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Drafting of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights

A guide to the records behind the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Ratification Records

Overview:

  • Adoption of Constitution depended on ratification by state conventions
  • Accuracy of records of debates is doubtful; reporters were often partisan and had trouble with shorthand
  • For more information, see Gregory Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Records of the State Ratifying Conventions as a Source of the Original Meaning of the U.S. Constitution, 3 U. Ill. L. Rev. 457 (2009).

 


Collections:

Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, 1781-1791: Online and KF 4502 D63

  • Most comprehensive source
  • 25 vols., with more to come

Elliot’s Debates (Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption . . .)

  • Online (from Library of Congress) and Print: KF 4510 E44
  • Classic collection of published debates, but problematic
  • 5 vols. (first published 1827-1830)
  • Source for period between Convention in Sept. 1787 and first Congress in March 1789
  • Besides debates in the states, also includes a journal of the Convention (from a version that is earlier and less accurate than Farrand’s Records)

The Federalist

Overview:

  • 85 essays from Oct. 1787 to Aug. 1788
  • Written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
  • Published anonymously under “Publius” in New York state newspapers
  • Compiled for publication during that same time, in two volumes
  • Because of its unusual publishing history, the assignment of authorship, numbering, and exact wording may vary by edition 
  • 1818 edition, with revisions by Madison, was first to identify essays by author
  • For more information, see:
    • Gregory Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution, 87 B.U. L. Rev. 801 (2007).
    • Aaron Zelinsky, Misunderstanding the Anti-Federalist Papers: The dangers of Availability, 63 Ala. L. Rev. 1067 (2012).

 


Compilations:

Anti-Federalist Papers

"Anti-Federalist papers" denotes essays written in opposition to the Constitution, although they were not the result of an organized effort like the Federalist.


Selected Compilation:

The Complete Anti-Federalist: KF 4515 C65 1981

  • 7 vols.
  • Most extensive set

Other compilations exist; in the online catalog TALLONS, do a keyword search for "anti-federalist."