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The article describes the Constitutional Convention and the various kinds of records that were kept of its proceedings. The essay then explains, with examples, how judicial opinions and academic works draw upon the records for evidence of the Constitution’s original meaning, including both the meaning that the Framers may have subjectively intended the document to have and also other possible meanings. The essay next identifies and assesses seven important potential grounds for impeaching assertions about what the records show. Each of these potential grounds has merit in some contexts, but all of them are also subject to significant limitations or counter arguments. The essay, accordingly, recommends that anyone making or evaluating claims about the original meaning of the Constitution should proceed with caution, carefully taking into account both the possible grounds for impeaching claims and the arguments against these grounds. Appendices to this essay include an annotated bibliography and a table of the deputies who participated at the Constitutional Convention.

This article is one of a series of articles on sources of the original meaning of the Constitution. See also Gregory E. Maggs, A Concise Guide to The Records of the State Ratifying Conventions as a Source of the Original Meaning of the U.S. Constitution, 2009 U. Ill. L. Rev. 457; and Gregory E. Maggs, A Concise Guide to the Federalist Papers as a Source of the Original Meaning of the United States Constitution, 87 B.U. L. Rev. 801 (2007).

GW Paper Series

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-68; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-68

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