With its evolutionary and organic nature, there is no person, or group of people, who can be attributed with founding the UK constitution. Although there are major events, like the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights, these were merely one among many building blocks of the constitution.
The reality in the United States is fundamentally different. The US Constitution is codified, with one document that forms the Fundamental Law of the United States. The formation of this document is down to 55 individuals, who are known as ‘The Framers’, because they framed the US Constitution.
The Framers were drawn from 12 of the 13 colonies that sought to write a new constitution following the failure of the Articles of Confederation. It was only at the convention in Philadelphia that it was decided that the Articles of Confederation had been abandoned, it was originally planned that they would be simply amended. The missing colony was Rhode Island which refused to send delegates as they were concerned that any agreement would result in a powerful overarching government that would limit their rights.
The framers came from a variety of backgrounds. Many were ex-soldiers in the Continental Army, like George Washington. Others were lawyers, like Alexander Hamilton, whilst some, like inventor Benjamin Franklin, were national celebrities. The framers had a mammoth task. They represented 12 diverse colonies, many of which had faced their differences in the past. Despite some progress, the Framers soon met a significant roadblock.
One of the biggest challenges faced was the diversity of the states that the delegates represented. There were southern states, like Georgia, that had agrarian economies that relied on slavery to support their plantations. This was opposed to Northern States, like Massachusetts, that had more industrialised economies. Some states were urbanised, with significant populations. Others, were geographically big, with equally big populations. However, some states were extremely small in comparison.
This diversity came to a crux when discussions took place as to how the Parliament of the new states should be assembled. There were two plans put forward:
The Virginia plan called for a bicameral (two house) Congress. The representation of each house would be based upon the population of the state in question. This would give a huge advantage to larger more populated states. Virginia itself had a population of 110,000.
The New Jersey plan called for a unicameral (single house) Congress. The representation of this house would be equalised across the states, meaning small and big states would have equal power. This favoured smaller less populated states. New Jersey was one of these states, with 45,000 citizens, less than half of Virginia and Pennsylvania.
This impasse was seemingly insurmountable. However, a solution was brokered by Roger Sherman, a delegate from Connecticut. His solution has been called both ‘The Great Compromise’ and the ‘Connecticut Compromise’. This proposed a bicameral legislature. One would be directed proportionally, favouring the biggest states. However, the second, would have its membership equally divided amongst the states, guaranteeing the smaller states a major say over legislation and constitutional issues. The final document was agreed by 39 of the 55 delegates, some refused to sign, having been disappointed at the compromises that had been made.
The Constitution then went on for ratification by the states. The required margin was nine out of the thirteen states. Two camps emerged in the debates over ratification. Federalists, of whom the Framers were predominant, argued in favour of ratification. Anti-Federalists, who had a great many farmers among their number, were not in favour. One of the concerns of Anti-Federalists were the lack of protections for individual liberties that were included in the Constitution. However, they were appeased by the offer of Federalists to draft a Bill of Rights as soon as ratification was complete.
Despite Rhode Island rejecting ratification in a referendum, the 9 out of 13 hurdle was reached when New Hampshire ratified the Constitution in June 1788. It was thereafter agreed that the Constitution would be implemented from March 4th 1789.
The US Constitution was not socially revolutionary, like that implemented in France in 1791. No major social restructuring took place, the landed gentry remained dominant. However, it was politically significant. It was the first codified constitution that explicitly attempted to guarantee limited government via popular sovereignty. Despite being made of many compromises, the fact that it has only had 27 amendments 229 years later is testament to the work that the Framers did in just five months in 1787.