POLITICAL SCIENCE 652                                                                SPRING 2010             

PROFESSOR GLENN                                                                        OFFICE:  ZULAUF 113

THE FEDERAL CONVENTION                                                        OFFICE HOURS:

PROFESSOR GLENN                                                                           11-11:50 MTW

Du 464                                                                                        & by appointment

                                                                                                   Please use email to make                                 an appointment


Course Syllabus


            To Purchase:

Max Farrand ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Vols. 1 and 2. Please purchase your own copy so you can bring them to class and so we can read from them in class. The volumes are also available online at

Volume 3 (which I did not order for the class out of cost considerations) contains a most helpful General Index to Vols. 1 and 2 and is available at

            All 4 volumes are on Reserve.


            On Reserve:

            Max Farrand ed., The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Vols. 1-4.

Jonathan Elliot ed., Debates on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 5 vols. These are the record of debates in the State ratifying conventions

Herbert Storing ed, The Complete Anti-Federalist 7 vols. These are what its says, namely, all significant speeches, pamphlets, newspaper articles, etc. opposing the Constitution.

Herbert Storing ed., with Murray Dry. The Anti-Federalist: An Abridgment, 1 vol. This is an abridgment of the 7 volume original. If you can get access to the 7 volumes, do so. If not, this is better than nothing.

Jacob Cooke ed., The Federalist. I assume you have your own copy of the Federalist Papers. If not, this is the one I use. But students of the Founding, and even of American Government, should have their own copy.


Outline of Topics and Readings:

The class will begin with the professors’ explanation of the difficulty he encountered in giving form to the study of the Constitutional Convention. You will see, from even a brief glance at the attached “Outline of Topics and Readings”, that it partly follows the chronology of the Convention; and partly tries to organize their deliberations topically. This is somewhat confusing. The explanation will have to do with why the confusion seemed to him better than the clarity that might have resulted from either a strictly chronological or strictly topical syllabus.



Course Requirements and Expectations:

1. Day-to-Day

Normally, my syllabi schedule readings and topics for specific dates. I have continued that tradition. However, since I have not taught this class before, I have no idea how much relation this “schedule” will have to reality. We will follow the order of the attached “Outline of Topics and Readings” and the readings for the next class will be assigned at the end of the preceding class. All students should do the readings for that class as assigned, regardless of what the syllabus says will be covered that day. And, of course, come prepared to discuss them. “Discuss” should include what one has not understood or which one thinks one has understood but which did not make sense. See #3 below for more guidance on class participation.

2. Oral presentations

At the end of each class,  the readings for the next class will be assigned . At that time, a volunteer will be solicited to prepare a statement to be read at the beginning of the next class. ( If no volunteers are forthcoming, a draft will be instituted.) This statement should  1) summarize the issues and topics the readings for that day covered; and 2) say something about what the student thinks is of importance or of interest in those readings. This can include what the student may have had difficulty understanding and/or may not have understood very well. This statement should be short and take no more that 5-10 minutes to read to the class. Since every student is expected to have done the readings for that day, the class will then be invited to comment on what the student has read. That should get discussion going.

3. Class Participation

Since this is a seminar, the daily discussion will depend to a considerable extent on each student. Students are expected to prepare for class by doing the readings to be discussed that day, to bring the appropriate readings to class, and be prepared to engage in the dialectical exchanges through which the class is largely conducted.

Good quality class participation is required and is a substantial part of the final grade.  “Good quality” does not mean merely talking frequently.  It means 1) giving day to day evidence of having studied the readings, 2) being able to reflect and comment intelligently on the issues raised in the readings and lectures, 3) asking apt questions, and 4) showing evidence of making progress in fitting together the pieces into a larger whole.

How important is participation so understood?  The answer is that good performance on the written work is necessary but not sufficient to receive one of the best course grades.

4. Attendance

Students are expected to attend each class.  Attendance is taken. Students should expect final grades to be reduced for more than three absences

            5. Written requirements 

    A) Research Paper: A 2000-2500 word research paper is required. Students may select       their topic though there are some suggestions below. In either case, paper topics                should be submitted to the professor in writing no later than Tuesday February 9.                The papers are due Tuesday April 13.

    B) Final Exam: There will be a take-home final exam consisting of four 500-600 word       essays. Exam questions will be handed out Tuesday April 20 and are due at the                     regularly scheduled final exam time Tuesday May 4, 6-7:50 p.m. Note that the                    scheduled exam time is 6:00 not 6:30. If the time change is a problem for anyone,               they should let me know in time for us to consult with the class about meeting at the           regular 6:30 time.

Basis of Grading

1) Grades are based on attendance, the required oral presentation, the quality of class       participation, the research paper, and the final exam.

2) Normally, the last three are most important. Attendance only becomes relevant to the          final grade if there are more than 3 unexplained absences. Faithful attendance is                  expected but does not assure a high grade.

            3) On the other hand, this is flu season so do not come to class if you are ill: especially                        not if you are running a fever. Instead, send me an email explaining that you are ill.                         This will constitute an explanation for missing that class and will not count as an                            absence towards the 3. If at all possible, get someone to record any class you miss.                   That will help minimize what you have missed.


A Note on Research Paper Topics


            It is recommended that you do a paper limited to the Convention debates. However, when Professor Arnhart asked me to teach this class, he did so because “One of the most common requests [from graduate students] was a course on the American Founding that would include the Constitutional Convention and ratification debates.” Our curriculum does not have a class exactly like that. 652 studies the Convention and 653 studies the ratification debates and the first decade under the Constitution. Obviously, the structure of the curriculum envisions studying 652 first followed by 653. We will follow that intention as well as we can. So, while  this class will focus on the Convention, I will accommodate those who might want to do a research paper on the ratification debates.

            Below are first some possible paper topics on the Convention, followed by some possible topics on the ratification debates. If you choose the latter, I would encourage you to limit yourselves to The Federalist Papers and to Herbert Storing’s The Complete Anti-Federalist. These are an ample basis for understanding the important arguments for and against the Constitution as those surfaced during ratification. I further suggest that you focus on a specific point or points of disagreement between the Constitution’s supporters and opponents. However, in the interest of completeness, (and until the Library can recall the copies of Storing that are checked out) I have put on reserve Elliott’s Debates which cover all the debates in the State ratifying conventions. But do not feel obliged to use them.


Possible Paper Topics on the Convention


1. What are the meaning, or meanings, of “democracy” and “republican” as used in the Convention debates? How are they the same and how different?  Spell out the alleged positive and negative implications of each. If there is dispute about these matters among delegates, indicate what they are. Be especially attentive to the evidence, and the meaning of the evidence, supporting or contradicting the view that hostility to “democracy” was evident in the Convention.



2. Do you learn anything from the convention debates about how the delegates understood what freedom is, and/or what equality is, and which one is the greater concern? What does one learn from these debates about different conceptions of the relation between the form of government (republic, democracy, etc.) and the ends of government (like freedom and/or equality)? Is it the case that the delegates think one or the other of the forms of popular government is equivalent to freedom and/or equality? Or do they view it as a problem to be solved how to make the desired form of popular government compatible with the desired ends of government?


3. Explain the 3/5ths clause of Article I, Section 2. Trace its development. Explain where it came from and what the Convention intended it to do. It is said by famous people (such as President Clinton and Justice Thurgood Marshall) that this clause shows that the founders regarded Black slaves as equal to 3/5ths of a white man. Is this criticism supported by the evidence in the Convention debates? If not, what is an explanation for it that is supported by the evidence in the debates?


4. What can one learn from the Convention debates about how the delegates regarded slavery? What evidence is there that the delegates thought very hard about slavery? What delegates defend slavery and what are their arguments? What delegates criticize slavery and what are their arguments? Do either set of arguments go to the justice/injustice of slavery or to more “practical” concerns? What evidence is there in these debates that slavery is regarded only as a Southern problem? Or is there evidence that the North is also implicated in slavery? What evidence is there that those members of the Convention who spoke about slavery (or the slave trade) thought it was in the process of natural extinction?


5. Which do you find is the greater concern of the delegates in the Convention debates: is it to establish a form of popular government (democracy or republic)? Or is it to make whatever form is adopted compatible with freedom somehow understood? Or is it to create a union in which the small and the large states each feel secure against encroachment by the others and by the new National Government they are bringing into being?


6. A thoughtful scholar of the Founding says that the opponents of the Constitution lost because they wanted more from a central government than the league established by the Articles could deliver. They wanted what could only be provided by a central government and the central government established by the Constitution was the only central government option available to them. So to oppose it meant opposing the means necessary to what they wanted. This scholar has in mind primarily why the opponents of the Constitution lost in the ratification debates. To what extent do you find evidence to support this view in the Convention debates themselves.


7. In the 1790's, Madison and Hamilton (co-authors of The Federalist Papers) fell out over such issues as whether the Constitution gave Congress power to establish a national bank and whether it gave the President the power to issue a proclamation of neutrality in the war between England and France. In the debate in Congress on the Bank Bill (which was drafted by Hamilton as President Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury), Madison said that those favoring the bill “had consented to the ratification of the Constitution on different principles and expectations” than his own. Madison also said that Hamilton’s interpretation of the Executive power introduced “new principles and new constructions” into the Constitution. (Morton J. Frisch, The Hamilton-Madison-Jefferson Triangle, (1992) p. 4) Is there evidence in the Convention debates that Hamilton and Madison might have either “different principles and expectations” concerning the Constitution or different principles and constructions, regarding what the Constitution might permit government to do? 


8. In what ways does the issue of property arise in the Convention debates? What is the evidence of fear for the safety of property in the debates? Do the arguments made, and the evidence supporting those arguments, show the concern for the safety of property to be well or ill founded?


9. On the basis of your knowledge of the history of political philosophy, what do you find in the Convention debates which might reflect the teachings of political philosophers? Be specific about the arguments (or teachings), the topics, and the philosophers. The following political philosophers (who are only suggested not required) might be considered: Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Smith, Montesquieu. If you find more than one philosopher’s teachings reflected, try to make a judgment of who seems most important or most fundamental.


10. George Washington, who Chaired the Convention and spoke relatively little, was already known as “Father of his Country.” James Madison, who spoke often and kept the most complete notes of the debates, was known in his lifetime as “Father of the Constitution.” Is there evidence, from the Convention debates, supporting either description?


11. Rousseau famously said “What will become of virtue when one has to get rich at all costs? The ancient politicians [statesmen] spoke endlessly of morals and virtue; ours speak only of commerce and money."  Discourse on the Arts and Sciences (1750) sec. 41. To what extent is this, or is this not, a fair characterization of the concerns either of those who spoke at the Convention or of the Constitution which they produced?


12. Hamilton wrote, and became famous among the Founders for, those Federalist Papers which deal with the executive. To what extent are his arguments there similar to those he made in the Convention? How would you account for any differences you find? Don’t neglect his speech of June 18.


13. Read the following opposing views of Hamilton and Jefferson on the desirability of an energetic executive/government. Does anything like this disagreement surface at the Convention? In particular, what is the evidence that the Convention made a deliberate choice in favor of Hamilton’s “energetic government” as against Jefferson’s view that the price of energetic government is too high? Alternatively, were the alternatives simply not much discussed? If the latter, would that suggest Hamilton’s defense of an energetic Executive in Federalist #70 was not the Executive as created by the Convention? Or might it suggest something else?

      In Federalist #70 (March 15, 1788), Hamilton says “Energy in the Executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy… A feeble Executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for a bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government…”

            Against this view, Jefferson (who was not at the Convention) wrote to a French correspondent (Demeunier) 24 January 1786: “It has been said too that our governments both federal and particular want energy; that it is difficult to restrain both individuals and states from committing wrongs. This is true, and it is an inconvenience. On the other hand that energy which absolute governments derive from an armed force, which is the effect of the bayonet constantly held at the breast of every citizen, and which resembles very much the stillness of the grave, must be admitted also to have it's inconveniences. We weigh the two together, and like best to submit to the former. Compare the number of wrongs committed with impunity by citizens among us, with those committed by the sovereigns in other countries, and the last will be found most numerous, most oppressive on the mind, and most degrading of the dignity of man.” He summarized this view in a letter to Madison 20 December 1787: “I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.”


14. Read the following opposing hopes for the kind of country the U.S. would become under the Constitution.

            Jefferson wrote to Madison 20 Dec. 1787 “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe. Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”

            Hamilton's “Report on Manufactures” recommends a commercial society. (See Morton J. Frisch, “Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures and Political Philosophy”, Publius, 1978.) But a commercial society has to be a nation of cities (See Robert A. Goldwin ed., A Nation of Cities, Rand McNally, 1968).

            Was Jefferson’s view that the virtue of the people and of republican government depends on agriculture being the way of life represented in the Convention? Was Hamilton’s opposing view represented? What is the evidence that the Convention gave much thought to the question whether the U.S. would (or should) remain a predominantly agricultural nation or whether it would (or should) become predominantly commercial and industrial?  Or whether cities were to be avoided?



Some possible paper topics on the ratification debates

1. Modern historiography maintains that one of the most effective anti-Federalist arguments was that the proposed Constitution lacked “a bill of rights.” What did they mean by “a bill of rights”? Why did they think it so important? And how did the Federalists defend against that criticism?


2. Modern historiography says that the Federalists had to promise the Constitution’s opponents in the State ratifying conventions that, if the Constitution was ratified, they would add a “bill of rights” to it to take account of the opponents’ objections. On the basis of the debates in the State ratifying conventions, try to see 1) what was meant by a bill of rights, 2) how often Federalists promised to add a bill of rights versus how often they made more general promises to add “amendments.” Have we been oversold that it was promises of a bill of rights that secured ratification? (This question might require use of Elliot’s Debates).


2. During ratification, the anti-Federalists hammered away at the “necessary and proper” clause as undermining the limited nature of the powers granted to the national government. What were their arguments supporting that view and how did the Federalists respond to it?


3. State the anti-Federalists’ objections to the Supreme Court created by the Constitution and the Federalists’ response. In particular, how did the Federalists’ respond to the anti-Federalists’ argument that an unelected institution which could “negative” acts of the elected representatives of the people, was incompatible with republican principles?


4. Storing argues in What the Anti-Federalists Were For (Volume 1 of The Complete Anti-Federalist) to the effect that the anti-Federalists lost because they had a weaker argument, that is,  because they wanted more from the new government than was compatible with the powers they were willing to give it. Evaluate his argument.


5. When we assert that something was “the intent of the founders” about whom are we speaking? Who are “the founders”? That is, who gave us the Constitution? Was it the Federalists, the anti-Federalists, or both? And where does Jefferson fit in, who was neither at the Convention nor even in the country?


6. Is there any reason to assume that arguments that were important in securing ratification were similarly important in forming the Constitution itself? Investigate this question by looking at the “multiplicity of interest” argument of Federalist 10 (echoed in the “multiplicity of religious sects” argument in Federalist 51) and compare how important (in terms of frequency, disputedness, the stature of those articulating them, etc.) those arguments were in the Convention?