Just an­other meet­ing?

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Thomas V. DiBacco

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.

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