To Secure the Blessings of Liberty: An Alternate Constitutional Convention

Which State's delegation should Paine be a part of?

  • New Jersey

    Votes: 2 15.4%
  • New York

    Votes: 1 7.7%
  • Pennsylvania

    Votes: 10 76.9%

  • Total voters
  • Poll closed .
To Secure The Blessings of Liberty: pt1
The winters in Virginia were cold & wet, but retired Gen. George Washington was no stranger to such inclement weather. Often he rode out of the house into such frigid weather to inspect his estate; ensuring that the buildings were in good repair, inspecting the livestock, and selecting trees for cutting. His hard work and diligence in managing his household, virtues that had earned him much praise, lead him to fall ill early in December, 1786. Despite attempts to treat his condition, the man many admired and respected passed away in the company of his loving family.

Many newspapers wrote an obituary for the former commander-in-chief. One paper remarked,

“His virtue in defending the principles of Liberty against Tyranny is distinguished not principally from his services as a commander, though he served admirably, but in relinquishing that great martial power to civil government, rejecting the easy vices of despotism. A sad condition would these united states be in, were a man of lesser convictions and moral character in Gen. Washington's place.”

As the year closed on the mourning nation, the thoughts of many prominent men in the loosely United States turn towards the future of the country, and to the scheduled federal convention in Philadelphia.


February 9, 1787.

Bordentown, New Jersey

It was my intention at the conclusion of the war to have laid down the pen, and satisfied myself with silently beholding the prosperity of the country, in whose difficulties I had borne my share, and in the raising of which, I had added my mite. But it is easier to wish than to obtain the object wished for, and we readily resolve on what is afterwards difficult to execute.

I do not pretend to be the first man to inform you that our good friend Mr. Washington has passed away this last December. His death hath touched every feeling heart, giving cause to reflect; on his services towards our republic, and to the republic itself, and thus the reason for this letter.

Congress, has called forth a convention to be held for the revision of her Articles, and it is abundantly clear what reason and justice demands from that revision: a stronger Union, and it appears to me more likely that the Union may be strengthened by the adoption of another Cord, than by twisting a new strand into the old one. Experience shews the inadequacy in our confederated system to several cases which must necessarily happen; what I mean is, that the confederation is not adapted to fit all the cases which these United States, in the course of her sovereignty, may experience. It is clear to me now, as it was six years ago.

Many states, clutching too tightly to their independence, neglect their union with one another. For if the union be justly supported, our independence is made secure. The former is the mother, the latter the infant at her breast. The nourishment of the one is drawn through the other, and to impoverish the mother is famishing her offspring.

I fear that, seeing the err thus far made in one direction, the convention would rush to the inverse error, and that for fear of anarchy they would create a yoke to be enslaved under.

I will seek to join the convention in May, putting aside my trip to England. Though it would postpone the construction of my bridge and the visit to my father, I cannot in good conscience abandon the project of our revolution at such a critical hour. I beg that you likewise attend; now is the time for men devoted to Justice and Liberty, as you are.

Your humble servant,

Thomas Paine
Hello all, this thread was inspired by a discussion with @Skallagrim, and others, here:

There's a few PODs here, the main one being Washington's death in similar conditions to his OTL one, just earlier. I don't think it beyond probability for 55 year old man to die of pneumonia or some such disease at the time. I certainly felt like dying when i caught pneumonia.
The second POD/1st butterfly is that Thomas Paine, an oft forgotten, oft maligned founding father, goes to the covention rather than pursuing a patent for a single span iron bridge. A pursuit that put him in the right place and time for the French Revolution. ITTL He thinks that without Washington helping guide the convention, others with good republican virtues need to be there.

I hope this to be my first real TL, as such i will likely struggle to make regular updates, but I'll try for once a week at minimum.

For the next update I'll need some help. For Paine to be at the convention, he obviously must be a delegate for some state. The question of which, however, is tricky. For most of his life Paine was a rambling man, so its a bit hard to pick what state he would represent. But there are a few options:

1) New Jersey. The first and only home he ever bought was in Bordentown, NJ (just south of Trenton, and within a days ride North West from Philadelphia). It is the site of his official and longest residence (1782-1787). That said, he never actually stayed in the house he bought, and let a window of a revolutionary war soldier live there rent free, and later a rented it to a sea captain and his wife, and stayed with a friend who lived there. This is the location from where Paine is writing his letter ITTL, which happens to be on his 50th birthday.

2) New York. In 1784, Congress, gifted Paine the siezed property of a Tory in New Rochelle, NY (east of Yonkers, NY). Likewise to his NJ property, he mostly rented the property until his return to America in 1802. There he settled and spent the last years of his life, and was burried on his property there when the local quakers wouldn't have him in their graveyard (1802-1809).

3) Pennsylvania. Paine lived here first, since he arrived in Philadelphia from England, first declaired his American citizenship there, was part of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and was generally involved in the politics of the state until his death
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I'll be following this with great interest. As for Paine's state of choice, I will continue to argue Pennsylvania, where he simply has the best shot at actually getting sent (on account of having connections in state politics and being widely admired as a Founding Father).
I'd cast my vote too for Paine being from
Pennsylvania- & I too will be following
this thread with much interest(for one thing,
how are you going to have Paine get along
with Alexander Hamilton & Madison?)
And with an auspicious 13 votes, the poll is closed! The Pennsylvania assembly elects Mr. Paine to be one of its 8 delegates to the constitutional convention. This will be at the expense of an OTL delegate, but Paine is a fitting replacement for him.

An update is on the way, and should be up within a day or so, if its not up tonight.
To Secure The Blessings of Liberty: pt2
Almost all of the fifty-five delegates had taken part in the Revolution, with at least twenty-nine having served in the Continental forces, most in positions of command. All but two or three had served in colonial or state government during their careers. The vast majority of the delegates were or had been members of the Confederation Congress, and many had been members of the Continental Congress during the Revolution. Several were or had been state governors.

Paine was unique among the delegates at the convention. He was not a great landowner, nor businessman; he didn't have aristocratic pedigree, nor had he distinguished himself in military service; and he hadn't even been elected to public office, though more often than not he was appointed. Until that time people only knew him from his favored trade as a newspaper correspondent and propagandist.

And unlike most of the delegates, who had only recently come to see the need for a strong central government in the course of the war, or in the peace afterwards under the articles of confederation, Paine had wanted it from the beginning. He had called for a strong union of the states since the time he wrote Common Sense, and many times after that, calling for a constitutional convention as early as 1780. It would not be until it was September of 1786, however, that such a convention would be called.


To Thomas Paine
February 15, 1787

Knowing of your character and your constant endeavors to promote the independence and the commonweal of this country, I am inclined to believe your concerns justified. I do believe all are concerned that we may yet again be threatened by foreign crowns, perhaps so much so that they ignore domestic powers that lust for those same tyrannical privileges we cast off.

I wish you luck in availing yourself to being made a delegate. For my part, I will gladly join you in Philadelphia.

Your loyal servant

Patrick Henry


Journal of Gouverneur Morris
February 23, 1787
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

There is a petitioner to the Pennsylvania legislature to be their delegate, a M. Paine, whom I recall wrote ‘common sense’, among other such works. He is a man as serious as any may be for creating a strong national government, but he is too democratical by a half.

He would be of more use in seeing the new constitution accepted by the states than introducing his passions into it; pamphlets are fine weapons to fight nations, they confront the enemy on fronts at home and abroad, but they are not cornerstones of government to be build upon. The assembly will see the sense of this, I am certain.


To the Honorable Members of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania

I resided in the capital of your State, Philadelphia, in the time that tried men's souls, serving this honorable assembly as their clerk, and all my political writings during the war were written in that city, it seems natural for me to look back to the place of my political and literary birth, and feel an interest for its happiness.

Detached from everything of personal party, I bring this petition to you on the ground of principle and in remembrance of former times and friendships. The subject now before you is the call of a convention to examine and reform the Articles of Confederation of the United States; or to speak in the correct language of constitutional order, to propose written articles of reform to be accepted or rejected by the States.

I am desirous that America be happy and secure in her independence and liberties, and having a thorough understanding of the failings of the so-called british constitution, I offer my services to be a delegate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia convention.

I am, Honorable Gentlemen, Your obedient and humble servant,
Thomas Paine


If Paine's petition came to the surprise of everyone in Pennsylvania, even more so did the endorsement of Benjamin Franklin, the then president of Pennsylvania’s executive council and also an appointed delegate to the convention. While nowhere near unanimous, 142-61** was a very comfortable margin of votes in his favor.

Never one to be lax in his duties, he immediately set to work with pen and parchment, and began drafting a proposal for the delegates.

I have decided to make an additional, relatively minor POD in reguards to Paine. That being a slightly altered Silas Deane afair. Essentially, Paine accused him of treason and war profiteering, but in doing so publicly quoted state secrets involving negotiations with France. Dean was guilty, but Paine was forced to resign. ITTL, he doesn't spill the beans, and resigns of his own accord for respectable reasons.

**here I'm assuming the assembly of 1787 is the same size as the present one (203), mainly because i can't be bothered to dig that deeply into internet archives. If you know the actual size, please let me know and I'll correct it.
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I hope you guys dont mind the style I'm trying out. I tend to struggle with a more conventional novel style, so im having a go at a more epistolary one, which also seems to fit the althist genre well.
To Secure the Blessings of Liberty pt3
In the months leading up to the convention, Paine worked fervently on crafting his proposal, spending long hours in the room he rented at a local boarding house. Whenever he wasn't busy writing he was calling on the few Pennsylvania delegates that remained in the city, Franklin in particular, asking their thoughts on this matter or that.

He is also recorded as joining one of the number of debate societies that had sprung up in Philadelphia in the wake of the war, although no records show whether he actively participated or simply observed the debates. Doubtless, he took many of the people’s concerns with government into consideration for his proposal.

Diaries of George Clymer
April 7, 1787

There is, perhaps, no greater disciple to the principles of Republicanism that M. Paine. His intelligence, clarity of thought, and passion for liberty and justice leave me no doubts about the man; that while there are a great many excellent politicians around the globe, there is no finer political thinker in our age than Thomas Paine

Of course, not all were happy at his appointment…

Journal of Alexander Hamilton
April 26, 1787

It is not well with me that Paine come to the convention. I know of the man, what soldier doesn't know his words written in the depths of the crises in the war?

But the passions of a revolution are apt to hurry even good men to excess; this is the last opportunity to preserve the American empire from the ravages of anarchy and foreign meddling. Paine served his purpose in the war, America has no need of his demagoguery now.

In only a few weeks many of the greatest thinkers, orators, and statesmen of America would come together in Philadelphia to forge a new nation. The significance of the event was not lost on anyone. Madison is remembered as calling it “A meeting of demigods.” The convention would come to last several months as the great minds of the age clashed over the the matters of rights, principles, and good government.

To James Madison
April 30, 1787

I must again thank you for relieving me of my duties in France. The joys of Paris and the enlightened minds of her philosophers is overshadowed by the capriciousness of her rulers and the servility of her people. I hope, in time, that the old world will learn from the new, and will shed off the malaise that has so long shackled her. I also thank you for your most generous donation of books. I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading M. Machiavelli, and admit to some curiosity to the nature of that much maligned author.

Your humble servant,
Thomas Jefferson
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To Secure the Blessings of Liberty pt4
It was the 17th of May when the delegates began to converge on Philadelphia, three days late, but that was to be expected given the state of the roads. It began with the remaining Pennsylvania delegates. Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and George Clymer and some others had stayed in the city since they were appointed, but delegates like Robert Morris had been busy ensuring the attendance of the other delegates in the wake of Gen. Washington’s death.

The Virginia delegation followed on Morris’ heels, lead by two of its former governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, as well as its current governor, Edmund Randolph. All of them were eager to attend the convention, though for differing reasons.

The on the following day came the delegates from New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, chief among them were Roger Sherman, and Alexander Hamilton. And on the 20th, the delegates of Delaware, Maryland, and the Carolinas arrived.

Ten of the thirteen states thus represented, it was decided that a quorum was reached, and they proceeded to work on a document that would come to shape the world just as much as The Declaration of Independence had when it was passed in the same city.


There aren't many sources for what occurred inside the convention, but there are a few. The information most available at the time of the convention where the snippets journalists managed to weasel out of the dinner guests of the Framers. Much to their frustration, however, they had very little to go on.

It wasn't until the death of Jefferson that a fuller picture of what occurred during the convention could be formed. It is thanks to his prodigious note keeping that we have an account of the proceedings.


Notes of Thomas Jefferson

21st of May, 1787
65° Fahrenheit
30 1/2 inches of Mercury
Partly cloudy

Mr. Yates proposed that Doc. Franklin ought to be president of the convention. Mr. Paine seconded the motion. The ballot was unanimous, and was conducted by Mr. Morris. For which he thanked the Convention for the honor they had conferred on him, reminded all of the importance of the scene of business in which we were to act, lamented his want of better health, and asked the indulgence of the House towards what delays his age and ill health might occasion.

I moved that a secretary be appointed, and nominated Mr. Paine for our secretary. Col. Hamilton seconded the motion, though Mr. Paine declined the honor, and nominated Mr. Dayton, for his young ears. The motion was seconded, and Dayton won the ballot.

The appointment of a Committee, consisting of Messrs. Wythe, Hamilton & C. Pinckney, on the motion of Mr. C. Pinckney, to prepare standing rules & orders was the only remaining step taken on this day.


25 May, 1787
63° Fahrenheit
29 ¾ inches of Mercury

Mr. Wythe from the Committee for preparing rules made a report which employed the deliberations of this day.

Mr. King objected to one of the rules in the Report authorising any member to call for the yeas & nays and have them entered on the minutes. He urged that as the acts of the Convention were not to bind the Constituents, it was unnecessary to exhibit this evidence of the votes; and improper as changes of opinion would be frequent in the course of the business & would fill the minutes with contradictions.

Col. Mason seconded the objection; adding that such a record of the opinions of members would be an obstacle to a change of them on conviction; and in case of its being hereafter promulgated must furnish handles to the adversaries of the Result of the Meeting. The proposed rule was rejected, and the standing rules were assented to.


Alright, so the convention is begun. I've already done alot of work on the Constitution that they'll produce by the end, but I'd like to get your input on the stuff that I think they'll have the most disagreement on, as it comes up.


Great start! This is where it starts to get interesting. I wonder if Paine will propose a land tax-funded basic income as a constitutional right, and whether something like that could ever be approved by the convention. I'm guessing it would be challenging. Heck, if they have any Articles of Rights in the first draft it will be amazing.


The format I think is actually pretty perfect for this kind of timeline. :) Best of luck with the research and writing.
To Secure the Blessings of Liberty pt5
Notes of Thomas Jefferson

May 26, 1787
28 inches of Mercury

Mr. Paine opened the main business. He commented on the difficulty of the crisis before us; of the necessity of preventing the splintering of the union of states.

“It has happened” said he, “that the Articles were formed before any experience had been had on the representative system of government; and it would be a miracle in human affairs that mere theory without experience should start into perfection at once. The Articles of Confederation was formed so early as the year 1777, in the midst of the revolution. Its concern was firstly securing the independence of the several states, and secondly in carrying on the war and securing alliances. The inadequacy in our confederated system to several cases has been born out by experience, and the general defect of those Articles is that it is wrongly balanced; the strengths of America are, and ought to be, of a Continental form, and not Provincial.”

Mr. Paine then elaborated upon the shortcomings of the confederation.

  1. That the Confederation had not the means to secure funds.

  2. That the Confederation could not carry out the terms of contracts and treaties it passed.

  3. That the Confederation could not resolve the quarrels between states.

  4. That they could not keep up the peace in the nation.

  5. That the Confederation could not properly secure their rights

  6. That the several states repeatedly disregarded the powers they delegated to the Confederation.
And concluded that, though the Confederation was granted the abilities to will, it could not execute it, and thus was reduced to imbecility and impotency.

He next reviewed the danger of our situation, to the prospect of anarchy from the laxity of government; and to the possibility that some enterprising ruffian might seek a crown in the discord that might erupt between the states.

And to these ills he submitted the following proposal for their remedy, that he felt conformable to the principles of the revolution, those being Liberty, Right, and Justice.

  1. That the Articles of Confederation ought to be so corrected and enlarged as to accomplish the objects proposed by their institution; namely, "common defence, security of liberty and general welfare."

  2. Therefore, an article declaring those essential rights and liberties to be expressly protected, ought be made

  3. That the members of the National Legislature, consisting of one house, be apportioned according to the number of taxpaying citizens of the several states

  4. That the members that legislature be elected by the same taxpaying citizens for a term of three years, rotating between members that a third of the legislature be elected annually. To be the age of twenty-five years at least; to receive a just compensation for their public service; to be ineligible to any other office established by a particular State, or under the authority of the United States, except those peculiarly belonging to the functions of the national legislature, during the term of service; to be incapable of reelection for the space of three years after the expiration of their term of service, and to be subject to recall.

  5. That the National Legislature ought to possess the right of originating Acts; that the National Legislature ought to be empowered to enjoy the Legislative Rights vested in Congress by the Confederation & moreover to legislate in all cases to which the separate States are incompetent, or in which the harmony of the United States may be interrupted by the exercise of individual Legislation; to negative all laws passed by the several States, contravening, in the opinion of the National Legislature, the articles of Union; and to call forth the force of the Union against any member of the Union failing to fulfill its duty under the articles thereof.

  6. That executive departments be established by the legislature with the power to execute its laws; its officers to be chosen by the legislature for a term of three years, and subject to their recall; to receive a just compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution.

  7. That a National Judiciary be established, to consist of several lower tribunals for the states, to be elected by the people of said states, and a single High tribunal for the United States, to be selected by the National Legislature; to serve for a term of twelve years, within the bounds if the law, and to never again serve in the High tribunal. To be of thirty-five years or older; to receive punctually at stated times a just compensation for their services, in which no increase or diminution shall be made so as to affect the persons actually in office at the time of such increase or diminution. that the jurisdiction of the lower tribunals shall be to hear and determine in the first instance, and of the High tribunal to hear and determine in the dernier resort, all piracies and felonies on the high seas, captures from an enemy; cases in which foreigners or citizens of other States applying to such jurisdictions may be interested, or which respect the collection of the National revenue; impeachments of any National officers, and questions which may involve the national peace and harmony.

  8. That a Committee of Censors be established, to review the laws and acts of the national legislature, and the rulings of the judiciary, to ensure they are in the bounds of the Articles. That they be empowered to censure the acts of the legislature and the rulings judiciary, if they be in violation of the Articles. To be elected by the people for a term of six years, and to never again serve as a censor

  9. that provision ought to be made for the admission of States lawfully arising within the limits of the United States, whether from a voluntary junction of Government & Territory or otherwise, with the consent of a number of voices in the National legislature less than the whole.

  10. that provision ought to be made for the continuance of Congress and their authorities and privileges, until a given day after the reform of the articles of Union shall be adopted, and for the completion of all their engagements.

  11. that the governmental powers of the United States, and those within the several States, ought to be bound by oath to support the articles of Union

  12. that the amendments which shall be offered to the Confederation, by the Convention ought at a proper time, or times, after the approbation of Congress, to be submitted to assemblies of Representatives, recommended by the several Legislatures to be expressly chosen by the people, to consider and decide thereon.
It was then Resolved - That the House would tomorrow resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House to consider of the state of the American Union. And that the propositions moved by Mr. Paine be referred to the said Committee.

Mr. Paine then laid before the house a written draught of a federal Government, which he had prepared, to be agreed upon between the free and independent States of America. Mr. Paine's plan was ordered to be referred to the Committee of the Whole appointed to consider the state of the American Union.


What Paine had learned in the debate societies in England, and later from his American political pamphlets, was that he who went first set the terms of debate.

It was because of this knowledge, along with his impetuousness, that he put forth what would be the framework of America's new constitution.

Of course, it wouldn't go uncontested
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Those are some very interesting proposals Paine has put forward. The idea of having Censors as a separate sort of official, whose sole purpose is to ensure that there are no laws infringing upon the alt-constitution, is very interesting. Of course, the framework suggested here can still be forged into any number of final products. Various issues (taxation, the military, etc.) have not yet been resolved.
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Those are some very interesting proposals Paine has put forward. The idea of having Censors as a separate sort of official, whose sole purpose is to ensure that there are no laws infringing upon the alt-constitution, is very interesting. Of course, the framework suggested here can still be forged into any number of final products. Various issues (taxation, the military, etc.) have not yet been resolved.

It is fairly unique to paine. Its takes alot of ideas from Pennsylvania's 1776 constitution, which was inspired by Common Sense (though he had no direct involvement with its creation).

Actually, that brings up an interesting fact regarding the state constitutions at the time. See, when John Adams read Common Sense, he liked most of it, right until Paine started making suggestions for state constitutions and a temporary continental government. Calling it an "ignorant, malicious, short sighted, democratical, crappulous mass." He immediately wrote his own pamphlet with more specific ideas, essentially slight Republican alterations to the british constitution, with the usual formulations of a single executive, bicameral legislature, a seprate judiciary, etc. Praising the principles of balances and checks.

And frankly, Paine thought those ideas were a crappulous mass. For Paine, checks came from the constitution, not from the "balance" between institutions. Thus, the censors for him are basically the constitution institutionalized.
And he didn't particularly like the idea of a veto, be it from an elected body, or a singular person.


Paine’s proposal that there be a unicameral Legislature apportioned proportionally by population is easily going to become a target of the delegations of the smaller states. I’m assuming the New Jersey Plan of William Paterson will still be making an appearance, and here it seems more will be drawn to that instead of Madison’s side. Madison is going to seem like the moderate here, but big states will most likely leap at the opportunity to jump on board with Paine’s Confederal Plan which would give them the most power.
Paine’s proposal that there be a unicameral Legislature apportioned proportionally by population is easily going to become a target of the delegations of the smaller states. I’m assuming the New Jersey Plan of William Paterson will still be making an appearance, and here it seems more will be drawn to that instead of Madison’s side. Madison is going to seem like the moderate here, but big states will most likely leap at the opportunity to jump on board with Paine’s Confederal Plan which would give them the most power.

The big states did that anyway until it became clear that equal representation in the Senate was a "non-negotiable" for the smaller states and that refusing it would mean no Constitution at all. Indeed several (including PA) held out to the bitter end.

If the big states refuse to budge on this, the Convention fails. You end up either struggling on longer under the AoC, or possibly the smaller states (which in this context included NY) would form into a Northern Confederation, which MA, being geographically cut off from the other biggies, probably ends up joining. PA and the states southward of it may then form their own Union. .