Committee of Detail

The Committee of Detail was a committee established by the United States Constitutional Convention on July 24, 1787 to put down a draft text reflecting the agreements made by the Convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan's 15 resolutions. It was chaired by John Rutledge, and other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham. The Convention adjourned from July 26 to August 6 to await the report of this committee. This report, when made, constituted the first draft of the United States Constitution, and much of what was contained in the final document was present in this draft.

Overall, the report of the committee conformed to the resolutions adopted by the Convention, though on many clauses the members of the committee left the imprint of their individual and collective judgments. In a few instances, the committee avowedly exercised considerable discretion. For example, the Committee added the phrase "giving them aid and comfort" to the section on treason to narrow the definition from more ambiguous phrases which had been proposed in the Convention. They also added an Electoral College.

This committee, in preparing its draft of a Constitution, referenced the State constitutions, the Articles of Confederation, plans submitted to the Convention and other available material. Although the Constitution was an innovation of national government with federal characteristics, much of it was drawn from models of Classical Antiquity and the British governmental tradition of mixed government. The Declaration of Independence also acted as an important guide for its summation of ideals of self-government and fundamental human rights. The writings of such European political philosophers as Montesquieu and John Locke were influential. What they sought to create was a balanced government of checks and balances to serve the long-term interests of the people of an independent nation.

The two preliminary drafts that survive as well as the text of the Constitution submitted to the Convention were in the handwriting of Wilson or Randolph.

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