August 6, 1787: The Constitutional Convention debates the first draft of the U.S. Constitution
Even the Declaration of Independence had 86 changes to Thomas Jefferson’s first draft, so it’s no surprise that the U.S. Constitution also went through some revisions. Debates on the first draft began August 6, 1787, during a hot summer meeting of the Constitutional Convention. Notable members in attendance included Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The final product would be in continuous operation longer than any other Constitution written by human hand, but the men representing every state except Rhode Island had no way of knowing that. The delegates had convened May 25, 1787, and the idea of a document that encapsulated all the Convention had discussed thus far was put into action July 24. Members of a “Detail Committee” slugged it out for another 10 days before presenting the draft to be debated by the delegates.
“We the people”
From the perspective of 232 years later, it’s amazing how much law and value was addressed right from the first draft of the Constitution. Trial by jury in the state a crime occurred and impeachment were both covered, for example. So was the assertion that the “New States lawfully constituted or established within the limits of the United States may be admitted, by the Legislature, into this Government.” The three words “We the people” opened that first draft, too.
Of course, there were plenty of articles that didn’t survive. For example, the first draft of the U.S. Constitution included this gem about a royal President of the United States of America: “His title shall be, ‘His Excellency.’ He shall be elected by ballot by the Legislature. He shall hold his office during the term of seven years; but shall not be elected a second time.”
From all reports, the debates were as intense as the heat, but the Continental Congress got results. Even the ratification process was hashed out. Article VII dictated that nine of the 13 states would have to sign on before the draft became binding, a process that would take 10 more months. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island became the last original state to ratify the Constitution.