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MAX FARRAND: Constitutional Hero


 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.

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. 

What is the significance of Farrand's "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787" ?

Well, before I answer that, let me introduce Beatrix Farrand who is pictured here. There is really no reason for me to show a picture of her except that I found this picture when I was looking for a picture of Max Farrand and I don't want to waste it.

Back to Farrand's research: 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, 

Max Farrand's Brother: Livingston Farrand

Here is a picture of Livingston Farrand. He was a doctor, anthropologist and the fourth president of Cornell University. He has absolutely nothing to do with the Constitution but I found his picture too so I posted it. Don't you think it's really kinda weird that his name is Livingston and his brother's name is Max? I feel like those names don't really go together. What do you think?