On the subject of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, reader Mike Weatherford writes:

I’m currently reading Catherine Drinker Bowen’s Miracle at Philadelphia. Excellent book, well-written, and not dull. It’s a miracle that anything got done with such a collection of political hotheads. That the final document has served us so well for so long is a tribute to their tenacity and vision.

Dr. Boli agrees that our current Constitution is a tribute to the tenacity of the hotheads in Philadelphia. He has always suspected that delegates finally succeeded in coming to agreement on both the Declaration of Independence and, eleven years later, the Constitution because both assemblies were held in Philadelphia in the summer. A summer in Philadelphia makes any compromise seem preferable to spending another day in Philadelphia; the beastly heat would eventually wear down the most intransigent sectionalist. It can hardly be coincidence that, when the time came to pick a permanent national capital, the founders of our nation settled on the one site where the summer climate was even worse. Dr. Boli believes that much reform could be accomplished simply by prohibiting air conditioning in both houses of Congress.

As for our founders’ vision, at last count 27 serious errors in the original Constitution have been discovered and corrected. Furthermore, at least one of those corrections was itself a serious error.

Dr. Boli believes, in fact, that the great strength of our Constitution is its lack of vision, or even principle. Delegates committed to democracy would have insisted that the president be elected by the people. Delegates committed to aristocracy would have insisted that the president be chosen by the Senate. Delegates committed to getting out of Philadelphia before their brains melted into their collars were willing to accept the positively lunatic compromise that the people should vote for a number of electors more or less proportional to the populations of their states, but giving slightly more influence to the smaller states, and then those electors should meet and vote for the president. They did not accept it because anyone was happy about that idea, but because no one was more unhappy about it than he was about being stuck in Philadelphia in the summer.

Any number of other nations have imposed perfectly rational constitutions on their people, and the end result has always been a descent into tyranny and massacre. We grudgingly accepted a bundle of half-baked compromises that no sane person could enthusiastically embrace, and we have toddled along pretty well with it for a while now.


  1. Clay Potts says:

    Yes, to be sure, the final document turned out to be well rounded and at the same time jagged as a plastic spork – strange, unconventional, absurd even – but it somehow works.

  2. antiplanner says:

    You are right about air conditioning. It is no coincidence that federal spending began to go out of control about the time that air conditioning was invented.

    Before air conditioning, the president would be inaugurated in March, and Congress would adjourn the next day and go home for six months. That’s the kind of government we need today.

  3. BeaM says:

    A fit of history-reading…Charles I, 30 Years War by CV Wedgwood, Cromwell, Charles II by A Fraser, A Half Century of Conflict by Parkman… leads me to think there was a lot of, “Oh, no, we’re not going through THAT again,” motivating the people who sent the delegates to the Congresses. Of course, we have gone through “that” again and again and again…but considering what went before it, the government set up by the Constitution and particularly the Bill of Rights seems to be fairly sane and clearly delineated.

  4. Nick T. Vertraunfurst says:

    I am greatly reassured by Pope Leo XIII ‘s statement that the founding documents could be used in a Catholic way. He was even so kind as to provide a helpful letter or two containing some principles which if adopted here could actually bring this into practical existence.

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