- Friday, May 25, 1787 Here is the first report in The Christian Science Monitor's daily ``Constitutional Journal'' as announced on today's front page.
A DRIVING rain beat against the high, wide windows of the State House here in Philadelphia today as Gen. George Washington was unanimously elected president of the Convention. The heavy rain and illness kept 81-year-old Dr. Benjamin Franklin away from today's first formal Convention session, after New Jersey provided the necessary quorum of seven States. Dr. Franklin was expected to propose General Washington for president. Instead, Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, one of the richest men in North America, nominated the 55-year-old general. John Rutledge of South Carolina, a lawyer and planter who is land rich and cash poor, seconded the nomination.
General Washington's acceptance speech was notable for its self-effacement and the fact that his false teeth made his words difficult to understand. He looks the part of a hero: a tall, heavy man, with ruddy face, grave blue eyes, large hands, and the long legs of a horseman. In the same State House a dozen years ago, he was appointed Commander in Chief of a rag tag army. Here in the same hall, the Declaration of Independence was signed by some of the same men who today listened to General Washington's grave words. A source reported the general as saying:
``It is too probable that no plan we propose will be adopted. Perhaps another dreadful conflict is to be sustained. If to please the people, we offer what we ourselves disapprove, how can we afterward defend our work? Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.''
After the awe at General Washington's words had worn off, Col. Alexander Hamilton of New York rose to nominate an official secretary for the Convention. Maj. William Jackson was chosen over the nephew of Dr. Franklin. A source revealed that Major Jackson won after having lobbied some of the more important delegates as early as a month ago.
Major Jackson then rose to read the credentials of the seven States present: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Delaware. It was the reading of Delaware's credentials that caused the only off-key note in an otherwise harmonious first meeting.
Delaware's credentials order its delegates not to vote for any revision of the current Articles of Confederation that does not uphold the principle that each State, large and small, will have one vote and one vote only. Delaware delegate George Read wrote the credentials. He insisted on the provision out of a fear that this Convention will become an instrument of the larger States to swallow up the small ones like sharks devouring minnows. Last January Mr. Read had said of the larger States: ``I would trust nothing to their candor, generosity, or ideas of public justice in behalf of [our] State....''
Four days ago, Mr. Read wrote fellow delegate John Dickinson to hurry to Philadelphia after obtaining a copy of the revolutionary plan by Virginia for reducing the power of the States.
The days ahead promise not to be as harmonious as today's opening Convention session.
These day-by-day reports on the Constitutional Convention will continue on Tuesday.
Note on `Constitutional Journal'
Each day's ``Constitutional Journal'' report, Monday through Friday until Sept. 15, will run on this page on the same day of the week as the events of 200 years before (though the publication date of the month in 1987 is slightly different). The text will incorporate, when necessary, events from the Saturdays when delegates also met. A complete list of the delegates will be published here next Tuesday. A few of the leading ones can be seen today in a display from major current and future exhibitions related to the bicentennial (Page 16).
This project is the product of 14 months of research and writing by Jeffrey St. John, a journalist and broadcaster of long experience. He writes in the role of a reporter on the scene in the Philadelphia of 1787. His ``sources'' permit him to overcome the secrecy of the meetings at the time. We have omitted his footnote documentation, but he consulted 14 published works on the convention, plus 50 additional biographies and histories on the period. Finally, to assure readers of historical accuracy, he prepared the series in consultation with a panel of constitutional scholars.
At the conclusion of the series in September it will be available in a hard-cover book published by Jameson Books, Box 738, Ottawa, IL 61350.