Philadelphia Reflections

The musings of a physician who has served the community for over six decades

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It is unclear whether George Washington was looking for a scholar of such things, or James Madison was looking for a figurehead, but somehow these two Virginians formed a two-generation post-revolution team. Washington was a dissatisfied hero with a few simple goals, Madison had studied how to make them happen. He was young enough to be trusted to follow orders. Robert Morris was experienced enough to think for himself. but he added financial sophistication of a needed sort, John Dickinson was a thinking politician and a brilliant lawyer, Ben Franklin had experienced forty years of politics on both sides of the aisle; he was a rebellious sort, but he knew how to keep his mouth shut and cavort with the ruling class. Gouverneur Morris knew how to choose persuasive words for a client without necessarily agreeing with him. The others had mostly grown accustomed to their lead during the Revolution, and this handful of comrades decided that splitting had gone too far; some allies were needed but at arm's length. A certain amount of unification was necessary for survival, and this group of friends decided to make a blueprint for how it would work. They argued at a convention in Philadelphia in 1787, even made some necessary compromises with other comrades, like Patrick Henry and other Virginians, who felt that excessive unification was a particular source of trouble. Often, the chief resisters to unification had either been skipped as delegates or refused to make the trip to Philadelphia. This handful of men picked others who would assist in ratification. And this combination put together a plan which would outlast every other plan, at least for two hundred years. The resistance was mostly outside the convention; ratification was the battlefield, and the Federalist Papers , written by Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay , were the weapons of the unifiers. The unifiers won, but they learned the opposition was stronger than they thought.

Originally published: Thursday, August 22, 2019; most-recently modified: Thursday, August 29, 2019