How to Build a Nation in 15 Weeks
Summary: Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Sandick along with Jon Hatch and colleagues at Patterson Belknap revisit the hottest topics from each week in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, tracking their current place in our legal and political landscape.
The Federalists face a 46–19 disadvantage in New York and adopt a strategy of delay. The Anti-Federalists don’t sweat New Hampshire, but word of Virginia’s ratification sways their resolve. Melancton Smith is persuaded by argument. The namesake of Great Jones Street makes a proposal that leads to New York’s ratification. Sick of being lumped in with Rhode Island, North Carolina relents. Rhode Island joins the Union kicking and screaming.
New Hampshire makes nine. The Anti-Federalists belatedly get their act together and put up a fight. Patrick Henry blusters and bullies his way through the Virginia convention. George Mason and Edmund Randolph each offer up their limbs. John Marshall makes promises that the Supreme Court is absolutely not going to back up. James Madison conquers his weak constitution with a strong Constitution. Virginia ratifies, but things still look rough in New York.
Delaware quickly ratifies, and Pennsylvania Federalists convene, imprison a few delegates, and force a quick ratification. New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut quickly ratify to grab equal Senate representation. The Massachusetts Federalists show flexibility and deploy a few rumors, John Hancock gets coy, and everyone goes home happy after ratifying. Martin overplays his hand in Maryland. South Carolina uses some creative allocation. New Hampshire decides to delay.
The Patterson team explores the differences between Federalists and the Federalist Party, and fail to come up with an alternative name for the anti-Federalists, The Constitution goes public. The Federalists press their urban advantages, and their advantages in the press. Richard Henry Lee tries to kill the Constitution in the Articles Congress, but Madison maneuvers for a unanimous vote. Anti-Federalists develop their arguments.
We’re back! The Constitution has been drafted—but how did it overcome anti-Federalist opposition to get ratified? And how did the omissions and mistakes in the original draft get fixed (or not)? Join the Patterson team for a new season of How to Build a Nation in 15 Weeks, including further details on ratification, the Bill of Rights, the Judiciary Act of 1789, the 11th and 12th Amendments, and more.
On this bonus episode, we spoke with Professor Michael Klarman, author of the excellent book the Framer’s Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution, about how the Framers designed the Constitution to be less democratic than the existing state governments, how the Federalists managed to ratify the Constitution over strong opposition, the mistakes of the antifederalists, and whether we should mythologize the Constitution and its founders.
The end of an 18-week journey. Thanks to our colleagues, our producers, and the Firm. Reflections on the Convention, including the question of authorship, the past and current quality of political dialogue, the guiding design (or lack thereof) of the Constitution, the fear of corruption, the value of compromise, and the Notes as literature. Plans for season two, including ratification, the Bill of Rights, and more.
The Constitution goes public, and Congress sends it to the states for consideration. Adams and Jefferson react, and confirm that the delegates probably should have added a Bill of Rights. The Federalists and Anti-Federalists square off. The states ratify and create a new nation, though North Carolina and Rhode Island miss opening day. The delegates go on to lead the republic they helped create. The Patterson team covers 15 years of American history in 15 minutes.
A little-known clerk inscribes the parchment we all know. Franklin urges unanimity in supporting the Constitution and proposes a convenient form of signing, but Randolph, Gerry, and Mason aren’t impressed. Washington speaks up for a more representative House, and a final alteration is made. The delegates sign, with three holdouts. Franklin has the last word and speaks of a rising, not setting, sun. The delegates gather one last time at City Tavern.
Mason seeks a few hours to add a Bill of Rights. The delegates reject the idea, but regret it later. Everyone ends up with a different understanding of the commerce clause. The delegates have a raucous party at the City Tavern, rally the next morning for a long day, agree to ban domestic emoluments, settle on the President’s pardon power, and decide not to do this again. The Patterson team discusses the tonnage clause and whether a President can pardon himself.
Gerry worries about weakening the role of the states in the amendment process; Hamilton wants to leave them out altogether. Wilson declares it worse than folly for Congress to have a say in ratification. The Committee of Style offers a new draft. The delegates reconsider the Presidential veto power. Mason does some arithmetic. Congress's powers are questioned. The Patterson team discusses past and current attempts at a new convention.
The delegates debate the duties of the Vice President, where he belongs, and if he’s even necessary. Particular powers of the executive are considered, and the delegates fleetingly revisit impeachment. Mason resurrects the Privy Council to advise on appointments, but King kills it for good. Madison gets hung up on peace treaties. The Patterson team weighs in on some of the final debates before the articles head into the Committee of Style.
The delegates discuss the limits of ineligibility. Madison has a change of heart regarding general welfare. The delegates introduce the Vice President (finally). Morris methodically defends the electoral college, Rutledge tries to stall, and Gerry makes things needlessly complicated (again). Wilson fears a President that is but a minion of the Senate; Hamilton fears a monster. The Patterson team discusses at least a dozen ways to select the executive.
The delegates debate the addition of new states to the union. Connecticut sticks up for Vermont, Wilson freaks out, and Martin gets in some good zingers. The delegates decide how many states should be required for ratification after some complex proposals. Morris suggests speed, Gerry urges unanimity, Mason makes threats, and Randolph self-destructs. The Committee on Postponed Parts is formed. The Patterson team weighs in on the use of committees and how to name them.
The delegates return to the pardon power. Sherman proposes federalizing state militias. Dickinson tries to expand judicial impeachment. Pinckney protects religious liberty. Randolph loses his cool. The delegates debate supermajority requirements for laws regulating commerce after some Southern delegates walk away from their promises. The Patterson team discusses the seeds of the Civil War built into the Constitution’s treatment of slavery.