Conflicts over duties and navigation rights among some states caused James Madison and Alexander Hamilton to call a meeting of state delegates at Annapolis, Maryland, in September, 1786. Only five states sent representatives, so they could not do much. However, they decided to call for another meeting of all the states at Philadelphia in May, 1787. Meanwhile, Shays' Rebellion in Massachusetts frightened all state governments, except Rhode Island, into sending delegates to this meeting, held at the same State House (Independence Hall) where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier. The meeting began on May 5, 1787. After five days of discussions, the delegates decided to form an entirely new government rather than attempt to fix the Articles of Confederation as originally instructed.The central issues of the proposed new government were as follows:
1. The rights of the states: large versus small states and all states versus the central government.Power Sharing
To settle the power of large v. small states, Roger Sherman, from Connecticut, proposed what became known as the Great Compromise (also, the "Connecticut Compromise"): two legislative houses were adopted, a Senate with equal state representation and a House of Representatives with representation according to population. A related Three-Fifths Compromise set three-fifths of the slave population to be counted in the population of each state for the purpose of establishing House representation.
To address the question of federal v. state power, three branches of the federal government were established: a legislative branch with a Senate and House, an executive branch headed by the President and judicial branch, each with checks and balances on the other to assure that one branch would not become too powerful. Fearing the mob tendencies of ordinary citizens, an electoral college, equal to the total number of state senators and representatives would be chosen by the state legislatures to elect the President rather than election directly by the people.Other Issues
The issue of the rich and powerful v. the poor and powerless was addressed by having a House of Representatives based on population. There was a great mixture of interest groups throughout all sections of each state. In theory, each group would vie for recognition and support from common Congressmen, so one economic class and interest group would not be able to take advantage of others. However, slavery, the extreme oppression of one class by another, was not addressed fully because it would have been fatal to a compromise between southern and northern states. As a compromise, Article I, Section 9 allowed a discussion of non-importation of slaves after 1808.
Article I, Section 2 indicated how the delegates considered different classes of people with respect to the census, which determined how many representatives were allowed for each state. Indentured servants are fully counted, slaves are worth 3/5 of a person, and Amerindians (Native Americans) who pay taxes are fully included. An Indian who pays taxes no longer associates with his tribe, although he is not a citizen. He and his family have adopted the values and customs of the English colonists and probably work a farm, like most other colonists at that time.
Some delegates would not subscribe to the proposed Constitution because they thought it did not go far enough to protect the people against a tyrannical government. This omission would prove almost fatal during the required state ratifications.Proposal
Finally, 10 of the 11 participating states approved the proposed constitution and sent it to the Confederation Congress for discussion and recommendation by the states. (New York was not able to vote because of an absence of a state quorum. Of 3 delegates, only Alexander Hamilton remained.) George Washington adjourned the convention on September 17, 1787. It was now up to at least nine states to ratify the constitution.