The final version of the Constitution was the work of five delegates to the Constitutional Convention, a "style committee" handpicked by colleagues for their learning and skill with the English language.
There was William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, a scholar and lawyer who was then about to assume the presidency of Columbia College in New York; Rufus King of Massachusetts, an urbane Harvard graduate, lawyer and gifted orator; Alexander Hamilton of New York, a restless genius who later cowrote The Federalist Papers; James Madison of Virginia, a Princetonian, architect of the convention and coauthor of The Federalist Papers; and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, the convention's most witty and arrogant political operator.
Hamilton's appointment to the committee was a special show of respect, since he had been absent during much of the convention, attending to business in New York, and had ideas about government that were abhorrent to many of his colleagues.
Morris' appointment was a reckless act of faith: though known as a brilliant writer, one could never totally trust him. Morris is said to have done most of the rewriting.
In two days, the committee distilled the 23 articles
of the constitution to seven, each more or less cover- ing a different subject. It made changes in language
that gave parts of the constitution new grandeur and
The Supremacy Clause, for example, went into the style committee sounding like an excerpt from a legal brief: The Constitution and acts of Congress, it said, "shall be the supreme law of the several States, and of their citizens and inhabitants."
It came out saying that they "shall be the Supreme Law of the Land."
The committee struck language that later might have been properly interpreted as a ban on women serving in the Congress. As it went into the style committee, the clause said that "the legislative power shall be vested in a Congress to consist of two separate and distinct bodies of men . . . . "
It came out: "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives."
There is no evidence in the record of some burst of feminist sentiment in this decision -- it is not known if the committee members even discussed it.
The style committee also inserted a semicolon that, had it remained, might have created a new power for the Congress, a "general welfare power." Legend has it that this was the handiwork of Gouverneur Morris, who was looking for grounds for later creating a government-chartered bank. Legend also has it that it was crafty Roger Sherman of Connecticut, a proponent of small government, who noticed the semicolon and had it removed when the style committee report was reviewed by the whole convention.
Perhaps the most significant gift of the style committee to the republic was the change it made in the preamble to the constitution.
When the committee received it, the preamble said: "We . . . the People of the States of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, do ordain and declare and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity."
Some say the change was made because delegates feared one of the listed states -- probably Rhode Island -- would refuse to ratify the constitution and it would then appear foolish to have its name in the preamble. Others theorize that the committee members were more consciously trying to send a new message -- about nationhood -- into the land. In any case, the preamble came out of the style committee gloriously:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
On Sept. 15, 1787, the question before the convention, finally, was "to agree on the entire constitution."
Madison recorded the vote in his notes: "All the states ay."
The document was then ordered to be printed for the signing.
THURSDAY: The signing.