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On May 14, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention begin to assemble in Philadelphia to confront a daunting task: the peaceful overthrow of the new American government as defined by the Article of Confederation. … No longer were the delegates gathered with the aim of tweaking trade agreements.
They wanted to create a government that would protect the rights of the people. They aimed for a strong but limited government. As James Madison wrote, ‘you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. ‘
The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia met between May and September of 1787 to address the problems of the weak central government that existed under the Articles of Confederation.
Federal Powers. A central issue at the Convention was whether the federal government or the states would have more power. Many delegates believed that the federal government should be able to overrule state laws, but others feared that a strong federal government would oppress their citizens.
The delegates generally agreed on the need for a separate executive independent of the legislature. (The executive would be called the “president.”) And they also agreed on giving the president the power to veto laws but only if his veto was subject to an override.
Those who did not attend included Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Samuel Adams and, John Hancock. In all, 55 delegates attended the Constitutional Convention sessions, but only 39 actually signed the Constitution.
Although the Convention had been officially called to revise the existing Articles of Confederation, many delegates had much bigger plans. Men like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wanted to create a new government rather than fix the existing one.
A convention of delegates from all the states except Rhode Island met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May of 1787. Known as the Constitutional Convention, at this meeting it was decided that the best solution to the young country’s problems was to set aside the Articles of Confederation and write a new constitution.
The delegates arrived at the convention with instructions to revise the Articles of Confederation. The biggest problem the convention needed to solve was the federal government’s inability to levy taxes. That weakness meant that the burden of paying back debt from the Revolutionary War fell on the states.
The major debates were over representation in Congress, the powers of the president, how to elect the president (Electoral College), slave trade, and a bill of rights.
The delegates included many of the leading figures of the period. Among them were George Washington, who was elected to preside, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, John Rutledge, Charles Pinckney, Oliver Ellsworth, and Gouverneur Morris.
Rhode Island was the only state not to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
Increasing power of the national government was the main issue for why possible delegates didn’t go to the Constitutional Convention.
The weakness of the Articles of Confederation was that Congress was not strong enough to enforce laws or raise taxes, making it difficult for the new nation to repay their debts from the Revolutionary War.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 faced challenges regarding representation in the legislature, the issue of slavery, and the selection and powers of the chief executive (president) that they resolved through compromise.