Talk:History of the United States Constitution

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Former good article nominee History of the United States Constitution was a good articles nominee, but did not meet the good article criteria at the time. There are suggestions below for improving the article. Once these issues have been addressed, the article can be renominated. Editors may also seek a reassessment of the decision if they believe there was a mistake.
December 21, 2007 Good article nominee Not listed


Started since most discussion from 2006 and prior. GtstrickyTalk or C

The sentence "Congress then called the convention at Philadelphia" is incorrect - needs cite or deletion.[edit]

The sentence "Congress then called the convention at Philadelphia" is incorrect and should either get a citation or be removed. The convention was called by Virginia on December 1, 1786 as a result of the report from the Annapolis Convention (also called by the states, and not Congress). Seven states already had agreed to participate under terms granting the convention wide powers before the resolution in Congress on Feb. 21, 1787. Indeed, the Confederation Congress had no authority to call a convention of the states, and as was the common practice in the 18th century (and consistent with the Annapolis Convention and over 2 dozen other conventions among the states in that time frame) the states made the calls for the conventions. PubliusSpiritus (talk) 03:45, 23 December 2016 (UTC)

Congress did indeed call it,et time and place, and set the rules. see text at footnotes 20-21. also "Congress promptly called a convention in Philadelphia “to revise and enlarge” the Articles of Confederation" Rjensen (talk) 03:52, 23 December 2016 (UTC)
That illustrates a core problem with this article. Spence Tucker is a great military historian, but not a constitutional scholar. That line is his book is a throwawy, without citation, that merely repeats a popular myth. See, e.g., Natelson, State Initiation of Constitutional Amendments: A Guide for Lawyers and Legislative Drafters (4th ed, 2016) at pp.19-20 that notes "There is an oft-repeated claim that Congress called the 1787 Constitutional Convention. . . That claim is erroneous." Since a full quorum of states (7) had already agreed to meet and appointed delegates before the Confederation Congress did anything, the Philadelphia convention was already going forward without any action by Congress so obviously Congress could not "call" it. In fact, the resolution in Congress 3 months before the convention was to start was actually an attempt by New York to stop it. The place and date was actually set by the Annapolis Convention (1786) in September 1786 "to meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May next [year]." PubliusSpiritus (talk) 15:34, 23 December 2016 (UTC)
The Confederation gave it imprimatur and sanction to the call of a rump convocation of state delegates at the Annapolis Convention, which addressed their proposal for another more comprehensive convention contemporaneously to Congress and to the State legislatures as a matter of expeditious communication, not as a denial of the national government in Congress. Since Natelson failed to take into account both correspondence to states AND Congress, looks as though he may have cherry picked his history.
The Philadelphia Convention did not address its proposed Constitution to the delegates of the Annapolis Convention, nor to the state legislatures individually, nor as a fait accompli to Rhode Island. Rather it submitted its proposed Constitution to Congress to endorse the proposed adoption proceedings which led to the peaceable dissolution of the Continental Congress on its own authority in deference to the new United States Congress of eleven states, with North Carolina and Rhode Island joining the Union three times faster than it took to attain a unanimous thirteen for the Articles of Confederation.
We would want to avoid any anachronistic states rights POV colored by Lost Cause historiography, however recently it has been re-issued. But perhaps we could say, “Congress then issued its own call for a convention at Philadelphia subsequent to the Annapolis Convention.”, if Natelson proves out as a reliable source to be incorporated into the article. TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 16:23, 23 December 2016 (UTC)
No one suggested a denial of national government, but the states were free to invite and engage in conventions and agreements among themselves. The Articles created a form of treaty organization similar to NATO, where the states were fully empowered (and did) enter binding agreements between themselves (some of those that predate the Constitution are still in effect today). The Philadelphia convention was not held under any provision of the Articles or under any Authority of Congress, but was outside the Articles. The Virginia law appointing the delegates in December 1786 required the "Governor is requested to transmit forthwith a Copy of this Act to the United States in Congress and to the Executives of each of the States in the Union." That was SOP and done by the other states. How could seven states do that before Congress said anything about it? Also note it was Madison, not Congress, that devised the plan for ratification, and that was then agreed to by the convention. None of it came from Congress.
What you call a "rump conclave" was the standard in that period. The Philadelphia Convention was the 11th held since Independence had been declared in 1776. All were called by the states. The Confederation Congress was a late-comer, that was dragged into the pot by the vortex, not a driving or even motivating force. BY its own words, the February resolution of Congress was not a call, but an expression of the "opinion" of the Congress (pushed by New York) that the already-gonna-happen convention be limited to proposing amendments to the Articles (and this after stronger language was defeated). Congress later supported the Convention happening, such as it gave free postage (franking privilege) to the state's delegates[1] and facilitated its ratification.
There are some other problems with this section and the following two paragraphs, that I will create separate talk-page entries for, and propose a rewrite of these 3 paragraphs.PubliusSpiritus (talk) 19:24, 23 December 2016 (UTC)
PubliusSpiritus wants RS only -- but the Natelson pamphlet he uses is self published and does not count as a RS. Here's a recent standard Constitutional Law textbook: "Congress On 21 February, 1787, issued a call for a federal convention to meet in Philadelphia." Otis H. Stephens, Jr.; et al. (2014). American Constitutional Law. Cengage. p. 6.  Rjensen (talk) 07:25, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── @PubliusSpiritus: So we need to find a reliable source to say something like, “Congress initially expressed its opinion that the upcoming convention at Philadelphia should be limited to proposing amendments to the Articles, though it would subsequently forward the proposed Constitution to the states for ratification.” ??? TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 11:12, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

@TheVirginiaHistorian: I think that's a step in the right direction. As Madison himself described it in Federalist 40, the February resolution in Congress was a "recommendatory act of Congress." That's historically accurate, as would be saying Congress "endorsed" the convention and expressed the opinion of Congress that the Convention be limited to proposing amendments to the Articles. The point I wanted to make was that there is a lot of intellectual inertia about Congress making the "call" but when you look at the sources, the ones that say that just repeat it as ipsi dixit without citation or discussion, while the sources that actually look at the text of the February resolution and its legislative history, the fact 7 states had already appointed their delegations using the language from the Annapolis Convention, the regular practice of the states in that century in doing their own calls for conventions, it seems the latter sources that actually do the analysis are the reliable ones.
W/R/T Natelson being RS, I cited that particular document because I had it handy and it's well footnoted and includes excerpts from several relevant primary sources included. There are other academic published sources that it draws from such as Founding-Era Conventions and the Meaning of the Constitution’s “Convention for Proposing Amendments,” 65 Fla. L. Rev. 615 (2013).
As for the Convention forwarding the result to Congress, that was a plan that Madison came up with during the prep time he spent in Philadelphia the week before the Convention started, and was adopted by the convention.PubliusSpiritus (talk) 15:41, 24 December 2016 (UTC)
I’ve wondered exactly where the provision for states to call a convention apart from Congress originated. If there are eleven precedents in the Articles era, that would be good enough for me. I just learned from Mapp’s “Virginia Experiment” that MA innovated committees of correspondence colony wide, and the Revolution’s Second? Virginia Convention expanded the concept to comprehensively establish a committee of correspondence to other North American British legislatures, including Bermuda which had once been a part of Virginia.
Note in Maier's "Ratification", p. 3-4, she records that the delegates at Annapolis were not authorized to call a convention, but the Virginia Assembly took up the measure and invited the other twelve, and the Pennsylvania Assembly referenced Virginia's motion in its appointment of delegates to Philadelphia. Virginia forwarded the "irregular" consideration to revise the Articles of Confederation precisely to avoid the obstacles in Congress where proceedings might be too much interrupted by the regular business before them. The Philadelphia Convention was not a creature of Congress, which is your point. --- I would be interested in your trial language for the article with a source other than Natelson. TheVirginiaHistorian (talk) 17:09, 24 December 2016 (UTC)
It will be sometime late next week before I can get it together. Please note Natelson certainly qualifies as RS. While I cited a treatise for legislators he put together drawing from other works, he has multiple academically published works and has been cited in SCOTUS opinions. A.E. Dick Howard has one work that states the 1787 Convention was "called" by the Annapolis Convention, but again, it is ipsie dixit, no citation or analysis is presented (although one could say it is plain language reading of the Annapolis Convention report). And that's what makes this important -- few people research or footnote a statement that they believe is common knowledge that they have never questioned. Even from a RS, if there is no discussion or analysis, is it really reliable, or just repeating bad data?
In the mean time, if you want to review some research about the conventions held before the Philadelphia Convention (and some before independence) this law review article discusses most of them, starting on page 624 up to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention discussion starting on page 674. Also note that some conventions were clearly called by Congress, such as the November 22, 1777 resolution. But if you compare that resolution to the Feb 1787 resolution, the latter is clearly does not call a convention.PubliusSpiritus (talk) 18:32, 24 December 2016 (UTC)


Need cite to support claim "George Washington was unwilling to attend an irregular convention like failed Annapolis Convention."[edit]

I can find no support for the claim that "George Washington was unwilling to attend an irregular convention like failed Annapolis Convention." I can only find that claim on some unauthenticated places and fringe websites (also worded nearly identically across multiple sites). I suggest a credible citation be found or else it should be deleted.PubliusSpiritus (talk) 15:45, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

Need cite to support claim "New York and others hesitated thinking that only the Continental Congress could propose amendments to the Articles"[edit]

I can find no reference for the claim "New York and others hesitated thinking that only the Continental Congress could propose amendments to the Articles." I suggest a credible citation be found or else it should be deleted.PubliusSpiritus (talk) 18:40, 24 December 2016 (UTC)

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