The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday is the Framers’ reasoning behind each decision that went into the writing of the U.S. Constitution. We live at a time when Americans of all political leanings think that they understand the Constitution but have little actual knowledge of the Constitution itself - let alone why it says what it says. There are some people, however, who are digging deeper into the reasoning process of the Framers.
According to Rodney K. Smith at LDS Magazine, scholars at Pembroke College at Oxford University in England and the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah, have formed a partnership that is known as The Quill Project. The participants desire to shed “light [on] the Constitution as drafted in the Constitutional Convention.” They hope to understand “each step in the process, each scratching of a framer’s quill during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, that led to the final text of the Constitution.”
Throughout the course of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, there were approximately 3,000 decisions made that led to the final document, the Constitution as ratified by the American people. Through a groundbreaking research platform, one can now essentially trace each decision that led to the final wording of the Constitution. In short, by tracing each successful motion, one can better understand the meaning of each provision that was included in the Constitution. Professor Nicholas Cole, a renowned constitutional historian at Pembroke College, adapted bespoke, an award-winning software, to capture the intricate series of decisions that led to the final text of the Constitution. It took Dr. Cole nearly two years to develop the software, so that it could be applied to careful examination of the workings of the Constitutional Convention.
To track each step in the process, including both accepted and rejected versions of the various provisions of the Constitution, however, required more than software that could be adapted to that end – it required hours of hard work tracing each decision, each lifting of the quills of the framers so to speak – and then integrating those decisions into a single accessible web source. After working with students at other institutions and with some gentle persuasion from President Matthew Holland at Utah Valley University, Dr. Cole turned to students at Utah Valley University to work on the project. As a result of the decision, the labor was largely performed by Wood Assistants, undergraduate students working at the Center of Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University, and their work ethic and intelligence has been repeatedly praised by Dr. Cole.
The result was serendipitous to say the least – today, we can dispense with pet theories or partisan versions of constitutional truth and go directly to the source to carefully trace the genesis of each provision in the Constitution. We can also examine failed motions and efforts. In both instances, light is shed on the actual meaning of each provision of the Constitution. As such, Quill directly addresses the mission of the Center for Constitutional Studies at UVU – increasing constitutional literacy.
The Quill Project may bring some reality to questions about the Constitution. American will no longer be left to question the Framers’ minds about what is in the Constitution. We can go to this project and know exactly what they were thinking and why they wrote the Constitution as they did. This is information that Americans need in order to stop contention.