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EIU Teaching with Primary Sources

Constitution Day

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 A Closer Look at the Constitution | Resources for Teachers | One Day in the Creation of the Constitution

One Day in the Creation of the Constitution

This section features interactive images of the constitution and looks specifically at one day in the creation of the constitution. Although a final document is very important, we can learn a great deal about people and culture by looking at the creative process and edits such as words that are omitted, substituted and added. 

Our main feature is the “Report of the Committee of Style” that was printed and distributed on September 12, 1787. We will take a closer look at the marginal notes by George Washington during debates on that day.

Washington’s Notes

These unique pages by EIU TPS look at edits that George Washington made only five days prior to the final approval of the document. You are welcome to view the pages from Washington’s diary and as you click on the edits, an explanation will appear. Once you have read the explanation, click on the "close" link in the upper right corner of the pop-up window.

According to the American Memory page To Form a More Perfect Union:

“The Constitution Convention of 1787 was called to revise the ailing Articles of Confederation. However, the Convention soon abandoned the Articles, drafting a new Constitution with a much stronger national government. Nine states had to approve the Constitution before it could go into effect. After a long and often bitter debate, eleven states ratified the Constitution, which instituted a new form of government for the United States.” On July 26, 1787, after two months of fierce debate over the structure and powers of a new federal government, the Constitutional Convention was ready to commit its resolutions to writing. Appointing a "committee of detail" to draft a written constitution, the Convention adjourned until August 6.

Page 1 of Washington's edits

Constitution, Printed, with Marginal Notes by George Washington.

To prepare themselves, the committee first studied the Convention's resolutions, state constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, and other applicable reports and documents. Then, Edmund Randolph of Virginia wrote out a rough draft of a constitution, which the committee then discussed. James Wilson revised Randolph's draft, the committee reviewed it, and a clean copy was sent to prominent Philadelphia printers John Dunlap and David Claypoole. The Convention told them to print just enough copies for use by the delegates; the draft was to be kept secret to avoid controversy.

After five weeks of debate over the committee of detail's draft Constitution, the Constitutional Convention appointed a committee of style to prepare a final version; Gouverneur Morris, later known as the "penman of the Constitution," did most of the work. On September 17, 1787, after several days of further revision, the Constitutional Convention voted in favor of the Constitution. The states were left to accept or reject this new plan of government. Delegate James Madison, one of the Constitution's most fervent advocates, felt that the success or failure of the American Constitution would decide forever the fate of republican government."

Additional Resources

Madison’s Notes

Two thirds of the way down the page is a link to Madison’s copy of the same document with the heading "A Typographical Error."

Broadside Report of the Committee of Style September 12, 1787

This feature within the American Treasures of the Library of Congress in the Constitution of the United States in the Top Treasures Gallery.

We, the people

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union...

The Records of the Federal Convention

The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 [Farrand's Records, Volume 2] WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 1787.

The Debates in the Several State Conventions

The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution [Elliot's Debates, Volume 1] Wednesday, September 12, 1787.


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