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From George Washington to the President of Congress, 17 September 1787

To the President of Congress

[Philadelphia, 17 September 1787]

We have now the Honor to submit to the Consideration of the United States in Congress assembled that Constitution which has appeared to us the most advisable.1

The Friends of our Country have long seen and desired that the Power of making War Peace and Treaties, that of levying Money & regulating Commerce and the correspondent executive and judicial Authorities should be fully and effectually2 vested in the general Government of the Union. But the Impropriety of delegating such extensive Trust to one Body of Men is evident3—Hence results the Necessity of a different Organization.

It is obviously impracticable 4 in the fœderal Government Of these States to secure all Rights of independent Sovereignty to each and yet provide for the Interest and Safety of all—Individuals entering into Society must give up a Share of Liberty to preserve the Rest. The Magnitude of the Sacrifice must depend as well on Situations and Circumstances as on the Object to be obtained. It is at all Times difficult to draw with Precision the Lines between those Rights which must be surrendered and those which may be reserved⟨.⟩ And on the present Occasion this Difficulty was encreased by a Difference among the several States as to their Situation Extent Habits and particular Interests.

In all our Deliberations on this Subject we kept steadily in our View that which appears to us the greatest Interest of every true american the Consolidation of our Union in which is involved our Prosperity Felicity Safety perhaps our national Existence. this important Consideration seriously and deeply impressed on our Minds led each State in the Convention to be less rigid on Points of inferior Magnitude than might have been otherwise expected. And thus the Constitution which we now present is the Result of a Spirit of Amity and of that mutual Deference & Concession which the Peculiarity of our political Situation rendered indispensible.

That it will meet the full and entire5 Approbation of every6 State is not perhaps to be expected. But each will doubtless consider that had her Interests been alone consulted the Consequences might have been particularly disagreable or injurious to others. That it is liable to as few Exceptions as could reasonably have been expected we hope and believe That it may promote the lasting Welfare of that Country so dear to us all and secure her Freedom and Happiness is our most ardent wish.7

Df, DNA: RG 360, Records of the Federal Convention; copy, Nc-Ar: Governor’s Letter Book, Thomas Burke, G.L.B. 7; JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 33:502–3. Except for variations in capitalization and punctuation, and in the spelling of “welfare,” the body of the two texts are identical. The draft is in the hand of Gouverneur Morris, one of the members of the committee of style which was charged with preparing the letter, and it is one of the documents that GW turned over to the secretary of state in March 1796 (see Draft of the Federal Constitution: Report of Committee of Detail, 6 Aug., note). The copy in the printed Journals of the Continental Congress was taken from Benjamin Bankson,Ratifications of the Constitutions, 71–73 (JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 33:502). The bracketed heading and closing of the letter are taken from the Burke copy; the wording is the same in JCC. description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends

The Convention on 10 Sept. voted to instruct “the Committee for revising the stile and arrangement of the articles agreed on, to prepare an Address to the people, to accompany the present Constitution. and to be laid with the same before the U—States in Congress” (Madison’s Notes in Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, description begins Max Farrand, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. New Haven, 1966. description ends 2:564). When the committee of style reported the draft of the Constitution on 12 Sept., it also reported the “draught of a letter to Congress,” which “was read once throughout, and afterwards agreed to by paragraphs” (ibid., 582).

1On Saturday, 15 Sept., “on the question to agree to the Constitution, as amended. All the States ay.” On Monday, 17 Sept., after Benjamin Franklin’s plea for “every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it” to “put his name to this instrument,” Nathaniel Gorham moved to change the clause declaring “the number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every forty thousand” to every “thirty thousand” in order to remove some of the objections to the Constitution (ibid., 633, 643, 644). It was at this point that GW spoke for the first time in the Convention. “When the President rose, for the purpose of putting the question, he said that although his situation had hitherto restrained him from offering his sentiments on questions depending in the House, and it might be thought, ought now to impose silence on him, yet he could not forbear expressing his wish that the alteration proposed might take place. It was much to be desired that the objections to the plan recommended might be made as few as possible—The smallness of the proportion of Representatives had been considered by many members of the Convention, an insufficient security for the rights & interests of the people. He acknowledged that it had always appeared to himself among the exceptionable parts of the plan; and late as the present moment was for admitting amendments, he thought this of so much consequence that it would give much satisfaction to see it adopted” (ibid., 644). In the first sentence after “putting the question” Madison wrote and struck out “he made a few observations”; and he substituted the second clause of the last sentence for “of such peculiar importance was its amendments, he could not therefore suppress his approbation of them” (DLC: Madison Papers). Gorham’s motion “was agreed to unanimously.”

2Gouverneur Morris struck out “exclusively” and inserted “effectually.”

3Morris wrote “self evident” and struck out “self.”

4Morris made a false start at the beginning of this paragraph.

5Morris struck out a more lengthy insertion before inserting “and entire.”

6Morris first wrote “any one” and then substituted “every.”

7Transmitted to Congress along with GW’s letter and the signed copy of the Constitution was a resolution signed by GW and headed “In Convention Monday September 17th 1787”: “Present The States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Mr Hamilton from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

”Resolved, That the preceeding Constitution be laid before the United States in Congress assembled, and that it is the Opinion of this Convention, that it should afterwards be submitted to a Convention of Delegates, chosen in each State by the People thereof, under the Recommendation of its Legislature, for their Assent and Ratification; and that each Convention assenting to, and ratifying the Same, should give Notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled.

“Resolved, That it is the Opinion of this Convention, that as soon as the Conventions of nine States shall have ratified this Constitution, the United States in Congress assembled should fix a Day on which Electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same, and a Day on which the Electors should assemble to vote for the President, and the Time and Place for commencing Proceedings under this Constitution. That after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected: That the Electors should meet on the Day fixed for the Election of the President, and should transmit their Votes certified, signed, sealed and directed, as the Constitution requires, to the Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled, that the Senators and Representatives should convene at the Time and Place assigned; that the Senators should appoint a President of the Senate, for the sole Purpose of receiving, opening and counting the Votes for President; and, that after he shall be chosen, the Congress, together with the President, should, without Delay, proceed to execute this Constitution. By the unanimous Order of the Convention Go: Washington Presidt” (DLC: U.S. Constitution Collection). For the Convention’s discussion of this resolution on 10 Sept. when it was tabled “for a day or two,” see Farrand, Records of the Federal Convention, description begins Max Farrand, ed. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. Rev. ed. 4 vols. New Haven, 1966. description ends 2:555–64.

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