History of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as Presented in
1787 the Musical
We Wrote the Constitution
by Robert Picklesimer
Who Made the Cut: which delegates had to be part of the Convention and why;
what was the central theme of 1787 the Musical; and
how did the delegates selected fulfill that purpose
(continued from Chapter 2, Part 2)
The basic dramatic tension in 1787 the Musical, the main source of conflict and eventual Resolution of that Conflict, is the expected conflict of opposing interests of the larger states and the smaller states. These forces are inherent in our country even today, on one side the Broad Populism giving all the people what they want – mainly manifested in the delegates from the larger states – while on the other side Narrow Elitism – mainly manifested in 1787 in the smaller states including New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, half of Massachusetts, and half of New York. Particularly Commercial Elitism: “It’s my money and property, and I don’t want to part with it.” These two counterbalancing elements could be identified with the modern day Democrat and Republican parties. The culmination in this play is with the Great Compromise, or Sherman’s Compromise (as he politically maneuvered it), of having a House based upon popular vote, and a Senate with equal votes, two per state, large or small. The articulated refrain of “We the People!… We the States!” mirrors this basic conflict. Some of the delegates, and in many cases whole delegations from each state, came down squarely on one side or another of the question, and in some states there is a battle within the state itself whether the rule by the majority of the population was wise.
This had not been done before. Even in Athens there had been narrow definitions of who would make up the citizenry. For these early leaders in the United States feared that 51% of the country could just take what they wanted from the other 49%. In reverse, some felt that the elite leaders – those who were already in charge of the various states – should still govern, but the fear of this old system is that it could devolve into the sort of absolutism of a small number of those in charge, which they had just experienced, to their regret, from Imperial England. Further complicating the issue was that small states feared they would just be swallowed up by the larger states. There had to be a system to protect their interests at least somewhat. And Connecticut and New Jersey, two of the smaller states, particularly resisted the dominance by a pure democracy in our country, fearing their subordination to larger states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.
North and South Carolina, and Georgia, because of their size, were expected to grow with their new frontiers and become part of the big state dominance – by size and by their overwhelming population. But such growth was not expected in the other small states: it could not protect similarly the minority interests of Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New Hampshire. As is seen in the play, some of the other states had their own internal conflicts among their delegates, too. New York, though a large state, through the two delegates, Lansing and Yates, who were chosen to oppose Hamilton at every turn, did not want any interference from a federal government, so New York allied with the small states. The Massachusetts delegation, too, was divided on how much power a federal government should have: Maryland was divided, Georgia was influenced by the small states, and even the Virginia delegation was pretty much divided down the middle.
Until the device, the Compromise, of a separate legislative body, a Senate having equal votes for EACH state, and thus power to temper somewhat the potential complete dominance by the larger more populated states, there was no consensus to even have a stronger central, federal government at this Convention. This country was called The Great Experiment for a reason: considering a country based solely upon the will of the majority, with some of the above-mentioned amelioration to lend at least some protection to minority interests, could such a country survive?
In the Colliers’ book Decision in Philadelphia, which some have called “the best popular history of the Constitutional Convention available,” there is the suggestion that all of this conflict between large and small states was essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. They say (p.122) that, “Today it is difficult to see why the issue should have brought such smoking ferocity to the Convention floor. Rarely in the history of the United States have the small states and the large states lined up on opposite sides of an issue. Political divisions tend to be, for example, sectional, with the South poised against the North, or the Sun Belt at odds with the Frost Belt. Or they cut along economic lines, with city dwellers fighting farmers over, say, farm subsidies.” But to make such a statement misses the whole point of the 1787 Convention and the Great Compromise engineered by Roger Sherman, among others. It is precisely because that problem was taken care of in that 1787 Convention, that we have not had it recur in our history. In the musical, because of the Senate, which balances all the states with one another, most states feel, with some exceptions (slavery), that they have a chance to have their say, and to help block the popular will if it is inimical to their state’s interest. Because that issue was cured in the original document we have not had that problem, which is the centerpiece of the Convention and of 1787 the Musical.
So all the main players in the 1787 Convention – and those we have retained in the musical – are determined by how they contribute to the eventual document and the Great Compromise that produced at least a tie vote halfway through that Convention. This Compromise – sometimes called Sherman’s Compromise, because Roger Sherman of Connecticut engineered it – forced the larger states men to at least take some of the concerns of the smaller states men into account. Otherwise half of the states would have just left the Convention and the fledgling country could have remained splintered for all time.
So why were the characters needed in the musical – needed in each state, and by state – to show the conflict within some of the states, and at other times between factions of states? Which delegates relatively accurately show the obstacles, the conflicts, that had to be overcome to create this document, the U.S. Constitution, which has turned out to be far more durable than even they suspected it would be, because it allowed for the interaction of these various interests, and turned out to foster the best interest of the country as a whole? (to be continued)
CHAPTER 1, PART 1 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 2 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 1, PART 3 How the Whole Thing Got Started
CHAPTER 2, PART 1 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 2, PART 2 Who Made the Cut
to be released:
CHAPTER 4 Virginia Delegation
CHAPTER 5 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 6 Small States; “Grumbletonians”; New Jersey Plan; Great Compromise
CHAPTER 7 The Other Two States with Grumbletonians: Massachusetts and New York
CHAPTER 8 Delegations from the South
1787 THE MUSICAL