constitution.

Though Randolph introduced the highly centralized Virginia Plan, he fluctuated between the Federalist and Antifederalist points of view. He sat on the Committee of Detail that prepared a draft of the Constitution, but by the time the document was adopted, Randolph declined to sign. He felt it was not sufficiently republican, and he was especially wary of creating a one-man executive. He preferred a three-man council since he regarded "a unity in the Executive" to be the "foetus of monarchy." In a Letter . . . on the Federal Constitution, dated October 10, 1787, Randolph explained at length his objections to the Constitution. The old Articles of Confederation were inadequate, he agreed, but the proposed new plan of union contained too many flaws. Randolph was a strong advocate of the process of amendment. He feared that if the Constitution were submitted for ratification without leaving the states the opportunity to amend it, the document might be rejected and thus close off any hope of another plan of union. However, he hoped that amendments would be permitted and second convention called to incorporate the changes.

By the time of the Virginia convention for ratification, Randolph supported the Constitution and worked to win his state's approval of it. He stated his reason for his switch: "The accession of eight states reduced our deliberations to the single question of Union or no Union."


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George Washington

George Washington

Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Biography
Born: 1732 in Wakefield Plantation, Virginia
Schooling: Washington's education was rudimentary, probably being obtained from tutors but possibly also from private schools, and he learned surveying.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787, encouraged by many of his friends, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention, whose success was immeasurably influenced by his presence and dignity. Following ratification of the new instrument of government in 1788, the electoral college unanimously chose him as the first President.


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George Wythe

George Wythe

Image courtesy of William and Mary College.

Biography
Born: 1726 in Elizabeth City County, Virginia
Schooling: He learned Latin and Greek from his well-educated mother, and he probably attended for a time a grammar school operated by the College of William and Mary.

Involvement with the Constitution
In 1787 he attended the Constitutional Convention but played an insignificant role. He left the proceedings early and did not sign the Constitution. The following year, however, he was one of the Federalist leaders at the Virginia ratifying convention. There he presided over the Committee of the Whole and offered the resolution for ratification.


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