What did the Framers think when the Philadelphia Convention ended?
The Constitution has been described as "a bundle of compromises." As you have seen, such prominent features of the Constitution
as the different plans for representation in the House and the Senate and the method of selecting the president were settled
by compromise. Compromise, however, means that everyone gets less than they want. There were enough compromises in the completed
Constitution that nearly every delegate could find something he did not like. During the four months the delegates had spent
putting the Constitution together, there were some strong disagreements. Some had walked out of the convention. Three refused
to sign the finished document.
Benjamin Franklin argued in support of the Constitution. George Mason argued against it. Mason was one of the three
delegates remaining until the end of the convention who refused to sign the document.
How did Franklin defend the work of the convention?
On the last day of the convention, September 17, 1787, Benjamin Franklin prepared a speech intended to persuade all the
delegates to sign the completed Constitution. The speech was read by James Wilson, because Franklin's age and illness made
him too weak to deliver it himself.
"I confess that there are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve.... [But]
the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.... In these
sentiments...I agree with this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary
for us...[and] I doubt...whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you
assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices,
their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect
production be expected? It therefore astonishes me...to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does....
Thus I consent...to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.... If
every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it...we might prevent its being
generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects and great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among
foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from a real or apparent unanimity.... On the whole...I cannot help expressing
a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me on this occasion doubt a little
of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity put his name to this instrument."
Why did George Mason object to the Constitution?
Less than a week before the convention ended, George Mason wrote a list of objections on his copy of the draft of the
Constitution. The list was later printed as a pamphlet during the ratification debate. The following are some of his more
- The Constitution does not contain a Bill of Rights.
- Because members of the Senate are selected by state legislatures, it means that they are not representatives of the
people or answerable to them. They have great powers, such as the right to approve the appointment of ambassadors and treaties
recommended by the president. They also have the power to try the president and other members of the government in cases of
impeachment. These powers place the senators in such close connection with the president that together they will destroy any
balance in the government, and do whatever they please with the rights and liberties of the people.
- The national courts have been given so much power that they can destroy the judicial branches of the state governments
by overruling them. If this were to happen, and the only courts available were federal courts, most people would not be able
to afford to have their cases heard in these courts, because they would need to travel a great distance. Rich people would
have an advantage that would enable them to oppress and ruin the poor.
- The Constitution does not provide for a council to serve as advisers to the president. Any safe and regular government
has always included such a council. Such a council would take the place of the Senate in advising the president on appointments
and treaties, and the head of the council would take the place of the vice president. Without it, the president will not get
proper advice, and will usually be advised by flattering and obedient favorites; or he will become a tool of the Senate.
- The president of the United States has the unlimited power to grant pardons for crimes, including treason. He may
sometimes use this power to protect people whom he has secretly encouraged to commit crimes, and keep them from being punished.
In this way he can prevent the discovery of his own guilt.
- The Constitution says that all treaties are the supreme law of the land. Since they can be made by the president
with the approval of the Senate, together they have an exclusive legislative power in this area. This means they can act without
the approval of the House of Representatives, the only branch of the legislature that is directly answerable to the people.
- The Constitution only requires a majority vote in Congress, instead of a two-thirds vote, to make all commercial
and navigation laws. The economic interests of the five southern states, however, are totally different from those of the
eight northern states, which will have a majority in both houses of Congress. Requiring only a majority vote means that Congress
may make laws favoring the merchants of the northern and eastern states, at the expense of the agricultural interests of the
southern states. This could ruin the southern states' economies.
- Because the Constitution gives Congress the power to make any laws it thinks are "necessary and proper" to carry
out its responsibilities, there is no adequate limitation on its powers. Congress could grant monopolies in trade and commerce,
create new crimes, inflict severe or unusual punishments, and extend its powers as far as it wants. As a result, the powers
of the state legislatures and the liberties of the people could be taken from them.
Mason also had made other criticisms of the Constitution during the convention. Some were accepted by the Convention; others
were incorporated in the Bill of Rights, which was added in 1791.
What changes in the Constitution would have satisfied George Mason's objections?
How did Franklin describe the significance of the convention?
The final entry that James Madison made in his notes on the convention describes the scene as the delegates were signing
the document they hoped would become the Constitution of the United States.
"Whilst the last members were signing it, Doctor Franklin looking toward the President's Chair, at the
back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him that Painters had found it difficult
to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have, said he, often in the course of the Session...looked at that
[sun] behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness
to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun."
Write the Questions along with the answers to the following.
What do you think?
- Describe Benjamin Franklin's attitude toward the Constitution. What reasons did he give for his view?
- What changes
in the Constitution would have satisfied George Mason's objections?
- Why is the Constitution sometimes described as "a bundle of compromises"?
- What was Benjamin Franklin's opinion of the Constitution crafted by the Framers?
- Why did George Mason refuse to sign the Constitution?