The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article VII, Clause 2: “Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names….” This is the final clause in the Constitution itself, just before the names of the signers.
There were about sixty-five individuals invited to take part in the Constitutional Convention, and fifty-five men attended the Convention at one time or another. When it came time to sign the final document, only thirty-nine delegates signed their names. The names are grouped by state except for that of George Washington; as the President of the convention and deputy from Virginia, Washington was the first to sign the Constitution and did so separate from his state delegates.
Matthew Spalding of The Heritage Foundation explained the events that took place at the end of the Constitutional Convention: “Two days before the end of the Constitutional Convention, just before the final vote on the completed document, three delegates voiced objections to the new Constitution. Edmund Randolph of Virginia (who had introduced the Virginia Plan) thought the Constitution was not sufficiently republican, and moved that there should be another convention to address amendments to be proposed by the states. George Mason, also of Virginia, seconded the motion, arguing that without significant changes the new government would end in either monarchy or a tyrannical aristocracy. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts feared the powers of Congress were too broad; he thought the best that could be done was to provide for a second general convention. Then the two questions were put to a vote, the eleven states present (Rhode Island had not sent a delegation, and New York’s had left) all voted against a second convention and then all voted in favor of the final text of the Constitution. The document was then ordered engrossed, or formally written, in preparation for endorsement.
“When the Convention reconvened on September 17, after the final reading of the document, Benjamin Franklin delivered an address (read by James Wilson) strongly endorsing the Constitution despite any perceived imperfections. Hoping to gain the support of critics and create a sense of common accord, Franklin then proposed, and the Convention agreed, that the Constitution be signed by the delegates as individual witnesses of `the unanimous consent of the states present.’
"Thus the signers subscribed their names `In witness’ to what was `Done in Convention,’ and, with the exception of George Washington … the names are grouped by state. As a result, the document suggests the unanimity of the Declaration of Independence ….
“In the end, Randolph, Mason, and Elbridge Gerry did not sign the Constitution…. The arrangement did allow Alexander Hamilton to sign as a witness for New York, even though the rest of his delegation had already departed.” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 301.)