Q&A ON HIS­TORY

Where Philadelphia - - WHERE NOW PHILADELPHIA -

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

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