Constitution Daily

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Top 10 myths about the Constitution on Constitution Day

September 18, 2017 by NCC Staff

 

The Constitution is our most enduring document, but not everything you read online about the Constitution is accurate! Here are some of the top myths about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers still out there on blogs and websites.To be clear, these myths are not about interpretations of the Constitution; they center on people and events related to the founding document.

Myth one: The Constitution was written on hemp paper

The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written on parchment. The point of debate is that some working drafts of the documents might have been composed on paper made from hemp, which was widely used in that time period.

Myth two: Thomas Jefferson signed the Constitution

Thomas Jefferson didn’t sign the Constitution. This is the most-popular myth at the National Constitution Center, especially when guests enter our hall of statutes of the Constitution’s signers – and ask where the Jefferson statue is. In 1787, Jefferson was in Paris as the United States’ envoy, and he missed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Myth three: John Adams also signed the Constitution

Like Jefferson, Adams was in service for his country overseas when the Constitution was signed. He was in London as the United States minister to Great Britain.

Myth four: The same Founders who wrote the Declaration wrote the Constitution

Only six Founders signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution: George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, James Wilson and Roger Sherman.

Myth five: The Constitution has 39 signatures

It is true that there were 39 delegate signatures on the Constitution on September 17, 1787, but the convention’s secretary, William Jackson, also signed the document. Jackson was picked over Benjamin Franklin’s grandson as the convention secretary.

Myth six: The Constitution says “All Men Are Created Equal”

That is in the Declaration of Independence. The original Constitution avoided the issue of slavery, counting each slave as three-fifths of a person to determine representation in Congress. The 13th and 14th Amendments ratified after the Civil War made the "Three-Fifths Compromise" obsolete.

Myth seven: The Constitution established a democracy in the United States

The Constitution actually established a republic, as stated in Article IV, Section 4. After the 1787 convention, someone asked Benjamin Franklin what kind of government the new document endorsed: a monarchy or a republic. “A Republic, if you can keep it,” Franklin responded.

A democracy, in general terms, was seen as government by the majority of the people. A republic, also in general terms, added safeguards like checks and balances that ensure that a representative government guaranteed individual rights. Over the years, the use of the words became somewhat interchangeable, and their true meanings are still debated.

Myth eight: An enthusiastic country quickly embraced the Constitution

After the delegates signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787, five states quickly signed it. But then the ratification process slowed down as the anti-Federalists, who feared a strong central government and demanded a Bill of Rights, bitterly fought the Constitution’s ratification at state conventions. It took until June 21, 1788 for New Hampshire, as the ninth state approving ratification, to make the Constitution a reality.

Myth nine: The convention delegates were unanimous in approving the document

When the Constitutional Convention ended in 1787, 42 delegates gathered at the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) for the signing ceremony. Among that group, 38 delegates signed the document, with George Read also signing for John Dickinson, who was ill. Three Founders, Elbridge Gerry, George Mason and Edmund Randolph, refused to sign the Constitution, unhappy with the final document for various reasons.

Myth ten: All 13 states took part in writing the Constitution

There were 13 states in 1787, but Rhode Island didn’t send a delegation to Philadelphia. In fact, Rhode Island feared it would be dominated by the new federal government and thus rejected ratification of the Constitution in 1788. It finally approved the Constitution on May 29, 1790, by a margin of two votes.

 

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