Front Page Titles (by Subject) A Wide Range of Talents - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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A Wide Range of Talents - James McClellan, Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government 
Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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A Wide Range of Talents
George Washington, the most popular and most dignified of Americans, presided impartially over the Constitutional Convention. He was now first in peace as he had been first in war and represented both the American people as a whole and his native Virginia.
Edmund Randolph, Governor of Virginia, a man of great family and perfect manners, presented the Virginia Plan to the Convention. Eventually he decided not to sign the Constitution as it was drawn up at Philadelphia. Later still, however, he recommended its ratification by his State.
George Mason, of Gunston Hall in Virginia, author of the Virginia Bill of Rights and an accomplished debater, was a champion of the South and of the powers of the State governments. He was also a grand gentleman, admired for his integrity.
James Madison, a very learned man from Virginia, kept the most thorough notes on the Convention. More than anyone else he shaped the Constitution’s principal provisions—though it is something of an exaggeration to call him “the Father of the Constitution.” He saw the necessity for a strong national government, though he was the close friend of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson also favored the Constitution but later became the leader of the Republicans, many of whom were former Anti-Federalists. In 1809, Madison was inaugurated as the fourth President of the United States.
William Paterson, of New Jersey, an Irish immigrant, had been a member of the Continental Congress and the Attorney-General of his State. A man of much knowledge, he presented the Convention with the “New Jersey Plan.” In 1793 he became a Justice of the Supreme Court, as a Federalist.
Robert Morris, of Pennsylvania, the chief financier of the American Revolution and an authority on fiscal concerns, was a celebrated debater and a conservative who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.
James Wilson, of Pennsylvania, a Scot with much learning in the law, professed his trust in the people, but was personally unpopular. A Philadelphia mob stormed his house in 1779, leaving many dead and wounded on both sides of the fight. A Carlisle crowd in Pennsylvania rioted against him and burned him in effigy in 1788. He would later write the first American treatise on the law and serve as a member of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Gouverneur Morris, of Pennsylvania, regarded by some as the most brilliant delegate, was a public man of high courage and great wealth. It was he who actually put down in writing the final draft of the Constitution. Never handicapped by his wooden leg and crippled arm, he later served as the United States Minister to Paris at the height of the French Revolution.
John Dickinson, previously of Pennsylvania and now the leading delegate from Delaware, the smallest of the States, had been a chief leader of the Continental Congress and chairman of the committee that drafted the Articles of Confederation. Also, he was the composer of the young republic’s most popular anthem, “The Song of the Farmer.” He was cautious and persuasive, and many of his views were incorporated into the Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton, from New York, was born in the West Indies. He was a master of finance, a successful soldier, a considerable political thinker, and the close friend of George Washington. He later became the first Secretary of the Treasury under the Constitution, and died in a duel with Aaron Burr. He was not able to exert much influence at the Convention, but he later did much to obtain the Constitution’s ratification in New York and elsewhere.
John Rutledge, of South Carolina. He was a man of great force of character whose approval would have been required for any new constitution—not merely in South Carolina, but nationally. He was insistent upon the security of private property in any social order.
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, had studied under the great English jurist Sir William Blackstone at Oxford University. He also studied botany, chemistry, and military science in France. He was convinced that the United States must develop military strength for national defense, and that the public debt must be drastically reduced through sound fiscal policies.
Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, an astute politician, had also succeeded as a merchant. Like George Mason, he was suspicious of consolidation and centralized government. A powerful spokesman for States’ Rights, he was elected Vice President of the United States on the ticket with James Madison in 1812.
Rufus King, of Massachusetts (later of New York), was one of the younger delegates. Very much a Yankee, he was rather hostile toward the South and the West. He was an outspoken opponent of slavery; he also advocated constitutional guarantees to prohibit the States from violating the sanctity of contracts.
William Samuel Johnson, a Connecticut lawyer originally trained for the church. He held degrees from Yale, Harvard, and Oxford, and was always addressed as Dr. Johnson. He had been neutral during the Revolution, though he was active in the earlier Stamp Act Congress. Johnson served as one of his State’s first Senators under the new Constitution and as the first president of Columbia College.
Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, the mayor of New Haven, was a self-made man who began as a shoemaker. He spoke nearly a hundred and forty times at the convention—always effectively—and was a principal negotiator of its compromises.
Oliver Ellsworth, judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, was a defender of the small States and an advocate of the New Jersey Plan. He feared the possibility of intrusions by a federal government into the affairs of the several States.
Luther Martin, of Maryland, argued in favor of keeping most political power in the States, though he was willing to revise the Articles of Confederation. An immensely successful lawyer, he later fought the Federalists in courts during the first two decades of the nineteenth century.
Most of the delegates lived interesting lives. Anyone who studies the careers of all the fifty-five Framers must be surprised by the great energy that nearly all of them possessed. They came from a variety of backgrounds, including agriculture, trade, the law, the military, and political administration. Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, for example, had been Presbyterian preacher, professor of mathematics, physician, businessman, physical scientist (especially in astronomy), philosopher, political pamphleteer, Surgeon General of North Carolina, a member of the North Carolina legislature, and a member of the Continental Congress. He held more than seventy thousand acres of land on the frontier. Williamson put forth a variety of interesting and original proposals for the new Constitution, but few were accepted by his fellow-delegates.
Surprisingly, two of the more famous and talented of the delegates contributed little to the framing. One was Benjamin Franklin, because of his great age (though he remained witty and helpful), and the other was George Wythe, the great professor of law at William and Mary College. He had to depart early from Philadelphia because his wife was dying back at Williamsburg.
As noted earlier, the Framers in outward appearance did not much resemble the members of a twentieth-century American legislature. Neither did they much resemble today’s politicians in their style as public speakers, nor in the sort of education they had obtained. For the men at Philadelphia in 1787 had studied formal rhetoric, and so spoke with care—and often with eloquence. The majority of them had attended colleges or universities during an era when intellectual disciplines were taken seriously. It was remarked, even then, that this was a gathering, as Jefferson put it, of “demigods.” Yet some of America’s most brilliant leaders were absent. Jefferson himself was in Paris and John Adams was in London, both representing the United States as foreign ministers. Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia had refused to attend, and John Jay of New York had been refused an appointment.
Many of the Framers were intensely ambitious men who had great expectations for both the nation and themselves. They were acutely aware that at Philadelphia they had become involved in high concerns. That consciousness was reflected in their manner and speech. It has been remarked by many writers and political leaders that it would probably not be possible in the United States today to assemble a group of delegates equal in talent to the fifty-five men who met at Philadelphia two centuries ago. Qualified by personal experience, schooling, and character, and moved by their knowledge of America’s necessities, the Framers of our Constitution acted with unusual wisdom.