We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution, Level 3
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Howard Chandler Christy, Signing of the Constitution, Architect of the Capitol, House wing, east stairway
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Lesson 9 Biographies

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) Franklin was the oldest delegate to the Philadelphia Convention. With the possible exception of George Washington, Franklin was the best-known man in America. Born into a poor family, Franklin became an inventor, scientist, diplomat, and publisher. His Poor Richard's Almanac was read nationwide. His career in public service was long and varied, and included service as ambassador to England and France and as governor of Pennsylvania. At the Philadelphia Convention, Franklin was a compromiser, using wit to bring delegates together. A staunch advocate of colonial rights, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Paris (1783). He played an important role in creating the Great Compromise. He favored a strong national government and argued that the Framers should trust the judgment of the people. Although he was in poor health in 1787, he missed few sessions, being carried to and from the meeting place in a special chair. Although he did not agree with everything in the Constitution, he believed that no other convention could come up with a better document.

Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) Hamilton was a senior aide-de-camp to General Washington and an artillery captain during the Revolutionary War. He was a delegate from New York to the Philadelphia Convention and one of three authors of The Federalist, written to urge ratification of the U.S. Constitution. He later served as the first secretary of the treasury, put the nation's finances on a firm footing and advocated a strong national government.

Patrick Henry (1736-1799) A prominent political leader and supporter of the Revolutionary cause, Henry opposed the Philadelphia Convention and refused to attend. Henry argued against the development of a strong national government. He was suspicious of what might happen at the convention and is reported to have said "I smell a rat." Henry led opposition in Virginia to ratification of the Constitution and later worked to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He was a scientist, philosopher, diplomat, and architect. He supported the revolutionary cause and served as governor of Virginia. Between June 11 and June 28, 1776, Jefferson wrote the initial draft of the Declaration of Independence, which was amended by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin and submitted to Congress. Jefferson supported the Constitution but was critical of its lack of a bill of rights. He was the first secretary of state in Washington's cabinet and the leader of the Republican Party. Jefferson was elected vice president in 1796 and was chosen president four years later. He was reelected to the presidency in 1804.

James Madison (1751-1836) The "Father of the Constitution" was born to a wealthy Virginia family. He was taught at home and in private schools, then graduated from the College of New Jersey. While deciding whether to become a lawyer or minister, Madison became involved in the revolutionary cause, thereby entering state and local politics. His poor health kept him from serving in the military. In 1780, Madison was chosen to serve in the Continental Congress, where he played a major role. He was one of the most influential voices calling for a constitutional convention. He came to the Philadelphia Convention with a plan for the new government, took extensive notes on the proceedings, spoke more than 150 times, and worked tirelessly on various committees. As one of the authors of The Federalist, Madison was also a key figure in the battle for ratification. Following the convention, Madison served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, helping to frame the Bill of Rights and organize the executive department. Under Jefferson, Madison served as secretary of state. He then succeeded Jefferson as president. In retirement, Madison continued to speak out on public issues.

George Mason (1725-1792) George Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Later, as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention (see Lessons 9-12) Mason led the movement against ratification of the U.S. Constitution because it lacked a bill of rights (see Lesson 13). Mason did not want government in America to become like government in England, and he believed declarations of rights as limits on government were one way to prevent this.

Gouverneur Morris (1752-1816) Morris was born in New York to a wealthy family with a history of public service. Early in life, he lost a leg in a carriage accident. He graduated from King's College in New York City and studied law. Many of his family and friends were loyalists, but Morris sided with the patriots. He served in the militia as well as in the New York legislature and the Continental Congress. When he was defeated for Congress in 1779, Morris moved to Philadelphia to practice law. At the Philadelphia Convention, Morris gave more speeches than anyone else. He favored a strong national government ruled by the upper classes. He served on many committees and was the primary author of the actual document. After the convention, Morris spent ten years in Europe. He served briefly in the Senate, but then retired.

Roger Sherman (1721-1793) Born in 1721 in Massachusetts, Sherman spent most of his boyhood helping his father with farming and shoe-making chores. However, he read in whatever spare time he could find. In 1743, he moved to Connecticut, purchasing a store and winning a variety of local political offices. Although Sherman had not formally studied the law, he became a lawyer. His career was distinguished, including service in the state legislature, and work as a judge. Although he gave up the practice of law in 1761, he continued his political career, serving in the Continental Congress. Sherman was one of the members of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He attended nearly every session of the Philadelphia Convention and was an important contributor to the Great Compromise. He also worked hard to get Connecticut to ratify the Constitution. Sherman later served as a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

George Washington (1732-1799) George Washington was born in Virginia in 1732. He grew up there on several plantations along the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. He was not particularly well educated, but did learn surveying. In 1753, he began his service to the country, which was to continue throughout his life, despite his desire to live a more private existence. Washington's efforts as commander of the Continental Army are well known. After the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, Washington returned to his home, Mount Vernon. Although he did not initially want to attend the Philadelphia Convention, his friends convinced him that his presence was necessary. He was elected president of the convention but spoke little. His presence and approval, however, were important. Nearly everyone assumed that Washington would be the first president of the United States, which, of course, he was, serving from 1789-1797.

James Wilson (1741-1798) Wilson was born and educated in Scotland. He arrived in America in 1765, where he taught and studied law. He set up a legal practice in Pennsylvania. He was active in the revolutionary effort, voting for independence and signing the Declaration. After the war, he defended loyalists and their sympathizers. His shift to conservatism angered many people in Pennsylvania, but by the 1780s, Wilson was again elected to the Continental Congress. He was an influential delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, where he spoke even more often than Madison. Wilson led the ratification effort in Pennsylvania. In 1789, he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

Lesson 9      How Was the Philadelphia Convention Organized?
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