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Making A Nation
Lesson Three

A Class Play About George Mason and the Federal Convention

  • Narrator
  • Theodore Cabel, reporter from the television news program, "Live from Philadelphia"
  • George Mason
  • studio audience of Philadelphia citizens (all other students)


TIME: May 28, 1787.

PLACE: Set of news program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Two chairs are facing the class.

(THEODORE CABEL and GEORGE MASON are seated in the chairs. The NARRATOR enters and steps in front of them to speak to the audience.)

NARRATOR: This skit takes us back to the year 1787, the time of the Federal Convention. Everyone knows that there was no television in 1787. But we are changing history, just for today, as we think about what it would have been like to interview George Mason on a television news program. Listen carefully, because at the end, you'll get the chance to ask Mr. Mason whatever you like. (NARRATOR exits.)

CABEL (facing audience): Welcome to our nation's leading news program, "Live From Philadelphia." I am Theodore Cabel, reporting from one of the chambers in the Philadelphia State House. We are devoting our program today to the Federal Convention which began several days ago in this building. The Convention has brought together some of our country's finest thinkers and patriots. We are privileged to have as our guest, George Mason, one of the senior delegates from the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Turning to MASON) Good evening, sir.

MASON: Greetings to you, Mr. Cabel, from my family and from the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am very optimistic about the activities taking place in Philadelphia.

CABEL: Some citizens throughout the country are distressed to learn that the Convention is being held in closed-door, secret sessions. They say that this secrecy goes against the principles of our new nation. Do you agree with the decision to have closed-door sessions?

MASON: Yes, I do. The people of our country must see the plan for the new government after it is completed. It is not good for them to hear about one point one day, another point another day. This will cause confusion.

CABEL: I see. (Pause) Are the delegates pleased that George Washington will be serving as president of the Convention?

MASON: Yes. There was some talk that General Washington would not attend the Convention. He was not sure that our meetings would be successful. So, of course, his decision to participate and especially to chair the Convention is encouraging.

CABEL: There are many rumors flying around Philadelphia, sir. We hear that the delegates from Virginia already have written a plan for the new government. In fact, it is rumored that this plan was the first item that was discussed when the Convention began. Is this correct?

MASON: Yes. The Virginia delegates met for several days before the Convention. We have come up with a good plan.

CABEL: What can you tell us about this plan?

MASON: Because of our closed-door policy, I am unable to give you any specifics. However, I can tell you my personal preference for the new government. We must create a strong central government. The central government must be stronger than any one state or group of states.

CABEL: How do we make the central government strong? Do you favor having a strong leader?

MASON (loudly): No! We put up with the British king for too long. We do not need

another tyrant. What we need is a strong legislature. This legislature must respond to the wishes of the people.

CABEL: Tell us, Mr. Mason. When will the plan for the government be completed? Do you expect a long, hot summer of meetings in Philadelphia?

MASON (shaking his head): I can't say, Mr. Cabel. It is a difficult business to organize a government on this grand scale. It may take a while.

CABEL: Before we go off the air, let's ask for questions from our studio audience of Philadelphia citizens. Some of the audience has waited outside the State House for over two hours just to see this program. (Turning to audience) Are there any questions for Mr. Mason? (CABEL takes questions from the class.)


CHARACTERS: Same as Act 1.

TIME: September 16, 1787.

PLACE: Same as Act 1.

(NARRATOR enters and steps in front of MASON and CABEL to address audience.)

NARRATOR: It is now September 16, 1787. Over three months have passed since the beginning of the Federal Convention. (NARRATOR exits.)

CABEL (in serious tone): Good evening. Welcome to a special broadcast of "Live From Philadelphia." The nation is watching our city with great interest today. The Convention delegates may be close to a decision on the new constitution. Virginia delegate George Mason is in our studio to discuss this possibility. (Turning to MASON) We are privileged that you have found the time to be with us, sir. Are the reports true? Will the constitution be signed soon?

MASON: A draft of the constitution is completed, Mr. Cabel. The delegates have been meeting for several days to review this draft section by section.

CABEL: There have been rumors that not everyone is pleased with the constitution. You have been named as one of a small group of delegates who is quite dissatisfied with the new plan for government.

MASON: Sadly, you are correct.

CABEL: What are your objections, Mr. Mason? If you can tell us.

MASON: I have been distressed that there is not a bill of rights in this constitution. A declaration of rights could be prepared in just a few hours. It would give great quiet to the citizens of our nation.

CABEL: But, sir, many of the states have bills of rights in their state constitutions. Isn't this enough?

MASON: No, it's not. The national government is more powerful than any state government. A state bill of rights could not protect the people against unfair actions of the national government. That is why we need a national bill of rights.

CABEL: I see you feel strongly about this. (Pause) I also have heard that you are concerned that under this constitution, the northern states have too much power. Is this right?

MASON: Yes. The North and South are very different. The North earns its money through manufacturing and exporting goods to other places. The South earns its money through agriculture. Under this constitution, laws concerning trade are made by the majority of members in the legislature.

CABEL: I believe that there are eight states in the North and five states in the South.

MASON: Yes. As you can see, the North always will have a majority.

CABEL: But won't the lawmakers do what's best for the whole country? Will the North always do what's best for the North? Will the South always do what's best for the South?

MASON: I am afraid so. And because there are more northern states than southern states, the South will be hurt again and again.

CABEL: Another rumor flying around Philadelphia is that you are unhappy that the delegates have postponed making a decision on the slave trade. Are you free to tell us more?

MASON: We must stop bringing more slaves into this country. This constitution states that the central government will wait until the year 1808 before deciding whether or not to stop the slave trade. That's 23 years away. What a disgrace!

CABEL: Will this constitution be approved by the delegates, Mr. Mason? Or, will there be a new convention some time from now? Will we start over?

MASON: Our governor in Virginia, Edmund Randolph, asked for a new convention. I supported this. However, his idea was defeated. The delegates are tired. They want to go home with the constitution completed.

CABEL: Will you sign this constitution, Mr. Mason? This must be a hard time for you.

MASON (loudly): I would rather chop off my hand than sign this constitution!

CABEL: With that very strong statement, we will close our program. (Turning to class) But first, are there any questions from our studio audience? (CABEL and MASON answer questions prepared by the students.)


Explore the role of other delegates at the Federal Convention. Write your own "Live From Philadelphia" segment and have Theodore Cabel interview these figures. Good possibilities are Elbridge Gerry, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and George Washington.

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