The Committee of Style and Arrangement

William Jackson
William Jackson, Secretary to the Federal Convention
Unidentified artist, c. 1795

Independence National Historical Park

The Committee of Style and Arrangement

""The House met - but the Committee of Revision not having reported, and there being no business before the Convention 'The House' Adjourned."

- Secretary William Jackson in The Journal of the Convention

The five members of the Committee of Style completed their report for presentation. From the afternoon of September 8 to the evening of September 11, the Committee reworked the preamble and twenty-three articles into a document of remarkable force and clarity.


Dr. Johnson's diary indicates that the committee met after dinner on September 8, and again on the 10th and 11th. Likely they created an outline on the 8th, agreeing where each of the articles fit and assigning a member or members to write a draft. The draft was probably prepared on Sunday the 9th, revised on the 10th, and polished on the 11th.


Available evidence points to Gouverneur Morris as the draftsman, although all the members wrote exceptionally well. We do not know exactly how they did it; we do know what they did. They gave us cherished language we have been governed by for two centuries. As example:


"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, and Georgia, do ordain, declare and establish the following Constitution for the Government of Ourselves and our Posterity."


Became:

"WE, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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."


While historians have suspected that Gouverneur Morris, with careful selection and arrangement of words and punctuation, artfully bent the meaning of some provisions closer to his own views (and he later claimed as much), these delegates could not be easily flimflammed. What Morris did do is present the Convention's work in language which has endured.

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Last updated: February 26, 2015

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