Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Catherine Drinker Bowen provides, in Miracle at Philadelphia, an entertaining, exhaustive, and historically accurate record of the events of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The narrative is drawn from many sources, the most important of which is James Madison’s personal record of convention proceedings, which according to Bowen is far more colorful and detailed than the official record of Robert Yates of New York, the convention reporter. She also uses many letters from convention delegates to their friends abroad (such as the letters of George Washington to Thomas Jefferson) and their wives and children at home. In addition, Bowen uses biographical accounts of all important convention delegates to illuminate their character at various points in the narrative. For example, in introducing Alexander Hamilton, she explains his unusual rapport with General Washington: “Alexander Hamilton during the war had acted as Washington’s aide-de-camp. It was an extraordinary friendship between the young lawyer, foreign-born, impatient, quick, and his Commander in Chief, infinitely steady, with a slow prescience of his own.” Numerous descriptive asides are included about assorted personages, locales, and events when they come up in the course of the story. At various points, Bowen may describe the scene at the State House, the weather on one afternoon in Philadelphia, or the contemporary personal life of a delegate preparing to speak.

Miracle at Philadelphia is divided into two main sections. The first is entitled “The Constitutional Convention” and covers not only the action of the convention itself but also contemporary events in Philadelphia and the other cities of the thirteen States, with some insights into contemporary world events, particularly in England and France. The account begins with a brief description of the circumstances leading up to the Constitutional Convention. The actual coverage of the convention and its delegates is interspersed with personal stories and other background information, but these...

(The entire section is 840 words.)