Early draft of the Constitution found in Phila.

By | February 5, 2010

Early draft of the Constitution found in Phila

Researcher Lorianne Updike Toler was intrigued by the centuries-old document at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

On the back of a treasured draft of the U.S. Constitution was a truncated version of the same document, starting with the familiar words: “We The People. . . .”

They had been scribbled upside down by one of the Constitution’s framers, James Wilson, in the summer of 1787. The cursive continued, then abruptly stopped, as if pages were missing.

A mystery, Toler thought, until she examined other Wilson papers from the Historical Society’s vault in Philadelphia and found what appeared to be the rest of the draft, titled “The Continuation of the Scheme.”

The document – one of 21 million in the Historical Society’s collection – was known to scholars, but probably should have been placed with the other drafts, said constitutional scholar John P. Kaminski, director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution in the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“This was the kind of moment historians dream about,” said Toler, 30, a lawyer and founding president of the Constitutional Sources Project (www.ConSource.org), a nonprofit organization, based in Washington, that promotes an understanding of and access to U.S. Constitution documents.

“This was national scripture, a piece of our Constitution’s history,” she said of her find in November. “It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling.”

As other researchers “realized what was happening, there was a sort of hushed awe that settled over the reading room,” Toler said. “One of them said the hair on her arms stood on end.”

Two drafts of the Constitution in Wilson’s hand had been separated from his papers long ago. One of them included the beginning of still another draft and was apparently seen as part of a single working version, instead of a separate draft.

Toler said “The Continuation of the Scheme,” including its provisions about the executive and judiciary branches, completes that draft, making it a third.

She “found a document that was sort of buried in its right place, but not taken out by an archivist for special treatment,” said Kaminski, the constitutional scholar. “This is a valuable document. It is in Wilson’s hand, and it was in Wilson’s papers, where it should have been.”

With so many historical documents “going online, you don’t have that kind of discovery in an archives,” he added. “I can understand why [Toler] would be excited.”

For Nathan Raab, a member of the Board of Councilors of the Historical Society, the documents are reminders “of the great depth of the archives there and the emotional power of holding a piece of history in your hand.”

“The Continuation of the Scheme” and countless other documents had been evaluated by scholars decades ago before being carefully filed away at the Historical Society at 13th and Locust Streets. …

via Early draft of the Constitution found in Phila. | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/02/2010.

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