Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.



By Judy Leithe

Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence, which he completed in 19 days. After revisions, it was ratified with the famous signature of John Hancock, the President of the Congress, on July 4, 1776. However, it is worth noting that this definitive document was largely influenced by the writings of John Adams. Like other Founding Fathers, Adams was well-educated, both formally and through self-directed study, on philosophers such as John Locke’s Two Treaties of Government – England-1689, and Baron Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws – France-1748. Other subjects of common interest included histories of European governments, as well as those of ancient Sparta, Athens, and Rome.

In the spring of 1776, just months before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, Adams wrote an essay entitled, Thoughts on Government – Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies.

Adams felt that…History had presented the Colonists with an unmatched opportunity to form their own governments as free and independent states. He believed that a stable government required the consent of the governed, and (that there should be a) separation of powers among governmental branches consisting of Executive, Judicial and Legislative, the latter should be a bicameral or, two-body branch of government. John Adams also wrote the Massachusetts’ Constitution, adopted in 1780, which remains the world’s oldest functioning constitution. The Massachusetts’ Constitution was identical to, and served as a model for the writing of the Constitution of the United States.                                       - Massachusetts State Government’s web site.

The Articles of Confederation, drafted in 1776, provided for a strong central government. However, by the time the Articles were ratified in 1781, the nearly four million Americans, living in thirteen independent states, began to advocate for States’ Rights, as opposed to being ruled by one “big government.” Thus, on May 25, 1787, representatives from each state began to gather, once again, in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. To help settle numerous discrepancies among the varying states, the most trusted man in America, George Washington was unanimously elected to serve as the President of the Philadelphia Convention, later known as the Constitutional Convention.

In 1787, there were at least ten newspapers in Philadelphia, all vying with one another to get the “scoop” on the Convention taking place in Independence Hall that summer. Therefore, despite the sweltering heat, the windows of the meeting-room where they met were nailed shut for privacy and, all delegates were sworn to secrecy until the final vote was tallied.

James Madison produced the Virginia Plan, a fifteen-point blueprint from which representatives could comment and debate and, under Washington’s guidance, representatives from large, as well as, small states had equal time to express their views.

There were many disputes, but chief among them was the question of the small-states’ objection to large-state dominance in the government. As the Convention proceeded, it became clear that they needed to go beyond merely amending the Articles of Convention, but rather, write an entirely new Constitution for these United States.