...where the Constitution meets cotton candy.

Max Farrand


MAX FARRAND (circa 1911)*

*Really, it's his brother but he kinda looks like him, I guess, and I can't find a picture of Max Farrand.


Welcome to the study of Dr. Max Farrand.  You are in for a treat because you are about to be enthralled with stories from the grandfather of primary source material on the Constitution.  As you ease into your plush red leather chair  and inhale the musty aroma of really old leather bound books, in walks our audio-animatronic Dr. Max Farrand.

Who was Dr. Max Farrand? 
Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1869, Dr. Farrand graduated from Princeton University (A.B. 1892, Pd.D. 1896) and went on to become a professor of history at Wesleyan, Stanford, Cornell and Yale.  In 1911, while Professor of History at Yale, Farrand compiled all of the records, diaries and notes of the members of the Constitutional Convention and published them in a three volume set entitled The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (Yale University Press).  In his words, Farrand placed "every scrap of information accessible upon the drafting of the Constitution of the United States."  At the time of publication, the New York Times recognized the unparalleled significance of this historic collection, christening it "the standard authority on the work of the Constitutional Convention" and "indispensable for any real interpretation of the Constitution." The New York Times December 17, 1911 and July 30, 1787.  A Revised Edition by Farrand, published in 1937, incorporated in a fourth volume material that had come to light after the first printing. Farrand was also the author of The Framing of the Constitution of the United States in 1913, Development of the United States in 1918 and Fathers of the Constitution in 1921.  In 1913 he married Beatrix Jones, a well-known landscape gardener. 
Would you like to see a picture of his wife Beatrix?


What is the significance of  Farrand's "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787" ?
At the outset of the twentieth century, the compilation of primary source material was not as advanced as it is today.  Perhaps this was due to the rise of original intent as a jurisprudence or  the increase in technology now available in this revolutionary age of instantaneous electronic information.  Professor Farrand  had nothing but books and papers at his disposal in 1911 when he set out to compile every known word and record written down in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in that summer of 1787.  What sources did he put together?

1. The Journal: This was the official record of the Convention.  Here I quote from Professor Farrand's introduction:

"The sessions of the Convention were secret; before the final adjournment the secretary was directed to deposit "the Journals and other papers of the Convention in the hands of the President", and in answer to an inquiry of Washington's, the Convention resolved "that he retain the Journal and other papers subject to the order of Congress, if ever formed under the Constitution." Accordingly the secretary, William Jackson, after destroying "all the loose scraps of paper", which he evidently thought unimportant, formally delivered the papers to the president. Washington in turn deposited these papers with the Department of State in 1796, where they remained untouched until Congress by a joint resolution in 1818 ordered them to be printed. They are still in the keeping of the Bureau of Rolls and Library of that department.

President Monroe requested the Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, to take charge of the publication of the Journal. The task proved to be a difficult one. The papers were, according to Adams, "no better than the daily minutes from which the regular journal ought to have been, but never was, made out."    

The secretary's minutes consist of the formal journal of the Convention, the journal of the Committee of the Whole House and, partly on loose sheets and partly in a bound blank book, a table giving the detail of ayes and noes on the various questions. The detail of ayes and noes offers the greatest difficulty, for no dates are given and to about one tenth of the votes no questions are attached. The photograph of the first loose sheet of this table reveals the difficulties at a glance; the later pages are not as bad as the first, for the secretary evidently profited by experience, but uncertainty and confusion are by no means eliminated. For convenience of reference, in the present edition a number in square brackets is prefixed to each vote, and the editor has taken the liberty of dividing the detail of ayes and noes into what are, according to his best judgment, the sections for each day's records. The sections are retained intact, and a summary of each vote in square brackets is appended to that question in the Journal to which, in the light of all the evidence, it seems to belong.

With notes so carelessly kept, as were evidently those of the secretary, the Journal cannot be relied upon absolutely. The statement of questions is probably accurate in most cases, but the determination of those questions and in particular the votes upon them should be accepted somewhat tentatively."  

2. Yates:  In 1821 after the journal was published, and thereby, the "seal of secrecy" of the convention delegates broken, Robert Yates, a delegate from New York, published his notes, entitled: "Secret Proceedings and Debates of the Convention Assembled at Philadelphia, in the year 1787, for the purpose of forming the Constitution of the United States of America."   Yates, and his colleague John Lansing, left the convention on July 5, 1787, in doubt that their instructions from New York allowed them to entirely replace the Articles of Confederation.  Yates' records are short on details and end midway through the convention.

3. Madison: Immortalized in history as the father of the constitution, James Madison compiled the most thorough and comprehensive records of what transpired at the Convention.  The meticulous notes of America's first nerd were purchased by Congress in 1836, after his death.  They were edited and published posthumously, in three volumes, in 1840; according to Professor Farrand, "at once all other records paled into significance."  Madison' best summarized his approach to record-keeping at the convention:

"I chose a seat in front of the presiding member, with the other members, on my right and left hand.  In this favorable position for hearing all that passed I noted in terms legible and in abbreviations and marks intelligible to myself what was read from the Chair or spoken by the members; and losing not a moment unnecessarily between the adjournment and reassembling of the Convention I was enabled to write out my daily notes during the session or within a few finishing days after its close."
 

Material summarized and quotes extracted from The Library of Congress American Memory Home: A century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875, Farrand's Records -- Introduction, http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/hlaw:@field%28DOCID+@lit%28fr0016%29%29.
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