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Constitutional Convention

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noun
the convention in Philadelphia (1787) of representatives from each of the former Colonies, except Rhode Island, at which the Constitution of the United States was framed.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

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What is the Constitutional Convention?

The Constitutional Convention was a formal meeting held in 1787 for the purpose of creating a constitution for the United States.

The Constitution of the United States is the document that serves as the fundamental law of the country. A convention, in this context, is a meeting or assembly at which politicians discuss political concerns.

In 1787, the newly independent colonies appointed delegates to meet in Philadelphia to fix the problems with the Articles of Confederation, a document that had created a very weak national government. This meeting is now known as the Constitutional Convention. General George Washington led the convention, and many prominent Founding Fathers attended, including Benjamin Franklin and James Madison.

Rather than simply fix the Articles of Confederation, the attendees threw out the entire document and began working on a new one. The result was the Constitution of the United States, a document that established federal law, organized the federal government into three separate branches, and gave many powers to the federal government. The United States has had a strong, but limited, federal government ever since.

Several important issues were debated at length and eventually settled during the Constitutional Convention. These included the establishment of Congress, the creation of the office of the presidency, and an agreement that the Bill of Rights would be created following the convention. These decisions would be made law with the eventual signing of the Constitution.

Why is Constitutional Convention important?

Officially, the Constitutional Convention lasted from May 1787 until the actual signing of the Constitution in September 1787. Between those two dates, the attendees spent most of the time fiercely arguing and debating.

The main issue that would have to be settled during the Constitutional Convention was the division of power between the federal government and the states. The federal government created by the Articles of Confederation was considered much too weak, but many delegates feared giving the federal government too much power. They didn’t want to replace a tyrannical British government with a tyrannical American government.

As a result, delegates reached several compromises during the Constitutional Convention. They agreed on a congress that would satisfy the requests of both the small and large states by establishing a House of Representatives that would give more representation to the more populous states and a Senate that would give more representation to the less populous states.

Additionally, the Constitution would give a number of powers to the federal government but would also give the states a large amount of independence to govern their own citizens and pass their own laws.

After the debates finally finished, the newly created Constitution of the United States was signed by 39 delegates. It would eventually be ratified by state conventions on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the necessary ninth state to vote in favor of it.

Did you know … ?

Rhode Island was the only state not to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. One reason was that Rhode Island opposed any constitution that didn’t guarantee religious freedom to the states. Rhode Island’s concern would later be addressed by the right to freedom of religion included in the First Amendment.

What are real-life examples of Constitutional Convention?

Source: https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution/how-did-it-happen

Pictured above is the painting Washington as Statesman at the Constitutional Convention by Junius Brutus Stearns (1856). The painting depicts George Washington leading the Constitutional Convention.

Today, the Constitutional Convention is remembered as a very important event in American history.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

The Constitutional Convention was held to discuss amendments to the Constitution.

How to use Constitutional Convention in a sentence

Cultural definitions for Constitutional Convention

Constitutional Convention

The gathering that drafted the Constitution of the United States in 1787; all states were invited to send delegates. The convention, meeting in Philadelphia, designed a government with separate legislative, executive, and judicial branches. It established Congress as a lawmaking body with two houses: each state is given two representatives in the Senate, whereas representation in the House of Representatives is based on population.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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