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Bicentennial Celebration Begins With Exhibition

September 14, 1986

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ James Madison’s journal, Ben Franklin’s last-minute jottings and assorted notes from the men who called themselves ″We the People″ will be displayed at an exhibit opening the Constitution’s 200th birthday party.

Chief Justice Warren Burger, who retired from the Supreme Court to concentrate on the 16-month celebration, will be on hand Tuesday for the formal opening of ″Miracle at Philadelphia″ just a block from Independence Hall, where the nation’s blueprint was drawn up.

The exhibit, in the imposing 1824 Second Bank of the United States building, focuses on the convention of 55 men who gathered that sweltering summer of 1787 to draw up the Constitution.

It opens to the public Wednesday and runs, without admission, through the end of 1987.

Most of the displays are modern, including an audio-visual dramatization of the convention’s debates, a word-processor showing editing of the Constitution, and videotape of debates on a recent constitutional issue - the Gramm-Rudman bill.

But the heart of the exhibit is a collection of fragile, 200-year-old papers, protected behind layers of plastic.

″The treasures we have assembled are just really something,″ said Hobie Cawood, superintendent of Independence National Historical Park and chairman of We The People 200, the committee organizing the celebration.

″This is going to be ‘the’ exhibit of the Bicentennial of the Constitution. It tells an intelligent story, using the actual historical artifacts. Nobody can put together something like this like we’ve done with these artifacts.″

The documents include:

-The copy of the Declaration of Independence that Philadelphia Sheriff John Nixon read behind Independence Hall, then the State House, on July 8, 1776.

-Elbridge Gerry’s copy of the Articles of Confederation, the 1781 agreement among the states that proved less than satisfactory and prompted the convention.

-Madison’s journal. These meticulous notes, jotted hastily at his front-row desk during convention debates, then rewritten at night, are the only complete record of the convention.

-Four working drafts of the Constitution, including two in the hand of James Wilson, the Pennsyvlanian largely responsible for the language of the final document.

-An early proof of the Constitution, with proofreading marks and notations by printer Franklin, who concluded in a speech: ″Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.″

One room of the exhibit will trace what happened to the 55 delegates. Another will tell the story of ratification, including copies of opposition pamphlets.

The last room will feature current newspapers with constitutional issues highlighted ″to show the dynamics of the Constitution, that it is not just something wrapped up in 1787,″ said Peggy Duckett, exhibition chairman.

Overlooking it all is William Rush’s 1814 wood sculpture of George Washington, president of the convention.

″We want to show the personal emotions and expectations of the delegates as they faced the serious problems of the post-Revolutionary period and tried to invent solutions,″ said Ms. Duckett.

The exhibit is the beginning of a celebration that will gather steam next spring and summer in Philadelphia. Among the bigger events are opening ceremonies in May, a bigger-than-usual Fourth of July and a joint session of Congress in mid-July.

The peak will come on Sept. 17, 1987, the 200th anniversary of the convention’s adoption of the Constitution, when organizers plan to recreate the Grand Federal Procession of 1788. The plan is for thousands of people to march in four parades, converging on Independence Mall to hear President Reagan speak from a platform atop Independence Hall.

″Miracle at Philadelphia″ takes its name from the title of Catherine Drinker Bowen’s book about the convention, which itself came from a letter from to the Marquis de Lafayette, the French general who served in the Continental Army, from Washington.

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