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Constitutional Expert: Benjamin Franklin

Founding father talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters about how the Constitution almost didn't happen.

September 14 , 2006
Ben Franklin re-enactor Ralph Archbold talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters Holly Sirotta, 13, and J.R. Sirotta, 13, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce
Ben Franklin re-enactor Ralph Archbold talks to Scholastic Kid Reporters Holly Sirotta, 13, and J.R. Sirotta, 13, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce

By J.R. Sirotta, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

The U.S. Constitution almost didn't happen. Delegates were arguing over details and some didn't even show up for the meetings. If it wasn't for Ben Franklin and George Washington, our nation's most important document may never have been signed into law.

In 1786, the first Constitutional Convention was called in Annapolis, Maryland. Only five states sent delegates! The next year, 1787, the convention was called for May 14 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was May 25 before enough people arrived to vote on the document.

Eventually 55 delegates from 12 of 13 states showed up. All states except Rhode Island were represented. It was not until September 17 that the document was signed by 39 delegates. That is the date that we now celebrate as National Constitution Day, but it is a day that almost didn't happen.

I recently met with Ben Franklin at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. (I actually met with Ben Franklin re-enactor Ralph Archbold, who is an expert on Franklin's life and accomplishments.) He told me all about the conflicts surrounding the writing of the Constitution.

"There are conflicts in everything and one of the problems we had was that we had 13 different states and they had different interests," Franklin said.

He explained that the larger states thought the smaller states just wanted their money. The small states feared that the larger ones wanted to take them over.

"We had to learn to work together to put aside our differences and to find our points of agreement to work to solve the problems and write a constitution," he said.

Franklin also worked on the Declaration of Independence, which was signed 11 years before the Constitution was written.

"The Declaration of Independence was only a promise that said that we wanted to be free and independent—it didn't make us that," Franklin explained. Before the country could really be free it had to fight a war against Great Britain and write a constitution.

Today, Americans still honor Franklin and the founding father's contributions. In what was once the nation's capital city, Philadelphia, a museum was built to honor the Constitution. The National Constitution Center provides children and teachers with an opportunity to learn about the importance of the Constitution through modern interactive exhibits.

For more information about Constitution Day, visit the National Constitution Center's Web site.

 

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