Film: 9577

Politics | 1950 | Sound | Colour


The origins and historical reconstruction of the events surrounding the formation of the political constitution of the United States of America. Told through historical reconstruction.

The Capitol in Washington. A hand-written copy of the Constitution. A re-enactment of the signing of the constitution. American soldiers from the American Revolution or War of Independence walking through tall grass. A man ploughing land with a horse drawn plough. A court in Massachusetts. Courts were confiscating lands to pay debts. The courtroom - a lawyer in wig and gown argues the defendant's land should be confiscated to pay monies owed. Uproar in the court room - onlookers are not happy with land confiscations. Armed men enter the room. The judge orders the court cleared but the men refuse to budge. The leader of the men is Daniel Shays. They want justice. Shays removes the judge from the bench. Since Shays believes the law and Government won't give him justice, he resolves to change them. Shays's rebellion. A soldier reading a proclamation. A proclamation by James Bewdoin, Governor of Massachusetts. Men debating outside a shop. A merchant and a revenue collector argue about the tariffs and taxes on a load of nails and the effect the multiplicity of governments is having on trade. The merchant shows the revenue man some continental money which is worthless. The Tower of London. Lord Sheffield and John Adams. They are arguing about the closure of some British ports to American shipping. However, until the American Government honours the Treaty of Paris which ended the American War of Independence, the ports will stay shut. The national American government is trying to get the states to honour their obligations but thus far without success. No compensation had been paid to British citizens for their loss of property in the war. The interview ends.
The Congress in Philadelphia. Congress only conducted war and foreign affairs - otherwise the states were entirely autonomous. Some congressmen chatting in a room. A couple of them are talking about Shays's rebellion. One argues that military force should be used to suppress it. Massachusetts may need help to suppress it, he says. The other says maybe, but the states wont give congress the means to do it. The government can scarcely pay its bills as the states are refusing to honour congress's requisitions. Yet, the second man argues that they are right because a standing army is a threat o liberty in the wrong hands. Handing out rifles Maryland and Virginia argued over navigation in the Potomac river. A convention met at Annapolis in 1786. two men in a room looking at a map and arguing. They talk to a third man sitting at a table.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home. Three men in a room. One is George Washington, another is Alexander Hamilton and the third is James Madison. They are meeting to see if the convention between Virginia and Maryland can produce a workable form of national government to resolve the chaotic situation they found themselves in. They are going to issue a general appeal for action to produce a new framework of government. Poster - 'Call for a Convention to revise the Articles of Confederation'. The old State House in Philadelphia. Delegates gathering. Delegates chatting in a well-appointed room. Delegates entering meeting room. The meeting gets underway. Madison writing. Virginia's governor Randolph proposes a legislature where the number of representatives a state had was based on its population. Delegates talking outside the convention. Pennsylvania's James Wilson speaking in favour of strong government and a popular election. Roger Sherman from Connecticut disagreeing with Wilson. Delegates arguing outside the meeting. Small states faction meeting to discuss Paterson (?) from New jersey's plan. Martin from Maryland. Paterson's plan - revenue-raising powers of Congress enlarged in the upper house there is equal representation for each state, executive to be appointed by Congress not the people, State legislature to appoint members of Congress. Patterson presenting his proposal to the convention. One of his ideas was a cornerstone of the constitution - that federal law is superior to sate law.
Delegates arguing against the small state plan. Weeks of bitter debate, Weather vane shifting in the wind. Bitter debate. James Madison writing.
George Washington. delegates, one mopping his head. Crushing a leaflet. James Madison. A note. A committee called to resolve the issue of state representation in Congress proposed the Great Compromise. Dr. Johnson. Both the people and the states can be represented in congress. In one house of Congress, each state will have one member for every 40,000 inhabitants, in the other each state shall have an equal vote. The committee are sitting round a table in a panelled room. The Great Compromise breaks the deadlock. The Great Compromise is presented to the Convention. Representation in the Senate equal between states, in House based on population. James Madison. There was still disagreement on other issues.
A vocal vote reveals differences of opinion among the convention. September 1787 - draft constitution ready. Washington talking to Madison. Washington calls the meeting to order. Madison reads out the constitution. A delegate - Benjamin Franklin ? - expresses his optimism for the proposed constitution. The state house. The delegates sign the constitution, starting with Washington. Some delegates refused to sign. Men, reading a copy of the constitution pasted in the window of the Newport Mercury. A pamphlet - The Proposed Constitution - A Threat to Liberty.
Men arguing about the constitution outside the Newport Mercury. Amos Singleberry (?) attacking the constitution the Massachusetts State Legislature. Applause. Singleberry (?) and three supporters of the constitution discussing it in a room with paintings on the walls. The ratification of the constitution by the convention was assured by the proposal that the convention ratify the constitution on condition that a Bill of Rights be added as soon as the new government was formed. This overcame the opposition in Massachusetts. Singleberry (?) standing discussing the Bill of Rights with an older man who is sitting down. A large house on a sunny day. The same house at night with a light in one room. Madison and Hamilton. Madison writing at a desk, Hamilton in a chair by a fireplace reading. They talk about the chances for the constitution and the opposition to it. To get the constitution through they decide they must support a Bill of Rights. People arriving at a state convention, most walking, one by carriage. A map showing the 13 states. They change colour as the order in which they ratified the constitution is shown. Map superimposed on a copy of the constitution. The Capitol building in Washington

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