A small but telling demonstration of his immense influence: After endless haggling during the summer, the delegates agreed on one representative for each 40,000 people. Then on Sept. 17, just when the delegates were about to sign the Constitution, he stepped down from the chair to observe that many delegates seemed troubled by the 40,000 figure and that he himself preferred 30,000. Without hesitation, the delegates voted unanimously to change the number to 30,000.
"One of the best horsemen in America, he was exhilarated by racing at top speed through fields and over fences," report historians Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. "He liked to gamble, to play cards, to bet on horse races and cockfights, to dance. He loved nothing better than to sit over dinner with old friends and new acquaintances, drinking Madeira, cracking walnuts, telling stories and joking."
Although he had little formal education, Washington patterned his public career after Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer who left his fields to lead the Roman army in defense of the republic, and having done his duty, resigned and returned home. At the end of the French and Indian War, Washington resigned from the Virginia military and returned to Mount Vernon. He did the same at the end of the Revolutionary War, resigning his commission with great fanfare. Among his most lasting contributions to the nation was his insistence on resigning at the end of his second term in the presidency and turning over the reigns of power to an elected successor--an example that the leaders of few revolutions have copied.
Madison of Virginia was both a scholar whose ideas on democratic government formed the basis for the new Constitution and a politician whose persistence helped bring it into existence. And in particular, he won acceptance of the crucial idea that a republican form of government could survive and flourish serving a large geographic area.
A young aristocrat who was happier with his books than with horses, Madison read everything he could find on government, ancient and contemporary. He had concluded that the post-Revolutionary War government was hopelessly weak, and lobbied his friends, including Washington, and helped to arrange the convention in Philadelphia. He played a key role in preparing the "Virginia plan," which outlined a new government with three branches: an executive, legislature and judiciary.
The small states forced him to compromise on his plan for basing legislative representation solely on population, but he achieved his greatest goal--creation of a central government with power over the states. Each day, when not engaged in the debate, Madison was in his seat taking notes on the proceedings, notes that would become the best record available on what transpired behind the closed doors of the Convention.
When the convention adjourned, he led the fight for ratification in Virginia, and contributed mightily to the Federalist Papers that aided the ratification, especially in New York. In the first session of the new Congress, he submitted a Bill of Rights, which became the first 10 Amendments.
Mason of Virginia was a man ahead of his time. A slave owner, he wanted to see slavery abolished. An aristocratic planter, he fought for the rights of all citizens. One of the most active and influential delegates at the convention, in the end he voted against the new Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights.
Mason, then 52, was also an odd duck--a crusty, arrogant loner, according to historians Christopher and James Lincoln Collier. "He shaved his head and doused it in cold water every morning, and at the convention, he was the lone delegate in favor of sumptuary laws designed to control people's drink, dress and deportment," they report. And he was none too happy spending his summer in cosmopolitan Philadelphia. "I begin to grow heartily tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city," he wrote to his son.
But Mason was a fighter for the rights of the individual. He had authored a Virginia Bill of Rights in 1776 and, after the new federal Constitution had been ratified, his work was used as a model when the first Congress added the Bill of Rights in 1789.
His best known action at the convention, however, was his speech on Aug. 22, 1787, denouncing slavery. His plantation at Guston Hall was said to have 300 slaves, but Mason believed the slave trade--"this infernal traffic"--should be ended and slavery gradually abolished.
Sherman of Connecticut is the only man who signed all the major documents of the founding years--the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. And his skill in fashioning compromise may well have saved the Constitution.