Monday, May 14, 1787 - Thursday, May 24, 1787

Back of State House
Back of the State House
William Birch

Independence National Historical Park

No Quorum for the Convention

"This being the day appointed for the Convention to meet, such members of it as were in town assembled at the State House; but only two States being represented- viz.-Virginia and Pennsylvania-agreed to attend at the same place at 11 o'clock to morrow"

-George Washington's Diary, May 14, 1787



The day dawned overcast, rainy and cool as delegates from Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina gathered in the State House for the first meeting of the Federal Convention. Only Pennsylvania and Virginia had a quorum of their delegation present, so the delegates agreed to meet again the next day.

The delegates continued to gather each day to check progress toward a quorum. James Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson, "There is a prospect of a pretty full meeting on the whole, though there is less punctuality in the outset than was to be wished. Of this the late bad weather has been the principal cause."

Even though the Convention had yet to begin, the Virginia delegates met every day at 3 p.m. On Sunday, May 20, George Mason provided an inside view of the discussions in a letter to his son, "Yet, upon the great Principles of it, I have reason to hope there will be greater Unanimity, & less Opposition, except from the little States, than was at first apprehended. The most prevalent idea in the principal States seems to be a total alteration of the present federal system…" While waiting for the minimum necessary seven states, the concept of replacing the Articles of Confederation began to solidify. This would provide an advantage to the strong federalists before the small states had achieved full delegate counts.


 
George Read
Thomas Sully, after Robert Edge Pine, c. 1860
George Read
Thomas Sully, after Robert Edge Pine, c. 1860

Independence National Historical Park

One day later, the small state of Delaware achieved representation with Jacob Broom and George Read. Read wrote to the third delegate, John Dickinson, urging him on to Philadelphia. Read noted that the small states should "…keep a strict watch upon the movements and propositions of the large states."

On May 24, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina had a majority of their delegates present. New Jersey expected to reach quorum the next day. The Convention would soon be under way.

 

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