The Wisest Council in the World
Restoring the Character Sketches by William Pierce of Georgia of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787

John R. Vile

A fresh look at the famous gathering of short pieces portraying the Founders at work on the Constitution


Of all the written portraits of the delegates who attended the Federal Convention of 1787, few are as complete and compelling as those penned by William Pierce Jr. (1753–89), one of four delegates from Georgia. While at the convention or shortly thereafter, Pierce produced character sketches of fifty-three of the fifty-five delegates. Although widely quoted and cited, the sketches—until now—have never been analyzed or annotated in detail. John R. Vile’s study offers new insights into the workings of the convention and the character and roles of its delegates, as well as Pierce’s little-known life, which included time as an artist. Vile reveals, for example, that the time prior to the establishment of national parties when the framers could have successfully met together in convention may have been a relatively narrow historical window.

Following overviews of events leading to the 1787 convention and of Pierce and his immediate family, several chapters deal specifically with the character sketches. They cover Pierce’s arrangement of the sketches and their subjects, his evaluations of the delegates’ personal qualities and reputations, his assessments of their rhetorical abilities, and his descriptions of their public services, occupations, and miscellaneous matters. Two concluding chapters add further context. One examines a set of somewhat overlapping sketches that Louis Guillaume Otto, the French minister to the United States, penned about members of Congress in 1788. The other looks at writings by Pierce’s son and namesake that also include assessments of various Founding Fathers. Gathering Pierce’s sketches in full, with ample annotations and secondary materials, this is a valuable reference on Pierce’s life, work, and times.

A Kenneth Coleman Fund Publication

Page count: 240
47 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9

Read more about William Pierce at the New Georgia Encyclopedia.


List price: $44.95

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John R. Vile is a professor of political science and dean of the University Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of numerous works relative to the U.S. Constitution and to rhetoric, including The Men Who Made the Constitution: Lives of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention; The Writing and Ratification of the U.S. Constitution: Practical Virtue in Action; The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America’s Founding (2 vols.); and A Companion to the United States Constitution and Its Amendments (now in its fifth edition).