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Connecticut in the Constitutional Convention

Karl E. Valois

Contents of Curriculum Unit 81.ch.01:


This unit on our state’s role in the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention of 1787 is aimed at senior high school students, but possesses sufficient flexibility for application at the junior high level. It is designed to fit into general survey courses in American History , American Government, Civics, Legal Studies, and, of course, Connecticut History. It is intended for a teaching period of one week. Some teachers, however, may discover that the teaching concepts and the wealth of materials lend themselves to an extended time allotment.

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Substantive Essay

At the beginning, I devote some time to the various weaknesses and shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation and the movement to create a stronger national government. After discussing Connecticut’s decision to participate in the Constitutional Convention and its choice of delegates, special emphasis is placed upon the “Connecticut” or “Great Compromise,” which helped to save the Convention from possible dissolution by creating our present bicameral system of government in the national legislature. Other topics and issues such as slavery and commerce are discussed and analyzed. Finally, I provide teachers with brief biographical sketches of Connecticut’s delegates: Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, and William Samuel Johnson. Such background information should enable teachers to acquire a degree of confidence in disseminating the knowledge and concepts in this unit.

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The following are the objectives or teaching concepts I have in mind for the students:

(1) to understand that each society creates a governmental system Which reflects its philosophy of man.
(2) to examine the nature of “constitutions.”
(3) to analyze the purposes of government.
(4) to explore the role of debate and compromise in our democratic process.
(5) to differentiate between “federal” and “national” systems of government.
(6) to discuss the “Connecticut Compromise” and the advantages and disadvantages of our bicameral system.
(7) to vivify three historical personalities in our state’s history: Roger Sherman, Oliver Ellsworth, and William Samuel Johnson.
(8) to gain skills in analytical reading by evaluating charts and population figures, and by conducting individual research.
(9) to acquaint students with the enormous influence of Connecticut’s delegates in the creation of our republic.

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Strategies and Activities

The following strategies and activities should be implemented in order to achieve the aforementioned goals and objectives:

(1) field trips to such sites as the Oliver Ellsworth homestead in Windsor, or the New Haven Historical Society.
(2) research activities for students. They may investigate just how different the original thirteen states were on the eve of the Constitutional Convention in regards to population, economy, influence, and general outlook on life. Also, they may be encouraged to conduct research on any of the Connecticut delegates.
(3) worksheets containing graphs, population data, etc. may be distributed to the students. Students then might be asked why Virginia was opposed to “patching up” the Articles of Confederation, for example.
(4) work with primary source materials. Students may be asked to read historic issues pertinent to this period in the Connecticut Courant or to read selected excerpts from the correspondence of historical figures. Worksheets, activities, and class projects can emanate from these.
(5) debates. Students can organize themselves into representatives from the various states and engage in role-playing. Thus, the Philadelphia convention can be dramatically re-lived and the important issues discussed and debated.

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The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation was the first constitution of the United States and served as the basis of national government from 1781 to 1789. Under the Articles, the Confederation took the form of a “league of friendship” among the thirteen states. The central government consisted of a unicameral legislature comprised of delegates chosen annually by the states. The states retained their sovereignty and their equality, as each delegation was entitled to one vote.1

Congress was given an enumerated list of powers and duties in foreign, domestic, and military affairs. It was empowered to manage all diplomatic affairs, declare war, make treaties, direct all military operations, build and equip a navy, control Indian affairs, borrow money and emit bills of credit, make requisitions on the states for men and money, establish weights and measures, establish and regulate post offices, and determine the alloy and value of coin. While lesser matters could be decided by a simple majority vote, the consent of nine states was required to pass any measure of special importance. Moreover, no constitutional amendment could be admitted to the Articles unless approved by Congress and ratified by all thirteen states.2

This confederation of sovereign states, operating through a single body of representatives with neither an executive nor a judicial branch, proved within a matter of years to be inadequate to the economic, and political needs of the time. Perhaps the greatest defects of the Articles were the absence of two essential powers—to raise revenue and to regulate commerce. Without the power to tax, the government was in perpetual financial difficulty; and, lacking the authority to regulate foreign commerce, it could not establish a uniform commercial policy for the nation.

Indeed, from the very inception of the Articles, economic problems had threatened to wreck the republican experiment in America. To maintain order and dignity at home and even the semblance of credit abroad, the confederation needed to generate an independent income. As a result, in February of 1781, Congress asked the states for the power to levy a five-percent duty on the value of all goods imported into the United States. This revenue would then be directed to the payment of debts incurred from the Revolutionary war. The amendment that was submitted to the states for ratification met with initial success, as twelve states promptly consented. Rhode Island, however, refused to acquiesce, and then, shortly thereafter, Virginia repealed its previous ratification. Undaunted, the Congress prepared another impost law in 1783, only to be thwarted this time by New York’s disapproval.3

Furthermore, the financial health of the Confederation was in a deplorable state. The requisition system, under which the Congress appealed to the states for revenue to finance the costs of government, proved to be a tragic failure. Between 1782 and 1783, for example, Congress asked for $10,000,000 but received less than $1,500,000. Overall, from November 1, 1781, to January 1, 1786, requisitions received by Congress amounted to only $2,500,000, a sum difficult for even the most frugal of governments to work with.4 Meanwhile, the total debt of the United States, foreign and domestic, was $35,000,000—and growing due to the unpaid interest.5 Clearly, something had to be done to stave off the bankruptcy of the young republic and to insure its existence. In sum, historian Andrew C. McLaughlin offered this appraisal of the Congress of the Confederation:

. . . the Congress of the Confederation . . . could not pass effective laws or enforce its orders. It could ask for money but not compel payment; it could enter into treaties but not enforce their stipulations; it could provide for the raising of armies but not fill their ranks; it could borrow money but take no proper measures for repayment; it could advise and recommend but not command. In other words . . . it was not a government.6

Believing that the central government needed greater strength for the young nation to survive, men like Washington, Madison, and Hamilton assumed leadership in the movement to create a viable national government. Unsuccessful at a convention in Annapolis in 1786, the call went out from Congress for another meeting for May, 1787, in Philadelphia.7

Not until the May session of 1787 did the General Assembly of Connecticut finally respond by nominating delegates to the Philadelphia meeting. There had been some confusion and fear in the minds of some Connecticut leaders as to the purposes of the upcoming convention. In the resolution of Congress passed on February 21, 1787, the nature of this meeting had been made quite explicit. The delegates from the various states were being gathered together “for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation.”8 Yet, Connecticut answered the call by naming a trio of delegates only after the fears abated that the Philadelphia Convention might be a threat to the state’s sovereignty. Connecticut merchants yearned for reforms concerning commercial issues and the national debt, but many Connecticut people feared loss of control over their own affairs if the central government was strengthened.9 Initially, the Connecticut contingent was composed of William S. Johnson, Oliver Ellsworth, and Erastus Wolcott. Wolcott, leader of the agrarian faction in the state, did not accept—and was replaced by the General Assembly with the old political warhorse, Roger Sherman.10 Overall, it may be said that the Connecticut delegation was a very strong one—characterized by its moderation, pragmatism, and compromising temperament.11

Some Connecticut nationalists worried that Sherman was inclined merely to,

patch up the old scheme of Government . . . He is as cunning as the Devil, and if you attack him, you ought to know him well; He is not easily, but if he suspects you are trying to take him in, you may as well catch an Eel by the tail . . . .12

But what did the people of Connecticut really want from their representatives in Philadelphia? Generally, they did not want major alterations of the Articles. Merchants did desire free trade through New York and Massachusetts, and shippers to the West Indies did want effective treaties. Also, public creditors yearned for the redemption of their notes. Land speculators, militia soldiers, citizens who had undergone damages during British raids, and those who had lent the state money all wanted a stronger foothold to Connecticut’s “Western Reserve.” (See map below). An exclusive national import duty which could provide a circulating currency was another point on which most state interest groups agreed. Finally, it may be stated that the citizenry of Connecticut favored an equality of representation among all states in the national government.13

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Constitutional Convention

The body of representatives that assembled in Philadelphia in 1787 constituted the most important convention that has ever met in the United States.14 The Great Convention convened on May 25 when a quorum of seven states was obtained; and, on the same day, George Washington was elected chairman of the proceedings. The Connecticut delegation, though, was not in attendance at the opening session. Oliver Ellsworth took his seat on May 28, Roger Sherman on May 30, and William S. Johnson arrived on June 2.15

It is useful to classify the fifty-five delegates of the convention into “nationalists” and “federalists.” The former group felt that the central government should be empowered to coerce the states and their citizens. Many believed in a strong executive and judiciary rather than legislative dominance of the central government. The nationalists wanted the central government to administer the collection of taxes and the strict payment of public and private debts. Specifically, they wanted the national debt to be paid by Congress from its own revenues rather than requisitions on the states. Led by men such as Robert Morris, John Jay, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and James Madison, these “nationalists” sought to alter the very character of the Articles through a radical rewriting.16

The “federalists,” on the other hand, felt that the central government should be subordinate to the states and controlled by them. In this way, each state would be able to retain its sovereignty and independence. They believed in the retention of the essential framework of the Articles but were willing to add new, specific and limited powers. On the crucial issue of the national debt, they favored an idea whereby the debt would be divided among the states. Led by men such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, George Clinton, Richard Henry Lee, Elbridge Gerry—who refused to attend the convention—end George Mason—who did, they feared that national payment of the war debt would result in the supremacy of the central government over the states.17

On May 29, the convention began in earnest with the presentation of the “Virginia Plan” by Governor Edmund Randolph. In this blueprint for a national government were the following highlights:

(1) a scheme of representation based on financial contributions or the number of free inhabitants in a state.
(2) a bicameral legislature, the members of the first branch chosen by the people and the members of the second branch to be elected by those of the first.
(3) each branch to have the right to originate bills.
(4) the national legislature to have all the powers already vested in the Confederation Congress, plus those powers which the states were incompetent to exercise.
(5) the creation of a national executive.
(6) the creation of a national judiciary.18
It was plain for all to see that what Randolph and the large states were proposing was the replacement of the Articles of Confederation. In its place would be created a strong national government that could be dominated by the most populous states. From May 30 to June 13, the entire convention debated the Plan. Finally, on June 15, the small states rallied to offer their own “New Jersey Plan,” delivered by William Paterson. Under this scheme there was proposed:

(1) a revision and improvement of the Articles.
(2) Congress to levy duties on imports.
(3) Congress to regulate trade.
(4) Congress to collect funds from states
not complying with requisitions.
(5) a plural national executive.
(6) a national judiciary.19
When on June 19, the delegates rejected the New Jersey Plan, tempers flared and the continuance of the convention seemed in doubt. Shortly thereafter, the Connecticut delegation searched for a compromise. Oliver Ellsworth discussed a theme of equal representation in the upper house:

We were partly national, partly federal. The proportional representation in the first branch was comfortable to the national principle and would secure the large States against the small. An equality of voices was comfortable to the federal principle and was necessary to secure the Small States against the large.20

By July 2, even Roger Sherman admitted “we are now at a full stop, and nobody he supposed meant that we should break up without doing something.” He thought that a special committee might come up with some solution.21 His suggestion was followed, and Sherman was made a member of the committee. The compromise eventually hammered out by the committee stipulated that the lower house have suffrage based on population (one member per each 40,000) and in the upper house there would be equal representation. This was essentially the same proposal that Sherman had made on June 11 in the convention. He had then foreshadowed the “Connecticut Compromise” by suggesting,

that the proportion of suffrage in the 1st branch should be according to the respective numbers of free inhabitants; and that in the second branch or Senate, each State should have one vote and no more.22

(figure available in print form)

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State Free(White) Free(Other) Slave Total
N.H. 141,097 630 158 141,885
Mass. 373,324 5,463 None 378,787
R.I. 64,470 3,407 948 68,825
Conn. 232,374 2,808 2,764 237,946
N.Y. 314,142 4,654 21,324 340,120
N.J. 169,954 2,762 11,423 184,139
Penn. 424,099 6,537 3,737 434,373
Dela. 46,310 3,899 8,887 59,096
Md. 208,649 8,043 103,036 319,728
Va. 442,117 12,866 292,627 747,610
N.C. 288,204 4,975 100,572 393,751
S.C. 140,178 1,801 107,094 249,073
Ga. 52,886 398 29,264 82,548
Finally, on July 16, the report of the committee was voted on and approved. Proportional representation would be established in the lower house, money bills were to originate in the lower house, and the upper house was to guarantee equal suffrage for the states.23 The members of the lower house were to be elected by the voters of the states directly; but the state governments would appoint the Senators.

The Great Compromise or the Connecticut Compromise was a federal compromise. The small states, by abandoning their dogged insistence to equal representation in the first branch of the national legislature, had given up their preference for a mere confederation. The large states, in surrendering their claims to proportional representation in the upper house, had forfeited any dreams they may have entertained for a consolidated government. The resolution of their dispute, ably orchestrated by members of the Connecticut delegation, led to the establishment of our present House of Representatives and Senate.

Another controversial subject confronting the delegates at the convention was the nature and extent of the executive branch. On June 1, Roger Sherman proposed “that the legislature should be at liberty to appoint one or more [executives] as experience might dictate.”24 He then suggested that the executive be dependent on the legislature since an independent executive was “the very essence of tyranny.” He also felt that the legislature should be able to remove the president and that short terms with re-eligibility were most advisable.25 When the vote was taken on a single executive, seven states, including Connecticut, voted in the affirmative.26

On the important matter of presidential election, the Connecticut delegation desired that the executive be chosen by the national legislature. They also advocated that the president be independent from control by the state governors and thus Sherman and his colleagues opposed election by the governors. When, on July 17, Gouverneur Morris proposed s popular election of the executive, Sherman responded that the people “will never be sufficiently informed of characters . . . . They will generally vote for some man in their own State, and the largest State will have the best chance for appointment.” The delegation then voted with the majority to dash Morris’ plan, and also against a proposal of election by state legislatures.27

It fell to Oliver Ellsworth (with Sherman and Johnson absent) to propose a system in which electors chosen by the state legislatures would select an executive. But, on August 31, Sherman was appointed to a Committee of Eleven to compose acceptable compromises on a variety of still vexing problems. During the discussions, Sherman was able to clear the way for presidential selection when he suggested that, in the case of a candidate not receiving a majority of the electoral college, the House of Representatives (with each state having one vote) should make the final decision. As a result, it may be said that the Electoral College was another creation of the Connecticut delegation.28

Due to his judicial experience, Sherman entertained definite ideas on the structure of the national judiciary. He seconded a motion by John Rutledge of North Carolina that no national courts below a supreme court be established, holding that such inferior courts would be too expensive and that there would be confusion over jurisdiction with state courts. Although Rutledge’s motion was passed, it was quickly reversed when James Madison moved to allow rather than oblige the national legislature to establish lower courts. Sherman was also opposed to granting the national legislature the power to negative state laws. On July 18, however, he compromised by his willingness to permit the legislature to create inferior courts. Connecticut then joined in the unanimous vote for their creation.29

Sherman met with greater success in matters concerning the appointment process. After a complex series of political maneuverings, it was adopted that the appointment of judges be placed in the hands of the executive, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Lastly, in seeking an explicit statement of jurisdiction over disputed land claims, Sherman suggested that the national judiciary be given the right to adjudicate cases involving citizens and foreigners, citizens and other states, and citizens of different states. In order to protect the claims of former Connecticut citizens their homesteads in the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, he added, “Citizens of the same State claiming lands under grants of different states.” This won approval in the convention on August 27.30

On the issue of slavery, the Connecticut delegation remained fairly disinterested. There were only a few thousand slaves in the state in 1787, comprising less than two percent of the whole population; and, in 1784, a gradual emancipation law had been enacted without much debate. Personally, Sherman opposed slavery, albeit by no means was he emotional about the institution. On August 22, he stated that he “disapproved of the slave trade,”

yet as the States were now possessed of the right to import slaves . . . and as it was expedient to have as few objections as possible to the proposed scheme of Government, he thought it best to leave the matter as we find it. He observed that the abolition of slavery seem to be going on in the U.S. and that the good sense of the several States would probably by degrees Complete it.31

Hence, it was prudent, believed Sherman, to permit the southern states to continue their importation of slaves. Yet, he did not favor placing duties on slaves since this would imply that they were property. Meanwhile, the Connecticut delegation supported the three-fifths compromise in which five blacks would be equivalent to three whites for purposes of taxation and representation.32

On August 16, the questions of commerce and the taxation of imports and exports was brought up. At this point, a number of southern states sought guarantees that exports would not be taxed.33 Sherman, in the meantime, urged that Congress be forbidden to tax exports since such a tax could place an unfair burden on the commercial states—and thus render an equal tax on exports impractical. At the same time, he did not want to jeopardize all of the good work of the Convention up to that point by antagonizing the southern states. Connecticut’s economic situation, moreover, favored a prohibition on export taxes, as the state engaged in an extensive exportation of agricultural produce and livestock to the West Indies.34 However, Sherman did want to extricate his state from economic dependence on New York. Accordingly, on August 28, he proposed:

Nor shall any regulation of commerce or revenue give preference to the ports of one State over those of another, or oblige vessels bound to or from any state to enter, clear, or pay duties in another and all tonage, duties, imposts, & excises laid by the Legislature shall be uniform throughout the U.S.35

On the following day, without much wearisome debate, the Convention reached a series of agreements. The importation of slaves would not be banned for at least twenty years, a simple majority in each house would enact navigation acts affecting the entire nation, and no tax would be levied on exports.36

By mid-September, the fifty-five delegates from the twelve states who participated in the convention had finished their work. They had decided to scrap the Articles of Confederation in favor of a more powerful national government. Through compromise they had come to surmount many obstacles such as the issue of representation in the new legislative body, the nature and powers of the executive, the structure of the judiciary, the status of black Americans (at least for the time being), and questions concerning the commerce power. By September 17, the new Constitution had been signed by thirty-nine delegates.

After the convention, Roger Sherman, one of the leading figures in the creation of the new government, assessed the work of the delegates and the prospects for success:

. . . Perhaps a better Constitution could not be made upon mere speculation, it was consented to by all the states present in convention—which is a circumstance in its favor so far as any respect is due to it. If upon experience it should be found deficient, it provides an easy and peaceable mode of making amendments. If it should not be adopted I think we shall be in deplorable circumstances, our credit as a nation is sinking. The resources of the country could not be drawn out to defend against a foreign invasion nor the forces of the union to prevent a civil war, but if the constitution should be adopted and the several states chose some of their wisest and best men from time to time to administer the govt. I believe it will not want any amendment. I hope that kind providence that guarded these states thro’ a dangerous and distressing war to peace and liberty, will atill watch over them and guide them in the way of Safety.37

Roger Sherman (1721-1793)

A leading Revolutionary War figure who worked indefatigably in the service of his state and in the creation of the new nation, Roger Sherman was born in Newton, Massachusetts on April 19, 1721. As a youth in Stoughton, Mass., he assisted his father on the family farm, became an apprentice shoemaker, and studied reading, history, and mathematics in the common schools. Driven by enormous ambition for pre-eminence, he emigrated to New Milford, Connecticut when he was twenty-two years old. There, he opened a general store, continued his shoemaking, and began to practice surveying. In 1745, he became county surveyor—a position of importance, responsibility, and fortune. It provided the impetus for his economic and social advancement. Between 1750 and 1761, he prepared and published a series of almanacs which helped to spread his reputation. Following a brief study of the law, he was admitted to the bar in 1754, and was soon enmeshed in town and provincial politics.

In 1761, Sherman moved to New Haven, where he continued in business until 1772. He represented the town in the Connecticut legislature, serving in the lower house (1764-1766) and then the council (1766-1785). He was also an elected judge of the Superior Court from 1766-1788 and mayor of New Haven from 1784-1793.

Sherman’s political and economic ambitions led him in the mid 1760’s to join forces with the moderate opposition to the new British imperial legislation formed at the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War. As a delegate to the Continental Congresses between 1774 and 1784, he was placed on committees to draft the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. In fact, he was the only American to sign four historic documents: the Continental Association of 1774, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the United States Constitution. A major participant at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, he argued for a stronger central government and engineered the famous “Connecticut Compromise,” which created our present bicameral legislature with its dual system of representation. After returning home to fight for ratification of the new constitution, he concluded his political career by service in the House of Representatives (1789-1791) and, upon the resignation of William Samuel Johnson, in the United States Senate (1791-1793). While still a member of that body, he died in New Haven on July 23, 1793.

Oliver Ellsworth (1745-1807)

A prominent figure in Connecticut and national politics during the Revolutionary and Federal eras, Oliver Ellsworth was born in Windsor, Connecticut on April 29, 1745. Like Roger Sherman, the key to Ellsworth’s achievements was an insatiable ambition, which was further guided by a sincere desire to render public service. After an ignominious dismissal from Yale College for various sorts of mischievous behavior, he transferred to the College of New Jersey (Princeton), from which he graduated in 1766. Sensing opportunities for economic advancement, he abandoned theology in favor of the law and was admitted to the bar in 1771. The shift in vocations paid handsome dividends; by the latter part of the decade, he was among the leading lawyers in Connecticut. With the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775, he was serving as representative of his town in the General Assembly. Thereafter, he was appointed to the committee of the Pay Table and in charge of military expenditures. In 1777, he accepted the appointment as State’s Attorney for Hartford County. Ellsworth’s ascendancy in provincial politics continued in the next three years, as he was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress, a member of Connecticut’s powerful Council of Safety, and was elected to the prestigious Governor’s Council. This was a meteoric rise for a man of only thirty-five years of age. From 1778 to 1783, he served in the Continental Congress and from 1785 to 1789 he was a judge to the Superior Court of Connecticut. Elected a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, he became a staunch defender of states’ rights; but when convinced of the Constitution’s merits and practicality, Ellsworth assumed leadership in the fight for its ratification in his native state.

In 1789, he was chosen as a senator from Connecticut and served there as the leader of the Federalist Party until 1796. A major contribution in that body was his authorship of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which created the district and circuit court system of our federal judiciary. He also was appointed by President Washington as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1796.

In 1799, Ellsworth was entrusted by President Adams to head a commission of three to procure a treaty between the United States and France to end the “quasi-war,” which had been waging since the past year. Upon becoming ill in Europe, he resigned from the Court and from his diplomatic mission. However, from 1801 to 1807, he served once again on the Governor’s Council and in that latter year was offered recognition for his many years of public service by an appointment as Chief Justice of his home state.

William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819)

An American jurist and educator, William Samuel Johnson was born in Stratford, Connecticut on October 7, 1727. Graduating from Yale College in 1744 with distinction, he studied law and practiced in both the New York and Connecticut courts. In 1761, he was elected to represent Stratford in the General Assembly. His entrance into the stormy world of politics continued in 1765 with his selection as a Connecticut delegate to the Stamp Act Congress. In the following year, he became a member of the Council of Assistants, the upper house of the legislature of Connecticut. From 1766 to 1771, he represented the colony’s interests in Great Britain as a special agent. In 1772, he was appointed judge of the Superior Court of Connecticut and was commissioned major in the colonial militia.

During the American Revolution, however, he could not bring himself to join either the Patriot or the Tory faction, choosing to retire to private life at his home in Stratford. He re-emerged onto the political stage, however, as a representative to the Continental Congress from 1784 to 1787. Although he initially opposed a new convention, he was chosen as a delegate to the assembly in Philadelphia in 1787. Thereafter, he retained his seat in the Connecticut Council until 1789. Concurrently, he accepted the presidency of Columbia College (1787-1800) while serving as one of Connecticut’s first U.S. senators. Resigning the presidency of Columbia in 1800, due to poor health, he retired to Stratford until his death in 1819.

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Lesson Plan: Debates And Sociodramatic Role-Playing

These activities are designed for use with any level of junior or senior high school students. In order to make history come alive, it is very useful to engage in exercises that invite students to utilize their own creativity. While traditional lectures by teachers are informative, they can become a tedious routine. To inject new life and meaning into the study of history, it is a good idea to allow students to showcase their youthful exuberance in dramatic role-playing. Admittedly, this class activity is not for all groups; it depends upon the “personality” of the class. Yet, at any rate, it does constitute a varied teaching technique.

Ideally, the teacher should divide the class into different states, with each pupil assuming an historical identity. Thus, a group of three students might comprise the Connecticut delegation to the Philadelphia Convention. Each person would then be responsible for conducting research on his or her historical personality. Moreover, each state “delegation” would have to confer collectively to plot their strategy for the upcoming convention. As a result, the students would also be investigating the size of their state in 1787, their economic situation, and other modes of lifestyle.

Finally, on convention day, the historic re-enactment would begin. By this time, of course, the teacher will have provided as much assistance to the “delegates” as he or she deems necessary. As for the script to this drama, the teacher need only consult any source that contains James Madison’s notes of the convention. Perhaps the most useful text would be Saul Padover’s To Secure These Blessings (N.Y., 1962).

Each actor would then merely play his or her role. The teacher may serve as “director” and choose the dialogues that would be most entertaining and educational.

To further promote interest in the play, students might be encouraged to dress in the attire of eighteenth-century America. And, since many school systems now have them, if a video-recorder can be used to capture for posterity the day’s proceedings—all the better!!!

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Lesson Plan: Analysis Of Data Through Charts

This lesson is suited for almost any group of high school students. It ia an excellent exercise in the use of primary source materials and permits the student to make judgments and hypotheses from the raw statistics provided.

The teacher needs only to photocopy the chart above, or to retype the population figures onto a ditto master for reproduction.

This first federal census practically speaks for itself and serves to illustrate the great variations in size among the thirteen states. Students viewing the data should quickly come to appreciate a number of considerations:

(1) the relatively small numbers of people living in the United States in 1790.
(2) that Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania contained as mary people as the next six states combined.
(3) that it was little wonder that the delegates of Virginia led the way for the creation of a national legislature based on proportional representation.
(4) that New Jersey and the smaller states fought equally hard to maintain the principle of equal representation in the national legislature.
(5) that slaves made up a sizeable portion of the population in the United States and, in some Southern States, almost equaled the native whites.
(6) that clashes of interest would manifest themselves at the Constitutional Convention.

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Lesson Plan: Analysis of The Virginia and New Jersey Plans:

This activity is especially suited for an advanced group of high school students, but could also be adapted for use with students of average abilities. It is an excellent exercise in using primary source materials and allows the student to see the actual shape and structure of these proposed plans of government. At the same time, of course, the student is acquiring skills in analytical reading.

The teacher needs only to “xerox” copies of each plan from any number of good books dealing with the formation of the Constitution. Then, with each student armed with his or her copy, the teacher may then direct the proceedings. Beginning with the Virginia Plan of May 29, 1787, the teacher could challenge the class to “translate” the political language of the document. The fifteen articles or provisions of the plan could be watered down into understandable proposals. Along the way, it is a great educational experience to introduce and define such terms as “confederation,” ”suffrage,” ”national legislature,” etc.

Following the translations of each plan, students should have a simplified comprehension of the controversy surrounding the creation of our national government. Was it to be a “national” or a “federal” union of states? The myriad of thought-provoking questions that would follow further attests to its usefulness. Finally, as each student is able to find his or her way through the maze of conventional political jargon, a degree of pride in self-achievement could be fostered. “Politics” would not necessarily have to be an incomprehensible or mundane topic.

The Virginia Plan, May 29, 1787

 1. RESOLVED, That the articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected and enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely, common defence, security of liberty and general welfare.
 2. Resolved, therefore, That the rights of suffrage, in the National Legislature ought to be proportioned to the Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants, as the one or the other rule may seem best in different cases.
 3. Resolved, That the National Legislature ought to consist of two branches.
 4. Resolved, That the members of the first branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by the people of the several States every for the term of ; to be of the age of years at least; to receive liberal stipends by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service; to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the first branch, during the term of service, and for the space of after its expiration; to be incapable of re-election for the space of after the expiration of their term of service; and to be subject to recall.
 5. Resolved, That the members of the second branch of the National Legislature ought to be elected by those of the first, out of a proper number of persons nominated by the individual Legislatures; to be of the age of years, at least; to hold their offices for a term sufficient to ensure their independency; to receive liberal stipends, by which they may be compensated for the devotion of their time to public service; and to be ineligible to any office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the second branch, during the term of service, and for the space of after the expiration thereof.
 6. Resolved, That each branch ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be empowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation, and moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening in the opinion of the National Legislature the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfil its duty under the articles thereof.
 7. Resolved, That a national executive be instituted; to be chosen by the National Legislature for the term of years; to receive punctually at stated times, a fixed compensation for the services rendered, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the Magistracy existing at the time of increase or diminution; and to be ineligible a second time; and that besides a general authority to execute the National laws, it ought to enjoy the Executive rights vested in Congress by the Confederation.
 8. Resolved, That the executive and a convenient number of the National Judiciary, ought to compose a council of revision with authority to examine every act of the National Legislature before it shall operate, and every act of a particular Legislature before a Negative thereon shall be final; and that the dissent of the said Council shall amount to a rejection, unless the act of the National Legislature be again passed, or that of a particular Legislature be again negatived by of the members of each branch.
 9. Resolved, That a national judiciary be established to consist of one or more supreme tribunals, and of inferior tribunals to be chosen by the National Legislature, to hold their offices during good behavior; and to receive punctually at stated times fixed compensations for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the person actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution. That the jurisdiction of the inferior tribunals shall be to hear and determine in the first instance, and of the supreme tribunal to hear and determine, in the denier resort, all piracies and felonies on the high seas,; captures from an enemy; cases in which foreigners or citizens of other States applying to such jurisdictions may be interested, or which respect the collection of the National revenue; impeachments of any National officer; and questions which involve the national peace or harmony,
10. Resolved, That provision ought to be made for the admission of states lawfully arising within the limits of the United States, whether from a voluntary junction of Government and Territory, or otherwise, with the consent of a number of voices in the National Legislature less than the whole.
11. Resolved, That a Republican Government and the territory of each State, except in the instance of a voluntary junction of Government and territory, ought to be guaranteed by the United States to each State.
12. Resolved, That provision ought to be made for the continuance of Congress and their authorities and privileges, until a given day after the reform of the articles of Union shall be adopted, and for the completion of all their engagements.
13. Resolved, That provision ought to be made for the amendment of the articles of Union whensoever it shall seem necessary; and that the assent of the National Legislature ought not to be required thereto.
14. Resolved, That the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers within the several States, ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of union.
15. Resolved, That the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation, by the Convention ought at a Proper time, or times, after the approbation of Congress, to be submitted to an assembly or assemblies of Representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider and decide thereon.

The New Jersey Plan, June 15, 1787

1. RESOLVED, That the articles of Confederation ought to be so revised, corrected and enlarged, as to render the federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government, and the preservation of the Union.
2. Resolved, That in addition to the powers vested in the United States in Congress, by the present existing articles of Confederation, they be authorized to pass acts for raising a revenue, by levying a duty or duties on all goods and merchandises of foreign growth or manufacture, imported into any part of the United States, by Stamps on paper, vellum, or parchment, and by a postage on all letters and packages passing through the general post-office, to be applied to such federal purposes as they shall deem proper and expedient; to make rules and regulations for the collection thereof; and the same from time to time, to alter and amend in such manner as they shall think proper; to pass Acts for the regulation of trade and commerce, as well with foreign nations as with each other: provided that all punishments, fines, forfeitures, and penalties to be incurred for contravening such rules and regulations shall be adjudged by the Common law Judiciaries of the State in which any offence contrary to the true intent and meaning of such Acts, rules and regulations shall have been committed or perpetrated, with liberty of commencing in the first instance all suits or prosecutions for that purpose, in the superior Common law Judiciary of such State; subject nevertheless, for the correction of all errors, both in law and fact in rendering judgment, to an appeal to the Judiciary of the United States.
3. Resolved, That whenever requisitions shall be necessary, instead of the rule for making requisitions mentioned in the articles of Confederation the United States in Congress be authorized to make such requisitions in proportion to the whole number of white and other free citizens and inhabitants of every age, sex, and condition, including those bound to servitude for a term of years, and three fifths of all other persons not comprehended in the foregoing description, except Indians not paying taxes; that if such requisitions be not complied with, in the time specified therein, to direct the collection thereof in the non-complying States, and for that purpose to devise and pass acts directing and authorizing the same; provided that none of the powers hereby vested in the United States in Congress shall be exercised without the consent of at least States; and in that proportion, if the number of confederated States should hereafter be increased or diminished.
4. Resolved, That the United States in Congress be authorized to elect a federal Executive to consist of persons, to continue in office for the term of years; to receive punctually at stated times a fixed compensation for their services in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons composing the Executive at the time of such increase or diminution, to be paid out of the federal treasury; to be incapable of holding any other office or appointment during their term of service, and for years thereafter; to be ineligible a second time, and removable by Congress on application by a majority of the Executives of the several States. That the executive, besides their general authority to execute the federal acts ought to appoint all federal officers not otherwise provided for, and to direct all military operations; provided, that none of the persons composing the federal executive shall on any occasion take command of any troops, so as personally to conduct any military enterprise as General, or in any other capacity.
5. Resolved, That a federal Judiciary be established, to consist of a supreme Tribunal the Judges of which to be appointed by the Executive, and to hold their offices during good behavior; to receive punctually at stated times a fixed compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made, so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution. That the Judiciary so established shall have authority to hear and determine in the first instance on all impeachments of federal officers, and by way of appeal in the denier resort in all cases touching the rights and privileges of Ambassadors; in all cases of captures from an enemy; in all cases of piracies and felonies on the high seas; in all cases in which foreigners may be interested, in the construction of any treaty or treaties, or which may arise on any of the acts for regulation of trade, or the collection of the federal Revenue. That none of the Judiciary shall during the time they remain in Office be capable of receiving or holding any other office or appointment during their term of service, or for thereafter.
6. Resolved, That all acts of the United States in Congress, made by virtue and in pursuance of the powers hereby and by the articles of confederation vested in them, and all treaties made and ratified under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the respective States as far forth as those Acts or Treaties shall relate to the said States or their Citizens; and that the judiciary of the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the respective States as far forth as those Acts or Treaties shall relate to the said States or their Citizens; and that the judiciary of the several States shall be bound thereby in their decisions, any thing in the respective laws of the Individual States to the contrary notwithstanding; and if any State, or any body of men in any State, shall oppose or prevent the carrying into execution such acts or treaties, the federal Executive shall be authorized to call forth the powers of the Confederated States, or so much thereof as may be necessary, to enforce and compel an obedience to such Acts, or an Observance of such Treaties.
7. Resolved, That provision be made for the admission of mew States into the Union.
8. Resolved, That the rule for naturalization ought to be the same in every State.
9. Resolved, That a citizen of one State committing an offence in another State of the Union shall be deemed guilty of the same offence as if it had been committed by a citizen of the State in which the offence was committed.

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1. Merrill Jensen, The Making of the American Constitution (New York, 1964) pp. 26-27; Andrew C. McLaughlin, The Confederation and the Constitution (New York, 1966), p. 43.
2. Jensen, pp. 27-28; McLaughlin, P. 44.
3. Merrill Jensen, The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781-1789 (New York, 1950) pp. 58-67;, McLaughlin, p. 48,66.
4. McLaughlin, p. 57.
5. Ibid., p. 66.
6. Ibid., pp. 45-48.
7. Jensen, The New Nation, pp. 420-421; Max Farrand, The Framing of the Constitution of the United States (Yale University Press, 1913), pp. 8-12; Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention (New York, 1966), pp. 54-57.
8. As quoted in Carl Van Doren, The Great Rehearsal (New York, 1948), p. 264.
9. Christopher Collier, Roger Sherman’s Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1971), pp. 222-230.
10. Ibid., pp. 222-228.
11. Ibid., p. 229.
12. Jeremiah Wadsworth as quoted in Roger S. Boardman, Roger Sherman: Signer and Statesman (Philadelphia, 1938), p. 231.
13. Collier, pp. 231-233.
14. Max Farrand, The Fathers of the Constitution (Yale Univ. Press, 1921), p. 108.
15. Ronald J. Lettieri, Connecticut’s Young Man of the Revolution: Oliver Ellsworth (Hartford, 1978), p. 65; Collier, p. 237; George C. Groce, William Samuel Johnson (New York, 1937), p. 139.
16. Jensen, The New Nation, pp. xiii-xiv, 4, 24, 73, 399, 424-425.
17. Ibid.
18. See McLaughlin, pp. 134-135; Jensen, The Making of the American Constitution, pp. 42-44.
19. See McLaughlin, pp. 146-148; Jensen, Ibid., pp. 54-56.
20. James Madison, Notes of the Federal Convention . . . (New York, 1966), p. 218; Lettieri, pp. 68-69.
21. Madison, p. 232.
22. Ibid., p. 98; Van Doren’ p. 75.
23. Van Doren, p. 111.
24. Madison, p. 46.
25. Collier, p. 247.
26. Madison, pp. 60-61.
27. Collier, pp. 246-248.
28. Ibid., pp. 248-250.
29. Ibid., pp. 250-251.
30. Ibid., pp. 251-253.
31. Ibid., pp. 270-271.
32. Ibid., pp. 271-272; Lettieri, pp. 69-71.
33. Madison, p. 469.
34. Collier, p. 256; Larry A. Gerlach, “Toward a More Perfect Union, the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention,: Bulletin of the Connecticut Historical Society, 34 (April, 1969), p. 74.
35. Madison, p. 540.
36. Rossiter, pp. 216-218; Van Doren, p. 155.
37. As quoted in John G. Rommel, Connecticut’s Yankee Patriot: Roger Sherman (Hartford, 1979), pp. 45-46.

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Beardsley, E.E. Life and Times of William Samuel Johnson, LL.D. New York, 1876. An old but still useful biography of the man and his era.

Bingham, Harold J. History of Connecticut. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1862. A good, general history of the state.

Boardman, Roger Sherman. Roger Sherman: Signer and Statesman.

Philadelphia, 1938. A classic biography of one of Connecticut’s great historical personalities.

Bowen, Catherine D. Miracle at Philadelphia: Constitutional Convention. Little, Brown, & Co., 1966. A popular and readable account of the convention. Students should enjoy this type of history.

Brown, William C. The Life of Oliver Ellsworth. DaCapo Press, 1970. A modern biography which may be the most useable to date.

Collier, Christopher. Roger Sherman’s Connecticut: Yankee Politics and the American Revolution. Middletown: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1971. By far the most authoritative account on our state’s role in the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. It blends scholarship and literary grace.

—————. Roger Sherman: Puritan Politician. New Haven: New Haven Historical Society, 1976. A stimulating collection of three essays on one of the greatest politicians of his era.

Farrand, Max. Fathers of the Constitution. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1921. An interesting and highly readable book on the Founding Fathers.

—————. The Framing of the Constitution. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1913. A classic narrative of the making of the Constitution by one of the leading authorities on the subject.

Croce, George C. William Samuel Johnson, a Maker of the Constitution. New York, 1937. A brief but informative biography of Johnson.

Jensen, Merrill. The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation 1781-1789. An indispensable work on the era of the Articles of Confederation. It is extremely well-written and balanced.

—————. The Making of the American Constitution. New York, 1964. Again, an authoritative compendium of the origins of the Constitution by a leading scholar in the field.

Lettieri, Ronald J. Connecticut’s Young Man of the Revolution: Oliver Ellsworth. Hartford, 1978. A concise biography of Ellsworth.

Madison, James. Notes of the Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. New York, 1966. A day-to-day narrative account by the “Father of the Constitution.”

McCaughey, Elizabeth P. From Loyalist to Founding Father: The Political Odyssey of William Samuel Johnson. New York, 1980. An insightful analysis of the man and his motives.

McLaughlin, Andrew C. The Confederation and the Constitution. New York, 1966. A concise and highly readable summary of the turbulent years following the American Revolution.

Rommel, John G. Connecticut’s Yankee Patriot: Roger Sherman. Hartford, 1980. A brief but useful summary of Sherman’s life, it is based a good deal on Collier’s work.

Rossiter, Clinton. 1787: The Grand Convention. New York, 1966. A probing analysis of the men and the issues that resulted in the creation of our Constitution.

Van Doren, Carl. The Great Rehearsal. New York, 1948. A lucid and well-written account of the convention by a leading historian.

Van Dusen, Albert E. Connecticut. New York; Random House, 1961. A comprehensive history of the state. It is especially useful in the chapters dealing with the colonial era.

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Jordan, Philip. “Connecticut Politics During the Revolution and Confederation, 1776-1789.” Yale University, 1962.

Wachtell, Harvey M. “The Conflict Between Localism and Nationalism in Connecticut, 1783-1788.” University of Missouri, 1971.

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Lewis Henry Boutell, “Roger Sherman and the Constitutional Convention,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association. (1893)

Larry A. Gerlach, “Toward a More Perfect Union: Connecticut, the Continental Congress, and the Constitutional Convention,” Bulletin of the Connecticut Historical Society. 34 (April, 1969) 2.

George F. Hoar, “The Connecticut Compromise,” Proceedings of the American Antiguarian Society. 15 (October, 1902) 2.

Philip Jordan (ed.), “Connecticut Anti-Federalism on the Eve of the Constitutional Convention,” Bulletin of the CHS. 28 (January, 1963).

Judith Maxen Katz, “Connecticut’s Newspapers and the Constitutional Convention, 1786-1788,” Bulletin of the CHS. 30 (April, 1965) 2.

Max M. Mintz, “A Conversation Between Thomas Jefferson and Gouverneur Morris: The Author of the Declaration of Independence and the Penman of the Constitution,” The Connecticut Review. 9 (November, 1975) 1.

Bernard C. Steiner, “Connecticut’s Ratification of the Federal Convention,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society. New series, (April, 1915)

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ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION—the constitution of the 13 American states from 1871-1789.

UNICAMERAL LEGISLATURE—consisting of but one legislative house

BICAMERAL LEGISLATURE—consisting of two chambers or houses

SOVEREIGNTY—supremacy in rule or power; power to govern without external control.

AMENDMENT—the alteration of a parliamentary motion or constitution.

COMMERCE—the exchange of materials or products between states or nations.

IMPOST—a tax; duty (especially a customs duty)

RATIFY—to give sanction to; to make valid by approval.

NATIONAL DEBT—the total debt, foreign and domestic, owed by any state.

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION—the assembly of delegates which met in Philadelphia in 1787 to amend the Articles of Confederation.

FREE TRADE—commerce free from government regulations, with tariffs used only as a source of revenue.

CREDITORS—people to whom money is owed.

DEBTORS—people under financial obligation to others.

QUORUM—the number of members of a body required to be in attendance for business to be legally transacted.

“NATIONAL” GOVERNMENT—one that possesses a strong central government, with the power to coerce states and their citizens. Followers also believed in the executive and judicial rather than legislative control of state and central governments and in the funding and assumption of the national debt by the new Congress under the Constitution.

“FEDERAL” GOVERNMENT—one that possesses a weak central government, with the individual states in control. Followers in 1787 felt that the Articles of Confederation needed only to be “patched up”. They favored the division of the national debt among the states. In this way, each state would be able to retain its sovereignty and independence.

VIRGINIA PLAN—the large-state plan delivered by Governor Edmund Randolph. This set of proposals was the blueprint for a “national” government. See essay for more details.

NEW JERSEY PLAN—the small-state plan delivered by William Paterson. This set of proposals was the blueprint for a “federal” government. See essay for more details.

CONSTITUTION—the fundamental laws and principles that govern the operation of a state.

COMPROMISE—a settlement of differences reached by mutual


SUFFRAGE—the right or privilege of voting; franchise.

CONNECTICUT COMPROMISE—one that resulted in the creation of our present Congress. The House of Representatives is based on population; the Senate is based on equality. For more details, see the essay.

BILL—a draft of a proposed law.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE—a body of electors, chosen by the voters in the states and the District of Columbia, that formally elects the president and vice-president of the United States.

INFERIOR COURTS—the District and Circuit Courts of our national judiciary.

WYOMING VALLEY—in the valley of the Susquehanna River in Northeastern Pennsylvania. This area was claimed by both Pennsylvania and Connecticut. After much violence, in 1782 the Confederation Congress gave the disputed land to Pennsylvania.

GRADUAL EMANCIPATION LAW OF 1784—a Connecticut statute which granted freedom at the age of twenty-five to all persons born into slavery after March 1, 1784.

THREE-FIFTHS COMPROMISE—one made at the Philadelphia convention in which slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person for purposes of both taxation and representation.

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