***Bibliographic note: Web version based on the Introduction by Roger A. Bruns to A More Perfect Union : The Creation of the United States Constitution. Washington, DC : Published for the National Archives and Records Administration by the National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1986.
May 25, 1787. Freshly spread dirt covered the cobblestone street in front of the Pennsylvania State House, protecting the men inside from the sound of passing carriages and carts. Guards stood at the entrances to ensure that the curious were kept at a distance. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, the “financier” of the Revolution, opened the proceedings with a nomination—Gen. George Washington for the presidency of the Constitutional Convention. The vote was unanimous. With characteristic ceremonial modesty, the general expressed his embarrassment at his lack of qualifications to preside over such an august body and apologized for any errors into which he might fall in the course of its deliberations.
To many of those assembled, especially to the small, boyish-looking, 36-year-old delegate from Virginia, James Madison, the general’s mere presence boded well for the convention, for the illustrious Washington gave to the gathering an air of importance and legitimacy But his decision to attend the convention had been an agonizing one. The Father of the Country had almost remained at home.
Suffering from rheumatism, despondent over the loss of a brother, absorbed in the management of Mount Vernon, and doubting that the convention would accomplish very much or that many men of stature would attend, Washington delayed accepting the invitation to attend for several months. Torn between the hazards of lending his reputation to a gathering perhaps doomed to failure and the chance that the public would view his reluctance to attend with a critical eye, the general finally agreed to make the trip. James Madison was pleased.
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