Who Didn’t Attend the Constitutional Convention?

Delegates from Rhode Island did not attend the Constitutional Convention because they opposed the idea of a strong federal government. Others absent were Thomas Jefferson, the foreign minister in France, and John Adams, the foreign minister in Great Britain. Samuel Adams and John Hancock were also busy with state affairs.

Although the convention was scheduled to begin on May 14, 1787, many of the delegates arrived late, with the representatives from New Hampshire not showing up until July 23. Poor roads and adverse travel conditions accounted for the late appearance of most of the delegates. The only delegates to arrive on time were those from Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Although a quorum of seven states was not reached until May 25, James Madison spent the interim period working on the Virginia Plan, which went beyond the Articles of Confederation to create a new form of government with the population determining representation. An alternative New Jersey Plan was based on equal representation, and eventually a compromise was reached accommodating both these viewpoints. Once the new U.S. Constitution was drafted, it was sent to the states for ratification.

Debate during the ratification process was intense. After 10 months, nine states ratified the Constitution, making it law. Some states refused to approve the document without assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added later. Delaware ratified it first, on Dec. 7, 1787. Rhode Island finally ratified it on May 29, 1790, after the United States threatened to treat Rhode Island as a foreign government.