IN ORDER to form a more perfect celebration of the Constitution's Bicentennial, the Library of Congress has brought out some prime papers from its reams of post-Revolutionary manuscripts and shelves of rare books.
"The American Solution: Origins of the United States Constitution" is what is called a reading exhibition -- appropriate enough for a library. It means the visitor must be willing to spend time squinting at faint and faded writing on parchment-like paper. But what signatures one finds.
Wrote James Madison to Thomas Jefferson, in October, 1785: "Congrefs have kept the vefsel from sinking but it has been by standing constantly at the pump, not by stopping the leaks which have endangered her." In his letter, Madison was defining the cause and cure of the nation's economic problems under the Confederate Congress.
That was just one of the issues that the framers of the Constitution would have to address. Samples of inflationary currency (three pounds, 30 shillings and nine pence in Rhode Island notes) and a letter from the mistreated chief of the Delaware Indians (he remained a loyal American nonetheless) point to other problems.
The exhibit has a wall of portraits of the country's first movers and shakers. Madison topped the list. He took the lead at the convention, apparently the best-informed of the 55 Founding Fathers attending the debates in Philadelphia. His notes, preserved here, are impressive. In preparation for the convention, he consulted books in several languages on political and moral philosophy.
In comparison, Alexander Hamilton's notes for his speech are sketchy at best -- even though, according to varying reports, his speech lasted 3 1/2 or six hours.
Perhaps the most revered among the 200 rare items displayed here are the "reports" of the Committee of Detail and the Committee of Style -- working drafts of the Constitution. Only 60 copies of each report were printed, and few survive. THE AMERICAN SOLUTION: ORIGINS OF THE U.S. CONSTITUTION -- Through September 17 in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.