The convention was scheduled to begin on May 14, but did not achieve a quorum of delegations from more than half the states until May 25. Eventually there were 12 delegations. Rhode Island boycotted the convention.
On May 25, 1787, delegates from seven states had arrived. A quorum had been achieved and the convention could begin.
The delegates, 55 in all, but never more than 30 or 35 at once, sealed themselves inside a room no bigger than a large schoolroom in Philadelphia's state house. They posted sentries at the doors and windows to keep their "secrets from flying out." They barred the press and public, and took a vow not to reveal to anyone the words spoken. With the doors and windows closed, the little room where the convention met for up to six hours a day, was stiflingly hot. There were speeches that lasted two, three or four hours. The convention took a single break, for 11 days.
Over four months, the delegates hammered out compromises that established a system flexible to withstand more than two centuries of change. The delegates' goals were contradictory: to strengthen the national government and to limit its power.
On many issues, there was deep division. The convention flip-flopped five times on whether the president should be eligible for reelection. When truly stymied, the convention would appoint a committee to come up with a solution and present it to the full convention.
Copyright 2016 Digital History