The old prints of Philadelphia portray a calm and orderly place, with genteel women strolling the walkways, well-dressed men peering in shop windows and elegant carriages making their way through uncluttered streets. By most accounts, it wasn't this way at all in the summer of 1787.

The streets were choked with people. The newspapers were filled with indignation about putrid smells, about abandoned animal carcasses, about improper disposal of waste. The citizenry was always up in arms about something: too much noise, too much crime, prostitution, about the insults hurled at passersby by the convicts employed on public works projects.

The crowds at the town's famous covered markets, always deserted in the picture books, were "like the collection at the last day," according to one 1787 visitor. There were people of "every rank and condition in life," he wrote, "from the highest to the lowest, male and female, of every age and every color . . . . There seemed to be some of every nation under Heaven."

The traffic was simply awful, witness the following article that appeared that summer in the Independent Gazeteer, a Philadelphia newspaper:

"As a poor woman, far advanced in her pregnancy, was crossing the drawbridge on Front Street, she very providentially escaped being run over by a cart drawn by four horses which a man mounted in the cart was driving furiously towards the wharf. A spectator calls the attention of the public and particularly those engaged in the execution of the laws, to an evil of so enormous a nature. In the course of the last summer, the carriages of several gentlemen were broken to pieces, many lives were endangered and the limbs of two children were actually fractured by the unwarrantable practice of men riding in their carts or on their drays in a populous city without any possible command over their horses. To add to this offense, the delinquent usually encreases his speed and while he employs the means of escaping punishment, laughs aloud at the mischief he has occasioned."

In short, Philadelphia was no place for decent men to bring their wives and children and most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention left their families behind.

Thus was created one of the greatest all-male clubs in history: The Fraternity of Founders. They dined together, roomed together, met together from 10 in the morning until 3 or 4 in the afternoon all summer, and politicked together in the evenings. They rode together into the country during breaks and returned together the next day to begin work again. It was a network to exceed all networks, from which would later emerge two presidents, two of the authors of The Federalist Papers, Cabinet secretaries, four Supreme Court justices and dozens of members of the U.S. Congress.

Their days, according to recollections pieced together from notes, letters diaries and memoirs of Philadelphia, went something like this:

Like other Philadelphians, they would be awakened early and against their will by the racket outside, particularly by hammering and sawing in a city that was still reconstructing itself after the war. They would often go for a stroll or a ride in the early morning, and then head from all directions to the state house: Franklin, carried like a potentate in his sedan chair; the towering Washington always attracting crowds of worshipers; the earnest young James Madison; the determined Alexander Hamilton; the professorial James Wilson, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose; rail-thin Elbridge Gerry, always nervous and on edge.

Then, as John Langdon of New Hampshire described it in a letter to a friend that sounds as if it were written from the room: "The Great Washington, with a Dignity peculiar to himself {takes} the chair. The Notables are seated. In a moment and after a short Silence, the Business of the day is opened with great solemnity and good order."

The evenings were a mixture of politics and food and drink. The Indian Queen, one of the inns where many delegates were staying, set aside private sections for the members of the convention, who formed themselves into a little eating club, often with a specially invited guest: "The Gentlemen of the Convention at the Indian Queen in 4th Street Present their Compliments," the invitations would read. They were waited on by a staff of black servants, with ruffled shirts and powdered hair, blue coats and red capes.

Prominent Philadelphians would regularly invite delegates to evening entertainments. The most elegant were thrown by Robert Morris, a convention delegate and probably the richest man in town, and his wife, known behind her back as "Queen Morris." Robert Morris, an amiable and portly host, would preside over 40 or more guests, perhaps a harpsichord recital, singing and playing by the ladies, lemonade served in silver urns, "a profusion of iced creams" and table "more resplendent" than any in Philadelphia. Dinners ran to 14 courses and could include beef, ham, pork, mutton, lamb, duck, chicken, game, oysters herring, mackerel and shad.

Talk of convention business in the presence of nondelegates was strictly taboo. But among themselves, the delegates did plenty of talking, sometimes setting the agenda for what would take place later in the closed room at the state house. William Samuel Johnson, a delegate from Connecticut, recalled years later how at one of these nighttime gatherings he raised the idea of introducing a provision in the proposed Constitution to help the future government deal with the status of territories acquired from other nations by treaty, conquest or purchase. The others told him that "it was a matter so obvious that it was not advisable to trouble the convention with it."

State delegations held their own informal gatherings too, preparing wish lists to bring to the floor of the convention. The Marylanders, for example, decided in one of these after-hours sessions that to protect the future prosperity of Maryland ports, the Constitution ought to include some guarantee that Congress could not favor one state's ports over another's. That conversation produced an important clause in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution: "No preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce . . . to the Ports of one State over those of another . . . . "

On some afternoons or on days off from the convention, delegates would stroll over to see Ben Franklin, who held court at his own home a few blocks from the state house. "We found him in his garden, sitting upon a grass plot under a very large Mulberry with several other gentlemen and two or three ladies," recalled Manasseh Cutler, a New England preacher who was taken to Franklin's home on July 13, 1787, by some members of the convention. " . . . I saw a short, fat, trunched {sic} old man in a plain quaker dress, bald pate and short white locks sitting without his hat under the tree . . . . His voice was low but his countenance open, frank and pleasing . . . . The doctor showed me a curiosity he had just received and with which he was much pleased. It was a snake with two heads preserved in a large vial. He was then going to mention a humerous matter that had that day taken place in Convention in consequence of his comparing the snake to America for he seemed to forget that everything in Convention was to be kept a profound secret. But ye secrecy of Convention matters was suggested to him, which stopped him and deprived me of ye story he was going to tell."

The convention -- so many important men in one place -- was an irresistible target for petitioners and favor-seekers of every stripe: from Cutler, who was trying to put together a western land deal; to John Fitch, who was seeking official support for the steamboat he was developing; to a Cherokee Indian chief seeking justice for his tribe; to a Philadelphian named Jonas Phillips appealing to the delegates on behalf of Jews to strike from Pennsylvania's existing constitution a required oath to Jesus and the New Testament.

For quieter and more solitary amusement, the delegates could read the local newspapers, which were immensely amusing. At a time when the delegates were at each other's throats, one of the papers said, "So great is the unanimity we hear that prevails in the convention . . . that it has been proposed to call the room in which they assemble Unanimity Hall."

"A few days ago in Third street," reported the The Pennsylvania Mercury, "a young coxcomb who had made too free with the bottle having staggered after a lady of delicate dress and shape for some distance, at length laid hold of her hand and peeping under her large hat, told her that he did not like her so well before as behind, but notwithstanding he would be glad of the favour of a kiss; to which the lady replied: 'With all my heart, Sir, if you will do me the favour to kiss the part you like the least.' "

Their living quarters -- at places like the City Tavern, Mrs. House's Inn, and the famous Indian Queen -- were sparse but acceptable. The Indian Queen was "a large pile of buildings, with many spacious halls and numerous small apartments," each equipped with field bed, bureau, a table with drawers, a looking glass and one or two chairs. Some of the rooms at the top of the three-story building offered views of the river and the Jersey shore. Guests could summon barbers for a shave, bowls of hot water for washing, reading material, whatever they wanted.

From their rooms, they wrote letters, some of them filled with woe, some of them poignant.

Richard Dobbs Spaight of North Carolina to his governor: "I have twice wrote to you on the subject of receiving for me and remitting to me, two months salary . . . . The time which I expected to stay here is already elapsed, and as I did not provide for a longer stay, my cash is already expended. Judge then my situation should I receive no further supplies."

John Dickinson of Delaware to his daughter: "You must be a very good girl. You must be sure to say your prayers every morning and every night -- and mind to say them slowly and plainly, and think what you are doing . . . . Do everything mamma bids you. Never go into the kitchen when they are washing. Never go into the Piazza without somebody to go with you, for fear one of the doors should be blown upon you and hurt you very much."

Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts to his wife: "I was never more sick of any thing than I am of conventioneering."

The documents used for this article were obtained from collections compiled by: Library of Congress Manuscripts Division chief James Hutson and noted archivist Leonard Rapport; Independence Park Historians David C.G. Dutcher, Robert K. Sutton and David A. Kimball, and from Volume III of Max A. Farrand's "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787." The newspapers quoted are in the Library of Congress.

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