Many know generally how the US Constitution was written (and the Broadway show Hamilton helps). Its the 230 year anniversary of the summer of 1787 – an extremely hot Philadelphia summer when our Constitution was written.
Delegates at the Constitution Convention suffered unbearable Philadelphia heat. Still, the delegates worked together and in a matter of months wrote the oldest active constitution that exists. (Yet its taken Illinois years to agree on anything in the comfort of its air conditioned Capitol.)
The heat did cause problems. Many states were tardy to the convention. When it opened on May 14th, only Pennsylvania and Virginia showed up. Eventually, enough states gathered to form a quorum, marking the official start of the convention. Weather was the most common excuse for this tardiness. The diary of William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut is the only weather reference we have and he describes 33 of the 80 days it took as “hot” or “very hot”.
Despite the heat, the delegates still wanted the convention to be a secret, so the windows were closed and heavy drapes were drawn. With closed windows cutting off any air flow, its no wonder there are errors in the Constitution. Between the final article and the delegate signatures on the Constitution’s final page is an “errata” paragraph listing some of the minor errors the writer had made along with the corrections.
But its interesting to wonder how things would be different if it had not been so hot. According to one journalist, the few times the framers got a break from the heat, morale boosted considerably and the sessions were more productive.
One example is the morning of July 13, described as “cool”, when Edmund Randolph of Virginia looked to correct the language of the three-fifths ratio and how it would be applied. On another cool day, Alexander Hamilton helped resolve a conflict between a Georgia delegate and a British merchant.
The Constitutional Convention was famous for its heated debates. It begs the question — does heat contribute to conflict? Or does cool weather just promote productivity?
As the occasion was formal delegates wore their best wool coats – this picture reflects how hot they must have been: