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The Constitutional Convention
By Brenda B. Covert
  


Cast of Characters
in order of appearance


NARRATOR #1  
NARRATOR #2  (Note: narration can be divided among more students if necessary.)
PATRICK HENRY:  Patriot and Founding Father
THOMAS JEFFERSON:  Patriot and Founding Father
GEORGE WASHINGTON (Virginia):  president of the Convention, keeps a small ax at his side as if he had chopped down a cherry tree
BEN FRANKLIN (Pennsylvania):  81-year-old inventor, wears large, old-fashioned key on a ribbon around his neck
JAMES MADISON (Virginia):  note-taker, holds a quill at all times
GEORGE MASON (Virginia):  Passionate about individual rights for the people
RUFUS KING (Massachusetts):  Served on half the convention committees. A frequent speaker on the floor
EDMUND RANDOLPH (Virginia):  Governor of Virginia. Presented the Virginia Plan
LUTHER MARTIN (Maryland):  states' rights advocate - gave a 2-day speech that exhausted his fellow delegates. Supported the Connecticut Compromise
ROGER SHERMAN (Connecticut):  a devout Puritan - rigid, awkward, and honest - proposed the Connecticut Compromise
ALEXANDER HAMILTON (New York):  Supported a centralized government
MARTHA:  old gossip
ELIZABETH:  young gossip
PREAMBLE:  recites the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution dressed in red, white, and blue


Setting: a meeting room in the Philadelphia State House. Tables at stage left covered in green cloth. Large chair sits on a short platform stage right. It is George Washington's chair.

 



NARRATOR #1:   After the Revolutionary War, the people of America had their independence, and they had the Articles of Confederation. Many felt that was all they needed.

NARRATOR #2:   However, there were those who felt the Articles of Confederation weren't working for the new nation. The states often ignored the federal government when it needed their help.

NARRATOR #1:   America needed a stronger central government. And so in 1787 a Grand Convention was organized. The purpose was to improve the existing form of government.

NARRATOR #2:   Today we call it the Constitutional Convention.

PATRICK HENRY (entering the stage):   Just one moment. I'm Patrick Henry, and I have something to say. I signed the Declaration of Independence, and I made a famous speech in which I said, "Give me liberty, or give me death." But don't give me this nonsense about revising the Articles of Confederation. I smell a rat! (points to ceiling with arm held high to emphasize his point - pose similar to Lady Liberty) I refuse to attend the convention! (Stomps out past Thomas Jefferson, who takes the stage)

THOMAS JEFFERSON:   I'm Thomas Jefferson, and I too have something to say. I'm unable to attend the Grand Convention as well. I'm on diplomatic duty in France! It's a shame really. I had an active role in forming the Declaration of Independence. If I was at the convention, I'd probably suggest that we include something about the separation of church and state. (Shrugs) As it stands, I'll simply put my thoughts on that subject in letters to friends! (Bows, then turns and walks off)

NARRATOR #1:   A number of important men weren't involved in the convention.

NARRATOR #2:   Some were sick or had sick family members. Others had personal or professional business to handle.

NARRATOR #1:   And some, like Patrick Henry, didn't believe that the Articles of Confederation needed work.

NARRATOR #2:   The convention began on May 25, 1787. Fifty-five delegates were sent to Philadelphia to represent the thirteen original states. It was a long, hot summer!

(The convention attendees enter the room. GEORGE WASHINGTON
will sit on a chair on a raised platform. JAMES MADISON will sit
nearby and take notes of everything said.
OTHERS will sit at tables.)


G. WASHINGTON (standing):   Gentlemen, let me remind you of the rules. What happens in these meetings stays within these walls. Don't talk about it; don't even write home about it. The doors to this room stay locked, and the windows will stay shut. And keep an eye on Ben Franklin when he's out and about; he talks too much. (Smiles at BEN and sits down) No offense.

BEN FRANKLIN (cheerfully):   None taken.

(JAMES MADISON holds his quill up and waits to be recognized. GEORGE WASHINGTON nods to him.)

G. WASHINGTON:   The Chair recognizes James Madison.

JAMES MADISON:   Thank you, General Washington. (stands to address the others) I know that William Jackson is the official Secretary of this convention, but I'm taking notes as well. I feel it's my duty since I was a leading advocate for assembling this convention. Besides, I'm not yet married, so I don't have a wife to write home to as do many of my esteemed colleagues. So I shall be content to take notes every day for as long as it takes. (Sits down)

GEORGE MASON (standing, speaking forcefully):   It had better not take too much longer! It's hot in here! We have a right to fresh air! I make a motion that we open the windows and let the breeze flow through! Otherwise, I might have to hurt somebody!

RUFUS KING (raising his hand):   I second that motion!

G. WASHINGTON (glaring and sitting forward):   The chair does NOT recognize (point axe at men) George Mason or Rufus King, and the motion is not carried. Now let's proceed with the business at hand. (Sits back and lays axe in lap) Governor Randolph, would you please explain again how the Virginia Plan works?

(EDMUND RANDOLPH walks to the front of the room and faces the others, carrying a poster. The poster will have the likeness of a tree with three main branches and leaves on the end.)

E. RANDOLPH (displaying the poster toward audience):   The Virginia Plan for the government works like this. You see three main branches of government. (points to the middle branch) This is the Executive Branch. This branch is in charge of running the government.

JAMES MADISON (to himself):   Now there's an area where I'd like to serve some day.

E. RANDOLPH:   Over here (pointing to another branch) we have the Legislative Branch. This branch makes the country's laws. It will be made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, they will be called Congress.

LUTHER MARTIN:   The federal government will make laws? I don't agree with that. I believe each state has the right to make its own laws. As a matter of fact, (turning to face the other delegates) I have prepared a speech on the subject of states' rights -

ROGER SHERMAN (stiffly, but honestly):   Mr. Martin, we're well aware of your stance on states' rights. Can you assure us that your speech will not take up the better part of two days?

LUTHER MARTIN (offended):   Do you have a problem with two-day-long speeches?

GEORGE MASON (jumping to his feet):   Yes! It's too hot and stuffy in here to be forced to sit through long, boring speeches! We have our individual rights, you know! (pound fist on table once while saying last line)

BEN FRANKLIN:   You could do what I do, George. Sleep through the boring parts.

(general laughter)


G. WASHINGTON (rising, still holding axe):   My fellow delegates, now is not the time. Please take your seats and allow Governor Randolph to continue.

(ALL sit)


E. RANDOLPH:   Thank you, General. This (pointing to the remaining branch) represents the Judicial Branch. It will be made up of federal courts and headed by a Supreme Court. This branch will make sure that our laws are constitutional. It will also make sure our laws are properly obeyed.

ROGER SHERMAN (rising respectfully to address RANDOLPH):   Excuse me, sir, but I was under the impression that we were called here to fix the problems with the Articles of Confederation. What you seem to be offering is an entirely new form of government.

E. RANDOLPH:   You are very astute, Mr. Sherman. I am, in fact, advocating a national government.

GEORGE MASON (slams hands down on the table and leaps to feet):   Outrageous! We were sent here to revise the Articles of Confederation, not destroy them!

ALEXANDER HAMILTON (quickly standing):   I for one think this is an excellent plan. It will create unity among the states, and I support it!

(ALL freeze)


NARRATOR #1:   Much time was spent arguing for and against a new, national government. Many fears surfaced. Who exactly was going to run the government? Would it be run like a monarchy? On the other hand, would the common people be given too much power? Then there were other concerns ... (gesture toward actors)

RUFUS KING (standing and stepping toward the audience):   What about small states? I represent Massachusetts. Will a national government be as interested in our wishes as it is in the wishes of the larger states? Or will we be ignored?

ROGER SHERMAN:   Connecticut shares Mr. King's concerns.

(ALL mutter and look at each other, quietly expressing themselves)


G. WASHINGTON (standing, waits for the attention of ALL):   Governor, you've given us all something to think about. I believe your Virginia Plan has merit. However, it has been a long day. This meeting is adjourned until morning.

(ALL file out. Some go alone; others pair off to talk quietly)


NARRATOR #2:   Although the Framers of the Constitution took great pains to avoid leaking information to the public, they couldn't stop rumors from spreading.

(MARTHA and ELIZABETH walk across the front of the stage.)


ELIZABETH:   Martha, did you see Dr. Franklin when he arrived at the Convention?

MARTHA:   No. Why?

ELIZABETH:   He was carried in a Chinese sedan chair by four prisoners from jail! Who does he think he is, the King of Siam [SIGH-AM]?

MARTHA (shaking her head):   You don't understand because you're still young, Elizabeth. Dr. Franklin is 81 years old! Carriage rides are painful to old bones! (rubs her shoulder as if in pain) Have you heard the latest gossip?

ELIZABETH:   I don't think so. What is it?

MARTHA (stops and leans in close for a stage whisper, but facing audience):   The convention is going to ask the second son of King George the Third to become King of America.

(JAMES MADISON appears at edge of stage, listening with a dropped jaw)



Paragraphs 99 to 178:
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