The 200th anniversary of the drafting and ratification of the US Constitution took place between 1987 and 1990.
The Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution was created by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan - Public Law 98-101 - in September 1983. The Commission was to plan and develop activities that would properly commemorate the bicentennial of the US Constitution and help encourage and coordinate projects developed at the State and local government levels, as well as within the private sector.
Once created in name, the next order of business was to appoint the 23 members of the Commission. As per its authorizing legislation, the Commission's members were to be appointed by four individuals: the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan), the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (Strom Thrumond), the Chief Justice of the United States (Warren Burger) and the Speaker of the House (Tip O'Neill). Unfortunately, the process took much longer than it should have and members were not officially announced until June 25, 1985 when President Reagan announced the Commission's appointees and introduced Chief Justice Warren Burger as Chairman of the Commission.
Among the Commission's early accomplishments was the adoption of an official logo for the US Constitution Bicentennial. It sponsored a contest and considered 42 proposed designs. The winning entry was submitted by the Department of the Army's Institute of Heraldry; Sarah LeClerc of the Institute was the artist responsible. At the center of the logo is a scroll with "We the People" in gold (the font used is reminiscent of the one seen on the original Constitution), a US flag is directly behind the scroll and an eagle with outstretched wings sits atop the flag's pole. Forming a circle around the central devices is the the inscription: "1787-1791 * UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION * 1987-1991 * BICENTENNIAL".
Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution Logo
As part of Public Law 99-549, signed into law on October 27, 1986, the Commission was further authorized to license its logo to commercial firms for educational and commemorative products; the licensing program was launched in late 1986. The fees collected from the licensees helped generate much-needed operating funds for the Commission; Congress appropriated only limited funds to it and they did not cover all of the Commission's expenses. Unicover of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the parent company of Fleetwood, was one of the early licensees. Fleetwood used the Commission logo on a series of covers that tied into the USPS Constitution Bicentennial stamp program that included 25 different stamps and three postcards. The logo was used on nearly all of the Fleetwood-produced covers.
The logo was licensed to a variety of product manufacturers/resellers. It can be found on license plates, key rings, coffee mugs, beer steins, match books, patches, pins, medals and even a bowl and candlesticks from Lenox.
For SCF, I will be focusing on the stamps/covers - I have more than 20 Fleetwood covers to present! (I've already presented 39 covers in my "Signers of the US Constitution FDCs" thread.) My intent is to create a visual reference catalog for Fleetwood's officially-licensed postcards and covers for the US Constitution Bicentennial Commission.
However, before I get into the Commission's postal collectibles, I think it's impossible to tell the story of the US Constitution without beginning with its forerunner - the Articles of Confederation (AoC).
On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia introduced in the Second Continental Congress, which was meeting in Philadelphia, a resolution that proposed independence for the 13 colonies and also called for "a plan for confederation" be created and sent to the individual colonies for approval. Following is a transcript of the brief but incredibly impactful resolution:
"Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation."
In response to the Lee Resolution, a committee was formed to draft the confederation plan, with one representative from each colony assigned. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (at the time, later of Delaware) served as the Chairman of the committee and also as the primary author of the Articles of Confederation (AoC) draft.
The AoC is often called the "first constitution" of the United States. Such a title, however, suggests far more similarities between the two documents than actually existed. For example, the AoC created only a Congress, not Judicial or Executive branches. The Constitution, as we know, created three branches of a Federal Government - the Executive (i.e., the President), the Judicial (i.e., the Supreme Court and Federal Court System) and the Legislative (i.e., Congress).
The AoC gave most powers to the individual states with very little assigned to the Federal Government. This created significant problems regarding creating and enforcing national laws, when trying to settle disputes between states and getting states to contribute their fair share financially. It became clear to many that the AoC were not the ideal solution to the governing of the newly independent nation. Hence, the call for the Constitutional Convention and, ultimately, the drafting of the US Constitution.
To check out the Signers of the US Constitution FDC series, see:
To kick things off, I present the 1977 AoC stamp (Scott #1726) and Fleetwood FDC for it. The stamp has a cream-color base with red and brown printing; it was designed by David Blossom and printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP). It depicts John Dickinson and the members of the committee formed by the Continental Congress to draft the AoC meeting to discuss and write them.
Articles of Confederation Stamp
The cachet on the First Day Cover presents a portrait of John Dickinson,the primary author of the AoC, along with the AoC stamp. The FDC was cancelled in York, PA on September 30, 1977 - the location and date of the stamp's first day of issue. The Continental Congress began meeting in York, PA on September 30, 1777.
Articles of Confederation First Day Cover (Fleetwood)
The first issue of the United States Postal Service's (USPS) multi-year program for the US Constitution's Bicentennial was a post card that commemorated the 200th anniversary of the start of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Constitutional Convention was called to review the Articles of Confederation, determine if its flaws could be fixed and its weaknesses strengthened, or decide if a more powerful document was needed. Most of the delegates that went to Philadelphia for the Convention did not originally go to abandon the Articles, but almost all left being in favor of a Constitution that created a strong Federal Government and established a new framework for self-government - the US Constitution. By and large, it has worked well over the past 230+ years!
The states appointed 70 delegates to the Convention. For various reasons, only 55 of the 70 made the trip to Philadelphia; Rhode Island decided against sending any delegates. Of the 55 who attended, 14 left Philadelphia before the document was ready to be signed and three refused to sign because they did not agree with it. One delegate, John Dickinson of Delaware, left behind his signature proxy with George Read - Read signed Dickinson's name on the document!
The Constitutional Convention was in session from May 14 to September 17, 1787 . It was not until May 25, 1787, however, that at least seven states were in attendance and the quorum was reached. By such date, delegates from all states but Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire and Rhode Island had arrived. The nine were more than sufficient for a quorum and the Convention formally began.
The Scott catalog reference number for the card is UX116; it is a 14-cent post card that features a meeting of George Mason, Gouverneur Morris, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Charles Pickney outside of the Pennsylvania State House (later Independence hall). The cover was only the second time that the USPS added a second design element printed on the design side of a domestic-rate post card - in this case, the five names of important Convention delegate in the lower left of the card.
The card was designed by David K. Stone of Chapel Hill, NC. The US Government Printing Office (GPO) printed the cards via a multi-color offset process. The size of the card is 3.5" x 5.5".
The first day of issue for the card was May 25, 1997 in Philadelphia, PA.
USPS Constitutional Convention Post Card
USPS Constitutional Convention Post Card - Fleetwood FDC - Front
USPS Constitutional Convention Post Card - Fleetwood FDC - Back
Next up is the stamp booklet for the "Drafting of the Constitution" series.
Between its formal convening on May 14, 1787, and July 24, 1787, the Constitutional Convention debated the merits of amending the Articles of Confederation vs. creating an entirely new document. On July 24, 1787 a Committee of Detail was created with John Rutledge, Edmund Randolph, Nathaniel Gorham, Oliver Ellsworth, and James Wilson selected. They were tasked with drafting of a constitution that embodied the Resolutions that had passed by the Convention delegates to that date. The Committee presented a 23-article draft to Convention on August 6, 1787.
A second committee, the Committee of Style and Arrangement, was formed on September 8, 1787 to take the draft developed by the Committee of Detail and create a final draft for the Convention's consideration. The new Committee members were Alexander Hamilton, William Johnson, Rufus King, James Madison and Gouverneur Morris.
The Committee worked quickly, and presented their draft on September 12. Their version took the 23 original, approved articles and reorganized them into seven articles, plus a preamble and closing. Gouveneur Morris was the primary author of the updated draft.
Between September 13 and 15, 1787, the Committee's draft was discussed, engrossed and approved (unanimously)by the delegates of the Convention. The document was signed by Convention delegates on September 17, 1787. (The link below offers a FDC-based look at the signers of the US Constitution.) Copies of the signed document were then sent off to the States for ratification.
Their work done, the Constitutional Convention adjourned.
The 200th anniversary of the drafting of the US Constitution was commemorated by the USPS with a booklet containing 20 22-cent stamps in vertical panes of five stamps; 4 panes per booklet. Each of the five stamps features a floral background design (that shows minor stamp-to-stamp changes) with a spread-wing eagle in the upper-right corner; a different block of text is presented over the background on each stamp.
The first stamp serves as a title/introduction to the stamp set, with "The Bicentennial of the Constitution of the United States of America" presented. Each of the four remaining stamps highlights a portion of the Preamble to the Constitution. (I plan on covering each in future posts.)
The stamps were designed by Bradbury Thompson, with the Bureau of Engraving models being prepared by Clarence Holbert. The booklet was first released on August 28, 1987 in Washington, DC.
"Drafting of the US Constitution" Stamp Booklet Cover
"Drafting of the US Constitution" Stamp Pane
Fleetwood FDC with Full Pane of "Drafting of the Constitution" Stamps
To learn more about the "Signers of the US Constitution," check out:
Next up is the top-most stamp in the "Drafting the Constitution" pane - The "Bicentennial of the Constitution" stamp. It is the only stamp of the pane that does not contain wording from the Constitution's Premable, it serves as more of a title for / Introduction to the overall pane.
Bicentennial of the Constitution Stamp - Scott 2355
In addition to individual stamp, I'm also presenting the Fleetwood FDC and Fleetwood Maximum Card.
The cachet on the cover presumably features four Convention delegates superimposed over a "standard" depiction of the US Constitution; in the foreground is an inkwell. The graphic was created by artist David K. Stone. The cachet presents an interesting conflict that leads to confusion for me: the caption for the cachet graphic labels it as the "Committee of Detail" while the graphic features Benjamin Franklin in a prominent, central position. Though Franklin attended the Convention, he was not selected to be a member of the Committee of Detail and seems out of place in the graphic. It makes me wonder about the reason for his inclusion?
I'm not certain of the identities of the other men included in the cachet graphic. Comparing their cachet depictions against other images of the Committee's known members, it's difficult for me to make positive identifications. One strong possibility of identification is that of the figure at the upper right - it looks to be James Wilson based on the figure's hair style and eyeglasses - but I can't be certain.
Bicentennial of the Constitution Stamp - First Day Cover
The Maximum Card depicts a young boy, holding a US flag, looking up and ahead. In the background is presented an enlarged, stylized view of the US Constitution giving the appearance that the boy is looking upon it.
Bicentennial of the Constitution Stamp - Maximum Card
The cover and the Maximum Card were cancelled on August 28, 1987 in Washington, DC - the first day of issue date and location for the stamp booklet.
The second stamp in the "Drafting the Constitution" pane - the "We the People" stamp features the opening and most famous line of the Preamble. The stamp reads "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union..." We the people ranks with When in the Course of human events from the Declaration of Independence as instantly identifiable pillars of US democracy.
We the People Stamp - Scott 2356
The "Drafting the Constitution" stamp pane was printed via the gravure process with black, red, light blue and yellow inks.
The Fleetwood First Day Cover (FDC) for the stamp carried a cachet that was reflective of (to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln) a Government "By the People." It features a 1780s-era family, a community hall and a voting box. It also includes the Liberty Bell as a symbol of freedom.
The focus of the cover's historical narrative is on the popularly-elected branch of the Federal Government - the "Legislative Branch" (or Congress) that was established by the Constitution. The two chambers of Congress that were created - the House of Representatives and the Senate - were celebrated later in the Constitution Bicentennial stamp program. (Stay tuned!)
We the People Drafting the Constitution Stamp - First Day Cover
The Maximum Card depicts a modern-era scene of a young boy who has propped himself up on the counter of a bank teller as she sits at her computer. In the background, again, is presented an enlarged, stylized view of the US Constitution - though of a different section vs. the previous card.
We the People Drafting the Constitution Stamp - Maximum Card
The FDC and the Maximum Card were each cancelled on August 28, 1987 in Washington, DC - the first day of issue date and location for the "Drafting the Constitution" stamp booklet.
The middle stamp in the "Drafting the Constitution" pane - the "Establish Justice" stamp features the Preamble line "Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare..." Lofty goals without question!
Establish Justice Stamp - Scott 2357
The US Constitution created a framework that incorporates multiple levels of "checks and balances" for the Federal Government. Chief among these are the Legislative Branch (i.e., Congress), the Judicial Branch (i.e., the Supreme Court and associated Federal Courts) and the Executive Branch (i.e., the Presidency). The roles the Constitution established for each help to ensure no one branch of the Government gains too much power or control.
The Fleetwood First Day Cover for Scott 2357 is focused on the Executive Branch. Its cachet features a standing portrait of George Washington, the first US President under the Constitution, along with a map of the original 13 US States that ratified the Constitution and a 13-staer US Shield with a pair of 13-star US Flags all superimposed over an image of the US Constitution. The Constitution graphic is seen on each of the FDC cachets for the series and serves as the anchor element for the smaller, foreground vignettes presented on each.
Establish Justice Stamp - First Day Cover
The Maximum Card continues the theme Fleetwood developed for the "Drafting the Constitution" booklet stamps, and depicts a modern-era scene of a young boy in a sailor's uniform, facing forward and saluting. In the background, once again, is presented an enlarged, stylized view of the US Constitution - a third different view of the document.
Establish Justice Stamp - Maximum Card
As with the prior FDCs and Maximum Cards, the Establish Justice pair presented here were cancelled on August 28, 1987 in Washington, DC - the first day of issue date and location for the stamp booklet.
The fourth stamp of the pane is the "And Secure" stamp which presents the Premable's "And secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity..."
And Secure Stamp - Scott 2358
Its lines like this that make it clear the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were of a "forever" mindset - they were looking to establish a Government for a nation that would be a permanent member of the world community.
The Fleetwood FDC for the stamp presents a cachet and narrative focused on the Judicial Branch of the Federal Government. This branch includes the Supreme Court in Washington, DC and the District and Circuit Courts located across the country. The cachet graphic reflects the positions held by the delegates who attended the Convention in Philadelphia. Seen are a judge, a scholar/teacher and a soldier who presumably splits his time between being a soldier and a farmer (as evidenced by the presence of a plow at the soldier's side). Citizen-soldiers were a common thing in the US' early days (and continue to the present via the branches of the National Guard).
And Secure Stamp - First Day Cover
The Maximum Card presents a young boy in the robes of a judge, holding a gavel. In the background, once again, is presented an enlarged, stylized view of the US Constitution. As with the previous Cards of the group, the specific portion of the Constitution presented is unique to the Card.
And Secure Stamp - Maximum Card
As expected, the And Secure FDC and Maximum Card presented here were cancelled on August 28, 1987 in Washington, DC - the first day of issue date and location for the stamp booklet.