25
May
09

On This Day, May 25: The Constitutional Convention

May 25, 1787

Constitutional Convention convenes in Philadelphia

With George Washington presiding, the Constitutional Convention formally convenes on this day in 1787. The convention faced a daunting task: the peaceful overthrow of the new American government as it had been defined by the Article of Confederation.

The process began with the proposal of James Madison’s “Virginia Plan.” Madison had dedicated the winter of 1787 to the study of confederacies throughout history and arrived in Philadelphia with a wealth of knowledge and an idea for a new American government. Virginia’s governor, Edmund Randolph, presented Madison’s plan to the convention. It featured a bicameral legislature, with representation in both houses apportioned to states based upon population; this was seen immediately as giving more power to large states, like Virginia. The two houses would in turn elect the executive and the judiciary and would possess veto power over the state legislatures. Madison’s conception strongly resembled Britain’s parliament. It omitted any discussion of taxation or regulation of trade, however; these items had been set aside in favor of outlining a new form of government altogether.

William Patterson soon countered with a plan more attractive to the new nation’s smaller states. It too bore the imprint of America’s British experience. Under the “New Jersey Plan,” as it became known, each state would have a single vote in Congress as it had been under the Articles of Confederation, to even out power between large and small states. But, the plan also gave Congress new powers: the collection of import duties and a stamp tax, the regulation of trade and the enforcement of requisitions upon the states with military force.

Alexander Hamilton then put forward to the delegates a third plan, a perfect copy of the British Constitution including an upper house and legislature that would serve “on good behavior.”

Confronted by three counter-revolutionary options, the representatives of Connecticut finally came up with a workable compromise: a government with an upper house made up of equal numbers of delegates from each state and a lower house with proportional representation based upon population. This idea formed the basis of the new U.S. Constitution, which became the law of the land in 1789.

“Constitutional Convention convenes in Philadelphia,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=633 (accessed May 25, 2009).

 

On This Day

585 BC – The first known prediction of a solar eclipse was made in Greece.

1810 – Argentina declared independence from Napoleonic Spain.

1844 – The gasoline engine was patented by Stuart Perry.

1925 – John Scopes was indicted for teaching the Darwinian theory in school.

1953 – In Nevada, the first atomic cannon was fired.

1961 – America was asked by U.S. President Kennedy to work toward putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

1968 – The Gateway Arch, part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, MO, was dedicated.

1977 – An opinion piece by Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs appeared in “The Washington Post.” The article called for a national memorial to “remind an ungrateful nation of what it has done to its sons” that had served in the Vietnam War.

1999 – A report by the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China concluded that China had “stolen design information on the U.S. most-advanced thermonuclear weapons” and that China’s penetration of U.S. weapons laboratories “spans at least the past several decades and almost certainly continues today.”

2008 – NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander landed in the arctic plains of Mars.

May 25, 1977

Chinese government removes ban on Shakespeare

A new sign of political liberalization appears in China, when the communist government lifts its decade-old ban on the writings of William Shakespeare. The action by the Chinese government was additional evidence that the Cultural Revolution was over.

In 1966, Mao Tse-Tung, the leader of the People’s Republic of China, announced a “Cultural Revolution,” which was designed to restore communist revolutionary fervor and vigor to Chinese society. His wife, Chiang Ching, was made the unofficial secretary of culture for China. What the revolution meant in practice, however, was the assassination of officials deemed to have lost their dedication to the communist cause and the arrest and detention of thousands of other officials and citizens for vaguely defined “crimes against the state.” It also meant the banning of any cultural work–music, literature, film, or theater–that did not have the required ideological content. By the early 1970s, however, China was desperate to open new and improved relations with the West, particularly the United States, partially because of its desire for new sources of trade but also because of its increasing fear of confrontation with the Soviet Union. President Richard Nixon’s 1973 trip to China was part of this campaign. In October 1976, the Cultural Revolution was officially declared ended, and the May 1977 announcement of the end of the ban on the works of William Shakespeare was clear evidence of this. It was a move that cost little, but was sure to reap public relations benefits with Western society that often looked askance at China’s puritanical and repressive cultural life.

Together with the announcement that the ban was lifted, the Chinese government also stated that a Chinese-language edition of the Bard’s works would soon be available.

“Chinese government removes ban on Shakespeare,” The History Channel website, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2678 (accessed May 25, 2009).

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