Connecticut Agrees to Attend the Constitutional Convention

Its Governor, Declaration of Independence Signer Samuel Huntington, responds to Virginia’s call for the convention.

The basis of the post-Revolutionary War United States government was the Articles of Confederation. This document reflected the states’ wariness of vesting too much power in a central governing authority and guaranteed the states their “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” There was no executive or judicial branches of government, just a Congress responsible...

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Connecticut Agrees to Attend the Constitutional Convention

Its Governor, Declaration of Independence Signer Samuel Huntington, responds to Virginia’s call for the convention.

The basis of the post-Revolutionary War United States government was the Articles of Confederation. This document reflected the states’ wariness of vesting too much power in a central governing authority and guaranteed the states their “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” There was no executive or judicial branches of government, just a Congress responsible for conducting foreign affairs and national defense. The Articles denied Congress the power to collect taxes, regulate interstate commerce, enforce laws, or take any action that all of the states had not approved. This resulted in a weak and ineffectual government.

Many of the nation’s leading statesmen felt that the Articles needed to be revised. George Washington was one such proponent, arguing, “we have errors to correct.” So in September 1786, five states sent delegates to the Annapolis Convention, the first coordinated meeting to deal with these issues. At the Convention, the sparse attendance meant that little could be accomplished substantively. However, at its close, the delegates issued a report to the 13 state legislatures and Congress, proposing that the states appoint commissioners to meet at Philadelphia in May 1787 for the purpose of framing measures to “render the constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the Union…”

Virginia appeals to the other 12 colonies
Virginia had been the leader among the American colonies in calling for independence in 1776, and now determined to be the leader among states in calling for a constitutional convention. On December 1, 1786, its legislature accepted the proposal of the Annapolis Convention and passed an act for “appointing deputies from this Commonwealth to a Convention proposed to be held in the City of Philadelphia in May next for the purpose of revising the federal Constitution.” The deputies Virginia would appoint under this act were empowered to meet with those “authorized by other States to assemble in Convention…and to join with them in devising and discussing all such Alterations and farther Provisions as may be necessary.”

To promote participation by other states, the resolution then called upon Virginia’s Governor, Edmund Randolph, “to transmit forthwith a Copy of this Act to the United States in Congress and to the Executives of each of the States in the Union.”  That same day, as instructed, Governor Randolph wrote to the 12 governors of the sister states, notifying them of Virginia’s move and enclosing a copy of the act. Virginia appointed as delegates to the Constitutional Convention such men of stature as George Washington, John Blair, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason, and George Wythe. It would now hope that the other states would answer the call and send delegates with whom these men could meet.

Connecticut Governor Samuel Huntington, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, received one of these letters from Randolph. He responded in this Autograph Letter Signed, Norwich, Conn., December 23, 1786, to Randolph. “I am honored with your Excellency’s letter of the first instant, enclosing the Act of your legislature appointing Commissioners to assemble in Convention at Philadelphia in May next, for the purposes therein mentioned, & shall embrace the earliest opportunity to lay those papers before the legislature of this state.”

This terminology indicated Huntington’s approval of the call; he would later be a great supporter of the Convention and the new Constitution it produced.

Ultimately, every state except Rhode Island would send delegates. Connecticut selected Oliver Ellsworth, William Samuel Johnson, and Roger Sherman, who had signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. The Constitutional Convention convened on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. It soon became clear that amending the Articles of Confederation would not solve the country’s problems, and a bold decision was taken to craft a complete replacement. After debating all summer, the delegates reached agreement upon a stronger, more centralized form of government, one with executive, legislative and judicial branches.

Connecticut’s participation was crucial, as the compromise its representatives proposed (to create a Senate in which each state would have equal representation and a House of Representatives based on proportional representation), overcame crucial obstacles. On September 17, the Convention approved the Constitution of the United States; this document was then ratified by each of the states and became the law of the land. It is the most successful written national constitution in history and the oldest still in force.

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