1787 The Constitutional Convention
Explanation on a Radio Show: Back before TV became a permanent fixture in our living rooms, early entertainment in the evenings consisted of families sitting in front of their radio listening to a show. They would listen to famous shows like Amos & Andy, The Shadow, and even soap operas like The Guiding Light. Today (name of performers) are going to use the medium of a radio show to teach about the Constitutional Convention.
Producer: Quite in the studio….stand by….we are ready to go live with the show in 10 seconds (count down 10-9-8 etc.) (after the count down cue the singers)
National Anthem (optional) Choir
Show Intro: Now live from (name of your school) home of the (mascot) it’s the family hour, tonight’s show is bringing you the play 1787 The Constitutional Convention.
Narrator: September 17th is Constitution Day, because of that day in 1787 our United States Constitution was signed. It is the oldest existing written constitution in the World.
In 1787 delegates from each of the 13 states were invited to
1787 was eleven years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and only six years after the end of the Revolutionary War. This play deals with some of the important ideas in the United States Constitution.
(A power point that shows what each delegate looks like can also be down loaded, the pictures are in order of when the delegate speaks.)
George Washington: Delegates, we are here to amend the Articles of Confederation. They have proved too weak as a basic law for our continued independence. No person has felt the bad effects of a weak government more than I. During the Revolutionary War, our army was more like 13 separate armies rather than one. It is your choice that you have chosen me president of this convention. I recommend that you abandon the idea of amending the Articles of Confederation. Write a completely new document instead. Write a constitution with a strong central government, but leave the states with power to control their own affairs.
Governor Morris: (
Ben Franklin: (
Edmund Randolph: (
Roger Sherman: (
Alexander Hamilton: (
James Madison: (
Ben Franklin: Yes, that is important; a strong central government, but with each state still retaining some power.
Alexander Hamilton: I agree that we should have a strong central government. Let’s do away with the states altogether.
Roger Sherman: The states must be preserved. The central government should be limited to some specific powers.
George Washington: What powers should they be?
Roger Sherman: Defense against foreign attacks; treaties with other countries; and defense against uprisings in the
James Wilson: (
George Mason: (
Roger Sherman: But the power of the states will be gone. You have also proposed to tax the people directly from the central government. What do you call this new form of government?
Edmund Randolph: (
Gouverneur Morris: Yes, that is the way it should be. Under our present system, the states have all of the power and the central government has very little.
George Washington: Again, let us proceed on a new topic—the relationship of the Executive to the Legislature and to the Judiciary.
Alexander Hamilton: Mr. Chairman
George Washington: Alexander Hamilton from
Alexander Hamilton: I think our chief executive should be a king. This is the only way to have efficient government. We should adopt a monarchy just like
Roger Sherman: This is nonsense Mr. Hamilton. We fought a war to eliminate King George, the III. We should have no titles of nobility of any kind.
James Wilson: I agree with Mr. Sherman. No King. But the executive, legislature, and the judiciary should be separate and independent of each other.
George Mason: The legislature should be the first branch. It alone should be responsible for making the laws.
Ben Franklin: And the executive should carry out and enforce the laws.
James Madison: And the judiciary will interpret the laws.
Alexander Hamilton: But if you separate the powers of the legislature, executive, and the judiciary, that will reduce the power of the executive.
Roger Sherman: That is true. And that is the way it should be.
George Mason: Yes, and each branch should be able to limit the power of each of the other branches.
Ben Franklin: A government with balanced power. Power balanced among the executive, legislature, and judiciary.
Gouverneur Morris: Powers of the three branches should be separated.
George Mason: Just like in
James Madison: And the chief executive should be elected by the people.
Governeur Morris: But the people in the states will not be familiar with the candidate. We should vote for local people.
Ben Franklin: Then they could vote for president?
Ben Franklin: A president elected by the people will survive the test of time. State legislatures seldom express the will of the farmers, craftspeople, and shopkeeprs.
James Madison: The people should vote for electors. Then they could vote for president. I agree with both Franklin and Morris.
George Mason: Under the Virginia Resolution, it is proposed that the legislature be elected by the people. The representatives will make the laws.
James Wilson: The legislature must be elected by the people. No government can last without the support of the people. The state legislature should not elect the representatives of our national government.
James Madison: If the people elect the national legislature, they will have more respect for it. The number of representatives should be based on the number of people living in each state.
Gourverneur Morris: The more people who live in a state, the greater the number of representatives.
William Paterson: (
Roger Sherman: I agree with Mr. Paterson. I will have it no other way. Each state should have the same number of votes in the legislature or
William Paterson: Without equal representation, the small states will form their own government. And the large states can form their’s.
James Madison: We can solve this problem. Use two legislative houses. One should represent people. The other should represent states.
Roger Sherman: A two house legislature could work. One house could represent people. The other could represent states.
Ben Franklin: This would be a good compromise. A great Compromise.
James Wilson: I would like to make this proposal to the convention; That the House of Representatives be based on population and that the Senate have an equal number of representatives from each state.
Ben Franklin: George Washington, what do you think of a two house legislature?
George Washington: It’s like you once said when a friend of your’s asked why you poured your coffee from your cup into your saucer. Your answer—to cool it. And that is the same reason we need a two-house legislature—to cool the actions of the other house. We pour legislation from the House of Representatives’ cup into the Senatorial saucer to cool it. I like two houses of Congress.
Ben Franklin: Let’s have a toast. (Pause) May we always drink coffee from a cup that has a saucer and may we have a two-house legislature.
George Washington: If one house of the legislature is to be based on population, we must decide how to count the inhabitants of each state.
Roger Sherman: What do you mean? (Pause) Count each free person. Base representation on free citizens. Nothing else.
James Madison: Slaves as well as free people should be counted.
Alexander Hamilton: If slaves are to be counted for representation, they should be counted for taxation. Each state should be taxed in proportion to its population.
William Patterson: Your system of counting will give too much power to
James Madison: This problem must be solved. We need to find a way to count slaves for the purpose of determining the number of representatives from each state.
Ben Franklin: I propose that each slave be counted as 3/5 of a person. That way five slaves would be counted as three people. As an example,
Roger Sherman: By counting any slaves a population, we are encouraging their importation. It is inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American Character to have slavery in our constitution.
James Wilson: While we have been meeting here, Congress in
Gouverneur Morris: Another compromise-I propose that the importation of slaves not be prohibited for 20 years, or 1808, and that a tax be placed on each slave imported equal to the other import taxes. Then, as Dr. Franklin suggested, we shall count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Representation in the House of Representatives should be based on the population of the state. I don’t completely agree, but I will vote for it.
Ben Franklin: And the voters in each state should vote for the members of the United States House of Representatives from their state. Each state should have at least one representative.
James Madison: And for every 40,000 people, one additional representative. This will give the states with the greatest population more power in the House of Representatives.
Roger Sherman: But in the United States Senate, each state shall have two United States Senators elected by its state legislature. The people should not vote directly for
Ben Franklin: We have two good compromises. Count 3/5 of the slaves plus all free citizens as a basis for representation in the House of Representatives.
James Paterson: And have a two-house legislature.
Alexander Hamilton: And have a president who is elected separately from either branch.
Gouverneur Morris: And have a Supreme Court appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate.
Alexander Hamilton: Separation of powers among the executive, legislature, and the judiciary
Roger Sherman: And a division of power among the states and the central government.
George Washington: This will be a federal government. When a conflict occurs between a state and the national government, the state must yield. I pray that the states will ratify this constitution.
George Mason: We should have a Bill of Rights guaranteeing a citizen’s freedom.
Ben Franklin: I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve. But the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgement and to pay more respect to the judgement of others. I agree to this constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a general government necessary for us. I doubt, too, whether any other convention we can obtain may be able to make a better constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interest, and their selfish views. I cannot help express a wish that every member of the convention who may still have objections to it would with me, on this occasion, doubt a little of his own infallibility-and to show our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.
(all delegates except Mason and Randolph go up to the chairman’s table and sign the document with a quill pen)
You see the picture of the sun at the back of General Washington’s chair? Artists have always found it difficult in their painting to show the difference between a rising and a setting sun. I confess that I have often looked at the sun behind the President during the course of these sessions without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. Now I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.
Narrator: Two delegates from Virginia, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, refused to sign the Constitution, stating that it didn’t abolish slavery nor include a Bill of Rights. Now, with the Constitution finished, an even bigger task remained-explaining the new set of laws to the individual states and getting their approval of ratification. Nine states had to ratify the constitution before it could become the law of the land. It was not an easy task!
The debate to many states was long, hard and furious. Each state objected to some part. But the states were told that they could not make changes; they could not add nor debate. They must accept the Constitution as a whole, or reject it as a whole. Wiser statesmen realized what a problem they’d have on their hands if the Constitution was rejected and the country continued under the Articles of Confederation. And, the Constitution did permit amendments to be added, while the Articles of Confederation did not.