Tag Archives: Constitution

The Question of the Convention; Sunrise or Sunset?

The President's Convention Throne The President's Convention Throne

The Convention

The war was over and the United States had come fully into existence. Thirteen independent states now faced the world as one nation under the auspices of the Articles of Confederation. This document was the model of government that was created during the Revolution and for lack of a better term, it sucked. The Confederation Congress had very little power to set national policy. It had no power to tax and was often wholly beholden to a majority of states in most decisions. There was no way that the country would stay together under such a system.

In May of 1787 delegates from the states came to Philadelphia for a convention tasked with “fixing” the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they would toss them out. Over the summer and in incredible secrecy, a new government took shape and form.

Issues of representation in the government and the type of government drew the most debate. Centered on the creation of a strong central government in a Federal system, the convention was split most the time. Some thought that the states should be the primary driver of the government. Others thought it should be the people of the nation. Small states demanded the same power as the larger states and the issue of slavery hung like a dark cloud.

Sunrise or Sunset?

On September 17, 1787, the final version of the document was signed and sent to the states for ratification. For the duration of the convention George Washington had presided as the president, his wisdom and leadership was instrumental in keeping the process moving. During the signing, the eminent Dr. Benjamin Franklin had perhaps one of the prescient observations of the summer. In his notes on the convention James Madison relayed the following:

Whilst the last members were signing it Doctr. FRANKLIN looking towards the Presidents Chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that Painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art a rising from a setting sun. I have said he, often and often in the course of the Session, and the vicisitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting: But now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun. (Madison’s Notes for September 17, 1787)

The photos at the top of the article show a reproduction of the chair that Washington sat in as President of the Convention. They show the sun motif that so vexed Franklin. It is currently on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.