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She’s Not a Founder of the Constitution (But She Did Find One)

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  • She’s Not a Founder of the Constitution (But She Did Find One)

    Let’s talk about the Constitution.

    Not the meaning of the Constitution (that would, well, take up a case book or two). But the actual document itself. It’s not every day that we talk about the actual framers, drafts they may have written, the work down in Philadelphia in 1787 that led to the great document being adopted as the governing law of the land.

    A 30-year-old researcher named Lorianne Updike Toler recently got up close and personal with the framers and the document. And she made a pretty cool discovery: Toler recently found a draft of the Constitution in a stack of archives at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

    Here’s how the Philadelphia Inquirer describes the finding, in a story out today:
    Researcher Lorianne Updike Toler was intrigued by the centuries-old document at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

    On the back of a treasured draft of the U.S. Constitution was a truncated version of the same document, starting with the familiar words: “We The People. . . .”

    They had been scribbled upside down by one of the Constitution’s framers, James Wilson, in the summer of 1787. The cursive continued, then abruptly stopped, as if pages were missing.

    A mystery, Toler thought, until she examined other Wilson papers from the Historical Society’s vault in Philadelphia and found what appeared to be the rest of the draft, titled “The Continuation of the Scheme.”

    The document - one of 21 million in the Historical Society’s collection - was known to scholars, but probably should have been placed with the other drafts, said constitutional scholar John P. Kaminski, director of the Center for the Study of the American Constitution in the history department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Lo and behold, Toler had unwittingly stumbled upon another draft of the Constitution. “This was the kind of moment historians dream about,” said Toler, 30, a lawyer and founding president of the Constitutional Sources Project, which promotes an understanding of and access to U.S. Constitution documents.

    “This was national scripture, a piece of our Constitution’s history,” she said of her find in November. “It was difficult to keep my hands from trembling.” As other researchers “realized what was happening, there was a sort of hushed awe that settled over the reading room,” Toler said. “One of them said the hair on her arms stood on end.”

    The backstory goes like this: It turns out that two drafts of the Constitution in Wilson’s hand had been separated from his papers long ago. One of them included the beginning of still another draft. Toler told the Inquirer that “The Continuation of the Scheme,” including its provisions about the executive and judiciary branches, completes that draft, making it a third.

    She “found a document that was sort of buried in its right place, but not taken out by an archivist for special treatment,” said Kaminski, the constitutional scholar. “This is a valuable document. It is in Wilson’s hand, and it was in Wilson’s papers, where it should have been.”

    Wilson, who lived in Philadelphia, was selected July 24, 1787, with four other members of the Constitutional Convention to serve on the Committee of Detail.

    The committee - which also had John Rutledge, Edmund Randolph, Nathaniel Gorham, and Oliver Ellsworth - used 28 resolutions passed by members of the convention to flesh out the Constitution.

    They finished their work and presented it Aug. 6, 1787, to the Constitutional Convention. It included Wilson’s famous “We the People” beginning.

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