The unveiling of the Constitution in September 1787 set off what many consider history's greatest popular debate on government.
From America's largest cities to her smallest backwaters, exuberant election campaigns began for seats in the ratifying conventions. A new group took over the newspapers, filling them with arguments under such pseudonyms as Agrippa, Brutus, Centinel, Cato, Landholder, Plain Dealer and Publius -- tracts ranging from a few terse paragraphs to treatises of 40 and 50 parts.
The most eloquent of the written defenses was the series of essays now known as The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, which ran in New York newspapers from October 1787 to May 1788.
The ratification debates were based on numerous points of contention, but the omission of a bill of rights sparked the loudest protest. Ultimately, to secure ratification, Madison and other supporters of the Constitution were forced to agree that one of the first orders of business in the new government would be the addition of a bill of rights.
Some of the convention votes were extremely close -- 187 to 168 in Massachusetts, 87 to 79 in Virginia, 30 to 27 in New York -- but by late July 1788, all but North Carolina and Rhode Island had ratified. The Constitution was put into effect without them, although both states later came around.
Here is what became of some of the leading delegates to the convention:Benjamin Franklin died at his home in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790, at age 84. George Washington was elected the first president of the United States and served two terms. He died Dec. 14, 1799, at Mount Vernon. Alexander Hamilton became Washington's secretary of the treasury and the focus of enormous intrigue and contention before his resignation from the Cabinet in 1795. By that time, Thomas Jefferson and Madison hated him. Hamilton died on July 12, 1804, from wounds suffered in a duel with Aaron Burr the day before. Gouverneur Morris was with Hamilton just before he died. Gouverneur Morris was Washington's minister to France, participating in an aborted scheme to rescue King Louis XVI from the guillotine, as well as in a torrid love affair with a famous French countess. He returned to America and was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. In 1816, he developed a stricture of the urinary passage and died on Nov. 6, after attempting to solve his problem with a sharp whalebone. He was 64. James Wilson served as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1789 to 1798. He put all his money into land speculation and, when the bubble burst, he went broke and fled Pennsylvania to avoid creditors. He died a poor and mentally ravaged man in Edenton, N.C., on Aug. 21, 1798, at age 56. Edmund Randolph became the first U.S. attorney general. Washington later appointed him secretary of state, but he resigned in bitterness after Washington read an intercepted dispatch suggesting improper conduct by Randolph in his dealings with the French minister. During his retirement, the government sued him to recover allegedly unjustified expenditures incurred while secretary of state. Randolph died destitute on Sept. 12, 1813. Roger Sherman served in the U.S. House from 1789 to 1791 and in the Senate from 1791 to 1793. He died on July 23, 1793, at 72, having fathered 15 children. Luther Martin continued as attorney general of Maryland until 1805, acquiring the nickname "Federal Bulldog" for his strong Federalist leanings. In 1819, he gained notoriety for a 2 1/2-day argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous case of McCulloch v. Maryland. By this time, alcoholism had sapped his strength and his spirit. He died a derelict on July 10, 1826, at the New York home of Aaron Burr, whom Martin had defended against treason charges. James Madison was elected to the first U.S. House, where he steered the Bill of Rights -- the first 10 amendments -- to final passage. In 1794, at 43, he married Dolley Payne Todd, a 26-year-old widow. In 1809, Madison became the fourth U.S. president, serving two terms before retiring to his estate at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Montpelier.
The full story of the convention remained a closely guarded secret for more than 50 years. Madison spent the last years of his life laboriously preparing and editing his notes of the convention debates, ordering them published only after all the delegates were dead. He was the last of the founders to die, on June 28, 1836.