Q&A ON HISTORY
We speak with Thomas Donnelly, the National Constitution Center’s senior fellow for constitutional studies, about new exhibit “American Treasures: Documenting the Nation’s Founding.” Tell us about the significance of this new exhibit? We feature some of the precious and rare documents in American Constitutional history. These documents tell the story of the drafting of the Constitution. Most notably for us, in Philadelphia, it’s really the story of forgotten founder James Wilson, who was a Philadelphian, and many scholars call really second in importance at the convention only to James Madison himself. He was a leading intellectual at the time who has been lost to American public memory but is extraordinarily important. Coolest artifact on display? The two centerpieces of the exhibit are these handwritten early drafts of the Constitution by James Wilson. This is the first time we see a full draft of the Constitution. It’s written roughly two months into the Convention and would be the framework for all of the debate that would happen as they’re finalizing the Constitution. [By] having these documents together you can trace the evolution of the Constitution. In the first draft, there’s no preamble. In the second draft there’s an early version of the preamble. And then finally in the later drafts we get … “We the People of the United States …” like we have in the final Constitution. It’s exciting to see that these were smart people trying to figure out solutions to a very difficult problem and they changed their minds over the course of the process.
“American Treasures” Gallery