Just another meeting?
These Americans had known meetings. Whenever an important decision about something or other had to be made, you guessed it: They had a meeting. And now another one. This one took place in early September, but it was a bad date. Too many conflicting engagements, and, not surprisingly, only a few showed up — 12, to be precise, although the expectation was for six times that number.
So the exasperated dozen talked for some days and finally came up with a plan for still another meeting, eight months hence, a sufficient lead time, they hoped, to generate interest on the issues. They also decided to move the location and month. Not that the September site had been unpleasant — on the contrary, the facilities were quite good — but variety in meeting places just might be the spark to get individuals to attend.
Of the 74 invitees, 55 showed up. But they didn’t come all at once. Two of the bigwigs with real expertise and experience in the field never came because they were in France and Great Britain — two sites that were far more conducive to confabs with an imprimatur of sophisticated manners and good taste, thanks to the small European-style hotels with history and dignity. All managers were supposed to convene on May 14, but it wasn’t until May 25 that enough were present to conduct business.
From that day on, however, they decided to put their noses to the grindstone until they finished their business. They even agreed to put a lid on their deliberations although, to be sure, they had absolutely no fear of the press insinuating that some members engaged in threemartini lunches. But there were still leaks to the press, unfortunately, “fake news” by nonmembers wanting to bring down the whole shebang. For instance, one newspaper insinuated their meeting place was the “unanimity” room.
They were together for 116 days, taking off only on Sundays and 12 other days. And you might have guessed it: They were without a/c during a “steaming” summer. “At each inhaling of air,” was how one individual described it, “one worries about the next one. The slightest movement is painful.” Much of the work was done in committees and after hours. During the formal sessions of the entire group, however, members had to adhere to strict rules: If one colleague was speaking, there was to be no reading, let alone talking with other members. Nor could even notes be passed to others.
Still, these formal sessions sometimes got out of hand. The acrimony was intensified when one faction came in with a strategic plan that was almost the reverse of a model offered by another. The advocates of each seemed unwilling to bend, and some attendees just went home. Enough is enough, they concluded. By the end of June, tempers were flaring so much that the oldest member suggested beginning each session with a prayer. The motion was seconded, but most members worried that any leak of this motion would be a sign of “embarrassments.” So the motion died a procedural death.
By early July, members got wind of a way out of their impasse. Take a little of each proposal, tweak it so that it would appeal to a broad market. But it would take a real wordsmith to get the language right for both sides as well as the public. One outside critic got word of the dilemma, writing that “I hardly think much good could come” from such bargaining. “The people of America,” he concluded, “don’t appear to be ripe for any great innovations.”
So more committee work, fewer general meetings, but no let-up in the anguish. After-hour discussions following dinner and a few drinks didn’t seem to help. One attendee spoke about the “extreme anxiety of many members” and their fervent desire “to bring the business to an end.” But they finished their work — get this — with the compromise language passing by a single vote. And there was some squabbling about the final proposal being so short, only about 4,400 words. Four months of bickering and so little hard copy to sell to the public. However, 39 of them felt it was the best they could come up with, even though there were numerous spelling errors (somebody forgot the spell-check). It was good enough to sign, which they did on Sept. 17. In the year 1787. And they called their proposal the Constitution of the United States.