Front Page Titles (by Subject) Plans and Progress at Philadelphia - Liberty, Order, and Justice: An Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government
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Plans and Progress at Philadelphia - 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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Plans and Progress at Philadelphia
The more one reads about those delegates of 1787, the more one becomes aware that they came to Philadelphia with open minds—in the sense that few were committed in advance to any particular scheme for improving upon the Articles of Confederation. They believed strongly in certain political principles, but they did not advocate elaborately detailed political systems or master plans for the “perfect” commonwealth. The plans of government that were offered at the outset of the Convention were intended to serve merely as general guidelines.
Of course they took certain matters for granted. One was that the United States should remain a republic, as had been declared in 1776. By a republic, as we noted earlier, the Framers meant a state in which the sovereign power rests in the people as a whole but is exercised by representatives chosen by a popular vote. History furnishes examples of monarchic, aristocratic, and democratic republics. Sparta, Athens, and Rome, for example, were called republics, but their limited franchise gave them an aristocratic character. Venice was styled a republic though absolute power was exercised by a small body of hereditary nobles. In the modern world, the term republic is so much abused that even despotic regimes apply it to their forms of government. Thus the Russians called their system the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), implying that it was both federal and republican. In actuality it was a centralized form of government, governed by an elite cadre of Communist Party members who were neither chosen by, nor politically responsible to, the people.
James Madison, in The Federalist, stated that “The two points of difference between a democracy and a republic, are, first, the delegation of the government, in the latter to a number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens and the greater sphere of country over which the latter may be extended.” The American republic, according to Madison, then, was more precisely understood as a democratic and extended (or federal) republic, encompassing a broad geographical area and a large population. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, thought that “the first principle of republicanism” was simply rule by the majority. Perhaps the best definition is that offered by Judge Thomas Cooley of Michigan in his classic work, Principles of Constitutional Law (1890): “By a republican form of government is understood a government by representatives chosen by the people; and it contrasts on the one side with a democracy, in which the people or community as one organized whole wield the sovereign powers of government, and, on the other side, with the rule of one man, as king, emperor, czar, or sultan, or with that of one class of men, as an aristocracy.”
A republic seemed to be the only possibility for the United States in 1787. The Americans had no royal family, no hereditary nobility; and few of the delegates were inclined toward the idea of a king, even if elected. Most of the delegates did see the need, however, for an executive head and a judiciary as well as a representative assembly—something lacking under the Articles. The word “democracy” was often used in the convention as a term of opprobrium and disgrace, because “democracy” was then understood to mean mob rule. Shays’ Rebellion, fresh in the minds of the Framers and put down earlier that fateful year of 1787, was what “democracy” meant to the delegates. Not until the late 1820s did the term “democracy” become at all popular in America’s practical politics.
In addition, the delegates were generally agreed, from the beginning, that the Articles of Confederation needed strengthening and improvement. This was true even of Luther Martin, George Mason, and other delegates who favored a weak central government. It was clear enough to everyone that somehow a means must be found by which the “general” government (that is, the existing government of the Articles) might improve the flow of commerce and raise revenue, because the economy was stagnant and national debt was becoming ruinous. It was clear, too, that at least in foreign affairs the general government must be enabled to act with greater firmness and authority.
But there were also points of disagreement among the delegates, the most significant being the question of whether the United States should remain a confederacy of sovereign States or whether a new form of national government should be undertaken. Allied to this dispute was the argument as to whether large and small States should remain equal in power under any new constitution, or whether representation in a new national government should be in accord with population and wealth, and so confer a heavy preponderance of political power upon the more populous, larger states. By the end of the Convention in September, all of these and most other differences were resolved.