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Letter: Washington Doubted Constitution Would Last

July 4, 1987 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention 200 years ago, doubted the document would last 20 years, according to recently discovered letters and notes, The New York Times reported in Saturday’s editions.

More than 150 documents were found by James H. Hutson, chief of the manuscript division of the Library of Congress, and Leonard Rapport, a retired senior archivist at the National Archives, the newspaper reported.

Their 20-year search took them through private and public collections all over the United States and as far away as the county records office in Northumberland, England, the Times said.


The documents, including material by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others, are being published Saturday as a supplement to the three-volume ″Records of the Federal Convention of 1787,″ which was published in 1911.

Among the documents were notes by Georgia delegate Abraham Baldwin, who wrote that Washington said the convention had been so contentious that more than once it had been ″upon the point of dissolving without agreeing on any system.″

Walking with Baldwin through the streets of Philadelphia near the end of the convention, Washington said, ″I do not expect the Constitution to last for more than 20 years.″

The documents showed that Franklin decided against submitting a statement to the convention from the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, intended to persuade the delegates to include the suppression of the slave trade in their deliberations.

The society later noted that Franklin didn’t submit the statement and other documents. Franklin explained that he ″thought it advisable to let them lie over the present.″

Washington, who arrived in Philadelphia before many of the delegates to the Convention, wrote to his nephew, George Augustine Washington, on May 17, 1787, that the wait was ″highly vexatious to those who are idly and expensively spending their time here.″

Madison, in a letter to James Monroe dated June 10, 1787, said he supported the rules guarding the secrecy of the convention.

″I think the rule was a prudent one not only as it will effectually secure the requisite freedom of discussion, but it will save both the Convention and the Community from a thousand erroneous and perhaps mischievious reports,″ Madison wrote.


″I feel notwithstanding a great mortification in the disappointment it obliges me to throw on the curiosity of my friends.″

On Sept. 15, 1787, two days before the adoption of the document, Thomas Fitzsimons of Pennsylvania wrote to lexicographer Noah Webster:

″That it is the best which human wisdom could devise, I mean not to assert; but I trust it will be found consistent with the principles of liberty and calculated to unite and bind together the members of a great country.″

The supplement includes discoveries made in the last 50 years that did not appear in an earlier supplement, the Times said.