The creation of the Constitution of the United States was a miracle and one of the most influential events in the history of mankind concerning the liberty. John Adams described the Constitutional Convention as “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.” Jesus Christ revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that He “established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80).
Matthew Spalding described this creation in a chapter in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution entitled “The Formation of the Constitution.” Much of the information in this essay comes from his chapter.
The battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay; they were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. By June 1776 Americans were clamoring for independence from Great Britain. At the Second Continental Congress Virginian Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution for the colonies to cut their political alliances with their mother country, make alliances with foreign nations, and draft a plan of confederation. The results of this resolution were the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Franco-American Alliance of 1778, and the Articles of Confederation (proposed in 1777 and ratified in 1781).
The Articles of Confederation proved to be “awkward at best and unworkable at worst. Each state governed itself through elected representatives, and the state representatives in turn elected a weak national government. There was no independent executive, and the Congress lacked authority to impose taxes to cover national expenses. Because all thirteen colonies had to ratify amendments, one state’s refusal prevented structural reform; nine of thirteen states had to approve important legislation, which meant five states could thwart any major proposal. And although the Congress could negotiate treaties with foreign powers, all treaties had to be ratified by the states” (p. 7).
By the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the Articles were obviously not capable of governing the new nation. George Washington considered the system to be “a shadow without the substance.” Spalding wrote, “Weakness in international affairs and in the face of continuing European threats in North America, the inability to enforce the peace treaty or collect enough taxes to pay foreign creditors, and helplessness in quelling domestic disorder, such as Shays’s Rebellion – all intensified the drive for a stronger national government” (p. 7).
Delegates from all the states except Rhode Island met in a place now called Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from May 25 to September 17, 1787. Spalding called the group “impressive”; Thomas Jefferson (who did not attend) called the gathering “an assembly of demigods” (p. 8).
George Washington at first declined the opportunity to be a part of the group; he later decided to attend and was chosen to be the president of the Convention. He led the Virginia delegation to Pennsylvania and presided over the group while they waited for a quorum of delegates to arrive. While they waited, the men from Virginia met “to consider strategy and the reform proposals that would become the plan presented at the outset of the Convention.”
The Convention had three basic rules: (1) voting was to be done by state with each state having one vote; (2) delegates were to maintain “proper decorum” at all times, and (3) the proceedings were to be kept completely secret. “Free and open discussion and debate” were encouraged.” James Madison kept “detailed notes” that became the “best records of the debate”; the notes were not published until 1840 because of the pledge of secrecy.
The “Virginia Plan” was introduced immediately after the rules of the Convention were established. From that beginning, the delegates created the miraculous Constitution of the United States. Spalding concluded his chapter thusly.
“When the Constitutional Convention assembled on the morning of September 17, 1787, the completed document was read aloud to the delegates for one last time. Thereupon Benjamin Franklin, the eighty-one-year-old patriarch of the group, rose to speak. He declared his support for the new Constitution - `with all its faults, if they are such’ – because he thought a new government was necessary for the young nation. Franklin continued:
“`I doubt too 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, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies. … Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best.’
“As the delegates came forward, one at a time, to sign their names to the final document, Madison recorded Franklin’s final comment, just before the Constitutional Convention was dissolved. Referring to the sun painted on the back of Washington’s chair, Franklin said that he had “often in the course of the Session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that 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.’” Spalding added a note from Washington’s private diary where he described the Constitution as a “momentous work” (pp. 11-12).