A Cast of National Superstars

When Shays' Rebellion erupted, a group met in Philadelphia in 1787 to discuss plans for responding to the range of problems in the "critical period" of the 1780s. Addressing the possibility of widespread unrest as evidenced by Shays' Rebellion, this Congress considered revisions to the Articles of Confederation.

The Philadelphia Convention drew fifty-five delegates from twelve states. Rhode Island refused to send anyone to a meeting about strengthening the power of the central government. The impressive group included many prominent Revolutionary leaders like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Robert Morris. Some of the older leaders of the Revolution, however, were not present. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were abroad serving as diplomats to France and England, respectively.

Key local leaders like Sam Adams of Boston was not chosen to be a delegate, while the Virginian patriot Patrick Henry was elected, but refused to go because he opposed the purpose of the Convention. In their place were a number of younger leaders, including the Virginian James Madison and the West Indian-born New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton.

The delegates did not include people from western parts of the country, nor any artisans or tenant farmers. There was only a single person of modest wealth. These were “superstars” and that meant that they did not reflect the full range of American society. Because the delegates had already served as national representatives, they shared a general commitment to a strong central government. Many were strong nationalists who thought the Articles of Confederation gave too much power to the states. They were especially concerned about state governments' vulnerability to powerful local interests. Instead, the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention aimed to create an energetic national government that could deal effectively with the major problems of the period, from external matters of diplomacy and trade to internal issues of sound money and repayment of public debt.

Source: A Cast of National Superstars
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