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Questions and Answers Pertaining
to the Constitution
Q. In what language was Magna Carta written, and to whom was it addressed?
A. It was written in Latin, and was addressed "To the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justiciaries, foresters, sheriffs, reeves, ministers, and all bailiffs and faithful subjects."
Q. What part of the world was first called America?
A. The name "America" was first applied to Central Brazil, in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, who claimed its discovery. It was first applied to the whole known western world by Mercator, the geographer, in 1538.
Q. When did the phrase, "The United States of America," originate?
A. The first known use of the formal term "United States of America" was in the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Paine in February 1776 had written of "Free and independent States of America." The terms "United Colonies," "United Colonies of America," "United Colonies of North America," and also "States," were used in 1775 and 1776.
Q. How were deputies to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 chosen?
Q. Were there any restrictions as to the number of deputies a state might send?
Q. Which state did not send deputies to the Constitutional Convention? A. Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.
Q. Were the other twelve states represented throughout the Constitutional Convention?
A. No. Two of the deputies from New York left on July 10, 1787, and after that Hamilton, the third deputy, when he was in attendance did not attempt to cast the vote of his state. The New Hampshire deputies did not arrive until July 23, 1787; so that there never was a vote of more than eleven states.
Q. Where and when did the deputies to the Constitutional Convention assemble?
A. In Philadelphia, in the State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed. The meeting was called for May 14, 1787, but a quorum was not present until May 25.
Q. About how large was the population of Philadelphia?
A. The census of 1790 gave it 28,000; including its suburbs, about 42,000.
Q. What was the average age of the deputies to the Constitutional Convention?
A. About 44.
Q. Who were the oldest and youngest members of the Constitutional Convention?
A. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, then 81; and Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, 26.
Q. How many lawyers were members of the Constitutional Convention? A. There were probably 34, out of 55, who had at least made a study of the law.
Q. From what classes of society were the members of the Constitutional Convention drawn?
A. In addition to the lawyers, there were soldiers, planters, educators, ministers, physicians, financiers, and merchants.
Q. How many members of the Constitutional Convention had been members of the Continental Congress?
A. Forty, and two others were later members.
Q. Were there any members of the Constitutional Convention who never attended any of its meetings?
A. There were nineteen who were never present. Some of these declined, others merely neglected the duty.
Q. Were the members of the Constitutional Convention called "delegates" or "deputies," and is there any distinction between the terms?
A. Some of the states called their representatives "delegates"; some, "deputies"; and some, "commissioners," the terms being often mixed. In the Convention itself they were always referred to as "deputies." Washington, for example, signed his name as "deputy from Virginia." The point is simply that whatever they called themselves, they were representatives of their states. The general practice of historians is to describe them as "dele
Q. Who was called the "Sage of the Constitutional Convention"?
A. Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.
Q. Who was called the "Father of the Constitution"?
A. James Madison of Virginia, because in point of erudition and actual contributions to the formation of the Constitution he was preeminent.
Q. Was Thomas Jefferson a member of the Constitutional Convention?
Q. What did Thomas Jefferson have to do with framing the Constitution?
A. George Washington, chosen unanimously.
Q. How long did it take to frame the Constitution?
A. It was drafted in fewer than one hundred working days.
Q. How much was paid for the journal kept by Madison during the Constitutional Convention?
QUESTIONS ON THE CONVENTION
A. President Jackson secured from Congress in 1837 an appropriation of $30,000 with which to buy Madison's journal and other papers left by him. Q. Was there harmony in the Constitutional Convention?
A. Serious conflicts arose at the outset, especially between those representing the small and large states.
Q. Who presented the Virginia Plan?
A. Edmund Randolph.
Q. What was the Connecticut Compromise?
A. This was the first great compromise of the Constitutional Convention, whereby it was agreed that in the Senate each state should have two members, and that in the House the number of representatives was to be based upon population. Thus the rights of the small states were safeguarded, and the majority of the population was to be fairly represented.
Q. Who actually wrote the Constitution?
A. In none of the relatively meager records of the Constitutional Convention is the literary authorship of any part of the Constitution definitely established. The deputies debated proposed plans until, on July 24, 1787, substantial agreement having been reached, a Committee of Detail was appointed, consisting of John Rutledge of South Carolina, Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Nathaniel Gorham of Massachusetts, Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, and James Wilson of Pennsylvania, who on August 6 reported a draft which included a preamble and twenty-three articles, embodying fiftyseven sections. Debate continued until September 8, when a new Committee of Style was named to revise the draft. This committee included William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Alexander Hamilton of New York, Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, James Madison of Virginia, and Rufus King of Massachusetts, and they reported the draft in approximately its final shape on September 12. The actual literary form is believed to be largely that of Morris, and the chief testimony for this is in the letters and papers of Madison, and Morris' claim. However, the document in reality was builded slowly and laboriously, with not a piece of material included until it had been shaped and approved. The preamble was written by the Committee of Style.
Q. Who was the penman who, after the text of the Constitution had been agreed on, engrossed it prior to the signing?
A. Jacob Shallus who, at the time, was assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and whose office was in the same building in which the Convention was held.
Q. Does his name appear on the document or in any of the papers pertaining to its preparation?
A. No. In the financial memoranda there is an entry of $30 for "clerks employed to transcribe & engross."
Q. When and how was the identity of the engrosser determined?
A. In 1937, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Constitution. His identity was determined after a long and careful search of collateral public documents.
Q. Where did Shallus do the engrossing?
A. There is no record of this, but probably in Independence Hall.
Q. Did he realize the importance of the work he had done?
A. Probably not; when he died, in 1796, the Constitution had not yet
come to be the firmly established set of governmental principles it since has become.
Q. Did some of the deputies to the Constitutional Convention refuse to sign the Constitution?
A. Only thirty-nine signed. Fourteen deputies had departed for their homes, and three-Randolph and Mason of Virginia and Gerry of Massachusetts-refused to sign. One of the signatures is that of an absent deputy, John Dickinson of Delaware, added at his request by George Read, who also was from Delaware.
Q. How can it be said that the signing of the Constitution was unanimous, when the deputies of only twelve states signed and some delegates refused to sign?
A. The signatures attest the "Unanimous Consent of the States present." The voting was by states, and the vote of each state that of a majority of its deputies. Hamilton signed this attestation for New York, though, as he was the only deputy of the state present, he had not been able to cast the vote of his state for the consent, only eleven states voting on the final question. There is an even greater discrepancy about the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Some seven or eight members present on July 4 never signed; seven signers, including Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who proposed the resolution of independence, were not present on the day; and eight other signers were not members of Congress until after July 4.
Q. Did George Washington sign the Declaration of Independence?
A. No. He had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army more than a year before and was at the time with the army in New York City.
Q. Where is the original signed Constitution?
A. On the second floor of the Library of Congress the original Constitution of the United States and the original Declaration of Independence are on permanent exhibit.
Q. What are the exact measurements of the originals of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution of the United States?
A. The Declaration of Independence: 29% in. by 24 in.; The Constitution: four sheets, approximately 28 in. by 23% in. each.
Q. How many words are there in the texts of the great state papers, and how long does it take to read them?
A. The Constitution has 4,543 words, including the signatures but not the certificate on the interlineations; and takes about half an hour to read. The Amendments have 2,214 words and they can be read in about half the time the Constitution takes. The Declaration of Independence has 1,458 words, with the signatures, but is slower reading, as it takes over ten minutes. The Farewell Address has 7,641 words and requires forty-five minutes to read. Q. What party names were given to those who favored ratification and to those who opposed it?
A. Those who favored ratification were called Federalists; those who opposed, Antifederalists.
Q. In ratifying the Constitution, did the people vote directly?
A. No. Ratification was by special state conventions (Art. VII).
Q. The vote of how many states was necessary to ratify the Constitution?
A. Nine (Art. VII).
QUESTIONS ON RATIFICATION
Q. In what order did the states ratify the Constitution?
A. In the following order: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York. After Washington had been inaugurated, North Carolina and Rhode Island ratified. For dates and votes, see the table on p. 60. Q. After the Constitution was submitted for ratification, where did the greatest contests occur?
A. In Massachusetts, Virginia, and New York.
Q. In each instance what was the vote?
A. New York ratified the Constitution by a majority of three votes30 to 27; Massachusetts by 187 to 168; and Virginia by 89 to 79. See the table on p. 60.
Q. In the course of ratification, how many amendments were offered by the state conventions?
A. Seventy-eight; exclusive of Rhode Island's twenty-one, and those demanded by the first convention in North Carolina. There were many others offered which were considered necessary as items of a Bill of Rights. Professor Ames gives 124 as the whole number, inclusive of those of Rhode Island and North Carolina and the Bills of Rights. Various of these covered the same topics.
Q. When did the United States government go into operation under the Constitution?
A. The Constitution became binding upon nine states by the ratification of the ninth state, New Hampshire, June 21, 1788. Notice of this ratification was received by Congress on July 2, 1788. On September 13, 1788, Congress adopted a resolution declaring that electors should be appointed in the ratifying states on the first Wednesday in January, 1789; that the electors vote for President on the first Wednesday in February, 1789; and that "the first Wednesday in March next [March 4, 1789] be the time and the present seat of Congress the place for commencing proceedings under the said constitution." The Convention had also suggested "that after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected." The Constitution left with the states the control over the election of congressmen, and Congress said nothing about this in its resolution; but the states proceeded to provide for it as well as for the appointment of electors. On March 3, 1789, the old Confederation went out of existence and on March 4 the new government of the United States began legally to function, according to a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States (Owings v. Speed, 5 Wheat. 420); however, it had no practical existence until April 6, when first the presence of quorums in both houses permitted organization of Congress. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as President of the United States, so on that date the executive branch of the government under the Constitution became operative. But it was not until February 2, 1790, that the Supreme Court, as head of the third branch of the government, organized and held its first session; so that is the date when our government under the Constitution became fully operative.
Q. Did Washington receive the unanimous vote of the electors in his first election as President?