Freedom: A History of US

Webisode 2. Segment 5
Miracle in Philadelphia

There was one issue on which everyone at the Constitutional Convention was stubborn, and it had to do with the new government's legislative branch—the Congress. The original plan said that the number of congressmen each state would have should be decided by population. That meant that the states with the most people would have the most congressmen. The opposing plan said that each state should have an equal number of representatives. That meant that Delaware, with 59,000 people, would have the same number of congressmen as Virginia, with almost 692,000. Was that fair? Neither side would budge. And then Roger Sherman See It Now - Roger Sherman of Connecticut came up with a compromise. This is what he suggested: One house of the legislature should reflect a state's population—the House of Representatives. One house should have an equal number of representatives from each state—the Senate. That was the most important compromise. And that simple solution meant there would be a constitution. On September 12, 1787, the final wording of the Constitution was presented to the convention See It Now - The Constitution. It began like this: Hear It Now  - Preamble to the Constitution "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America Check The Source - The Constitution."

But when the framers said "We the people," did they really mean all the people? Most experts say no. They say the Founders didn't mean Native Americans See It Now - An Indian Chief's Widow, who were thought to be part of separate "nations." And they certainly didn't mean slaves. The South was not ready to give up slavery, and the southern states would not approve a constitution that eliminated it. So the delegates compromised. And though women were thought of as part of the people, citizenship—including the vote—was not extended to them.

Some people say that when the Founders wrote "we the people," they did mean all the people. These were idealistic men. But they were also practical. They knew that some citizens of the new United States weren't prepared to do things that had never been done before. They weren't prepared to accept women as citizens. They weren't prepared to give up property when that property was a slave. And they weren't prepared to be fair to the Indians in the rivalry over land. But they were ready to make a start, and the Founders believed that those three small words, "we the people," would keep pushing the nation to one day include all peoples. James Wilson See It Now - James Wilson of Pennsylvania was proud of his involvement. He said, Hear It Now  - James Wilson "It gives me great pleasure that so much was done.... I consider this as laying the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country."

Finally, on September 17, 1787, it was done; the Constitution was finished and ready to be signed See It Now - The Signing of the Constitution. As eighty-one year-old Benjamin Franklin See It Now - Benjamin Franklin put his signature on the parchment, tears streamed down his cheeks. Not long before he had said, Hear It Now  - Benjamin Franklin "It ... astonishes me ... to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies."

When Franklin came out of the Pennsylvania State House See It Now - The Pennsylvania State House that September day, his friend Elizabeth Powel, the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia, was waiting for him. She asked what kind of government the new nation would have. Franklin answered, Hear It Now  - Benjamin Franklin "A republic, madam. If you can keep it Check The Source - A Speech by Benjamin Franklin to the Constitutional Convention."

The Constitution the framers made isn't a rigid, unbending document. They came up with a way to keep it growing and adapting to new times and new ideas—the amendment process. And right away there were demands for changes. The Constitution didn't spell out some rights clearly enough. So ten amendments would soon be added. Madison would write them See It Now - Notes on the Bill of Rights. They would make up what would be called a bill of rights, which guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. And they would become the essence of Americanism Check The Source - The Bill of Rights - The First Ten Amendments.

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