Lesson 1: The Road to the Constitutional Convention

In February of 1787, Congress authorized a convention, to be held in Philadelphia in May of that year, for the purpose of recommending changes to the Articles of Confederation. In what has come to be known as the Constitutional Convention of 1787, all of the states—with the exception of Rhode Island—sent delegates to debate how to amend the Articles of Confederation in order to alleviate several problems experienced by the United States after the War for Independence. Although the Convention eventually decided to scrap the Articles altogether, and recommend instead the adoption of an entirely new plan of government, all of the delegates were initially united by one belief—that something must be done in order to correct the "errors" of the American political system in the 1780s.

This lesson will focus on the various problems under the Articles of Confederation between 1783 and 1786 that led to the call for the 1787 Convention. By examining documents of Congress, the state governments, and prominent American founders—both public and private—students will better understand why many Americans agreed that the Articles should be revised and amended. Students will also see why some prominent American founders, more than others, believed that the United States faced a serious crisis, and that drastic changes, rather than minor amendments, to the Articles were necessary.

Guiding Questions

Was the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, called for by Congress to recommend amendments to the Articles of Confederation, necessary to preserve the Union?

Learning Objectives

Identify the steps taken by Americans to bring about the 1787 Convention by placing key events in historical order in a timeline.

Discuss actions by several state governments that violated the Articles of Confederation and acts of Congress.

Identify the powers of Congress under the Articles of Confederation, and explain why those powers were insufficient to ensure the prosperity and security of the United States.

Articulate the views of several American founders about the problems of the American political system in the 1780s.