Five Delegates to Philadelphia

In Order to Form a More Perfect Union

Pleading for a Federal Constitution: November 5, 1786

In a letter to James Madison not long after the Annapolis convention adjourned, George Washington pleaded for a new and stronger federal government. "The consequences of a lax, or inefficient government, are too obvious to be dwelt on. Thirteen Sovereignties pulling against each other and all tugging the federal head, will soon bring ruin on the whole."

  • LETTER OF GEORGE WASHINGTON TO JAMES MADISON, MOUNT VERNON, November 5, 1786. Facsimile from the Stan V. Henkels catalogue, 1895, p. 27. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1262-10
Five Delegates to Philadelphia: May 26, 1787

Despite these strong words, it took the Maryland legislature from November 1986 until the following May to select delegates to Philadelphia. Eighteen members were nominated; only five agreed to serve.

One contemporary suggested in a letter to Thomas Jefferson that the controversies at home prevented some of the more prominent Marylanders such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton from agreeing to go to Philadelphia. More plausible is the argument that the delegation represented the best balance the legislature could achieve at a time when it was preoccupied with more pressing economic and political issues at home.

On May 26, 1787, James McHenry, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, Daniel Carroll, John Francis Mercer, and Luther Martin were commissioned as Maryland's delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Daniel Carroll was president of the Senate, Luther Martin was attorney general, and Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer was comptroller. John Francis Mercer, a former member of Congress from Virginia living in the Annapolis area. James McHenry, formerly a member of the House of Delegates, was a Baltimore merchant. Carroll and Jenifer were clearly in favor of a stronger national government; Martin and Mercer were opposed. McHenry attempted to mediate between the two sides.

In the end, by careful compromise and a willingness on the part of the majority to accept less that what they really wanted, the Philadelphia convention produced a document of amazing resilience and durability that fell short in only one respect. It lacked a bill of rights.
  • DANIEL OF ST. THOMAS JENIFER (1723-1790) by Albert Rosenthal (1863-1934. Delegate to Conference at Mt. Vernon and Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1796-A-89

Jenifer spoke little during the convention, but supported McHenry on the need for unregulated trade between the states. He argued unsuccessfully for longer terms of office for representatives, believing that too frequent elections would draw candidates of lesser qualifications and experience.

  • JOHN FRANCIS MERCER (1759-1821) by Albert Rosenthal (1863-1934)
Mercer unsuccessfully advocated landholding qualifications for electors of representatives. He opposed residency requirements for members of Congress and argued against judicial review. Mercer returned to Maryland before the end of the convention to campaign against adoption of the Constitution.
Maryland State Archives. MSA SC 1796-A-91

  • JAMES MCHENRY (1753-1816) by Albert Rosenthal (1863-1934)Delegate to the Constitutional Convention and signer of the Constitution. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1796-A-88

McHenry assured inclusion of the free interstate commerce provision drawn from the Compact of 1785. He co-sponsored the Congressional prohibition against the passage of bills of attainder or ex post facto laws and kept notes of the convention's deliberations, which have proved invaluable in later interpretations of intent.