The Little-Known – but Seminal – York Town Convention of 1777


The U.S. Constitution authorizes a “convention for proposing amendments” to offer amendments for ratification (or rejection) by the states.

The mechanism has never been used (all amendments have come from Congress), and many people have been curious about how it is supposed to work. But that’s because they are unaware of the long series of interstate “proposing” conventions held during the Founding Era—each charged with suggesting answers to specified problems.

All of these conventions were meetings of state delegations (“committees”) appointed and empowered by their respective states. In addition to the famed 1787 gathering in Philadelphia, interstate conventions met in Providence, Rhode Island (1776-77 and again in 1781); Springfield, Massachusetts (1777); New Haven, Connecticut (1778); Hartford, Connecticut (1779 and 1780); Philadelphia (1780); Boston (1780); and Annapolis, Maryland (1786). It is possible that others met in Charleston in 1777 and/or 1778 and in Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1778. Attendance ranged from three states to twelve.

The protocol of those assemblies can tell us much about the Founders’ expectations for the “convention to propose amendments.” The problem is that, except for the Annapolis and 1787 Philadelphia meetings, records covering them can be hard to find. I’ve learned that even experienced archivists can have trouble locating them.