Excerpt from The Summer of 1787 by David O. Stewart, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Summer of 1787

The Men Who Invented the Constitution

by David O. Stewart

The Summer of 1787
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 368 pages
    May 2008, 368 pages

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General Washington arrived second, having taken five days to cover the 140 miles from Mount Vernon in his own carriage, driven by his slaves. The contrast with Madison's quiet entry into Philadelphia was stark.

At midday on May 13, the General was at Mrs. Withy's Inn in Chester, south of the city, dining with former army colleagues. The party pressed on to a greeting by the Philadelphia Light Horse, nattily turned out in white britches, high boots, and black and silver hats. The troopers escorted the hero over a floating bridge that spanned the Schuylkill River. An artillery company fired a thirteen-gun salute (once for each state), church bells pealed, and cheering crowds lined the streets despite what the Pennsylvania Herald called "the badness of the weather." It was another demonstration, if one was needed, that it was within the General's power to be an American Caesar.

Like Madison, Washington had taken rooms with Mrs. House. Alighting at her establishment, he was met by the financier Robert Morris and his wife, who prevented the General from unloading his luggage. Washington had declined the Morrises' written offer of lodging during the Convention, but they would not accept his refusal in person. They bundled the General to their home, acclaimed the finest in the city, a short walk away. Washington did not tarry there, but immediately set off to pay his own respects to Dr. Franklin. Along that four-block jaunt, he shook hands with Philadelphians, who cheered and gaped at the tall man with such an impressive bearing.

Though the Morrises' intervention meant that Madison and Washington would not share the same roof, the studious younger man must have felt a particular satisfaction in the General's arrival. Applying the General's stature to Madison's strategy, they had formed an effective partnership in bringing the Convention to pass. Madison was relying on that partnership to continue through the summer. Their challenges would increase as Philadelphia filled with delegates who had different visions of the nation to be formed, and different interests to protect.

On the next morning, May 14, Washington and Madison walked the short distance to the Pennsylvania State House (today called Independence Hall) for the scheduled opening of the Convention. They strode through a light drizzle with three more Virginians who had just arrived -- George Wythe, John Blair, and James McClurg.

Wythe, sixty-one, was America's first law professor. At the College of William and Mary he trained a generation of leaders that included Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and James Monroe. A signer of the Declaration of Independence and former Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Wythe was his state's leading judge from 1778 until his death in 1806. Blair, fifty-five, served alongside Wythe on Virginia's chancery court and had participated in his state's constitutional convention. McClurg, forty-one, a physician and professor at William and Mary, was a member of Virginia's executive council.

Thanks to a cold winter and a wet spring, the Virginians shared the streets with Philadelphia's aggravating black flies, which would linger through the humid summer. At the State House, they found only one other delegation, the Pennsylvanians led by Dr. Franklin. Raw weather had delayed many delegates, but the Pennsylvanians brought flair enough for the occasion.

The Pennsylvania Assembly elected its delegates in late 1786, almost two months before Congress endorsed the Convention. As the second largest state (after Virginia), Pennsylvania was essential to any effort to remake the government. The state's cosmopolitan outlook derived from its diverse population, which included German immigrants, Quakers, and free blacks. Where the Virginians had forebears rooted in their state's soil for a century and more, the eight Pennsylvanians were more mobile and more urban. Three were immigrants: Thomas Fitzsimons from Ireland, Robert Morris from England, and James Wilson from Scotland. Three hailed from other states: Connecticut (Jared Ingersoll), New York (Gouverneur Morris, who still lived there), and Massachusetts (Franklin).

Copyright © 2007 by David O. Stewart

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