SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah native may have found a lost draft of the U.S. Constitution.
valid, the draft would prove James Wilson, who is now regarded as one
of a committee of authors, penned the U.S. Constitution on his own,
said Lorianne Updike Toler, 30, who grew up in Provo. Toler earned her
undergraduate and law degrees from BYU.
makes James Wilson very much equal to Thomas Jefferson as a drafter of
the Constitution," she said. "It means to truly understand the
Constitution, we need to study James Wilson a whole lot more."
where Toler found the document while conducting research for her
graduate degree at the University of Oxford, has two recognized drafts
of the Constitution on file. Toler believes the document she discovered
is a third draft. So far, however, few scholars have had an opportunity
to evaluate Toler's claims and not all agree.
said she was puzzled when she noticed, while examining what scholars
consider to be the first draft of the Constitution, that there were
three upside down paragraphs on the back of the document. The hurriedly
composed paragraphs, beginning with the familiar words "We The People,"
were written in Wilson's hand.
as Toler was digging through a box of legal papers at the historical
society, she stumbled upon a document that appeared to pick up where
Wilson's scribbled notes left off.
Toler was overwhelmed.
find something that is so important to the development of our country —
it was almost a sacred moment for me," Toler said, of finding the draft
in November. "The founding documents, to me, are American scripture,
and I had found one of the first chapters."
first fell in love with the Founding Fathers as a home-schooled
teenager. Her mother was an active lobbyist at the Utah Legislature, so
Toler learned about democracy while doing her homework in the Senate
gallery. As a law student at BYU, she founded the Constitutional
Sources Project (www.consource.org), a nonprofit devoted to making primary historical papers available online.
Only about 25 percent of the 21 million artifacts at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are cataloged. According to Historical Society records,the
society's records, the page Toler believes is a third draft of the
Constitution has been filed away in a box marked simply "James Wilson:
Volume Two" since at least 1970. Toler suspects the document has been
in that box since it was first transcribed by Yale scholar Max Farrand
"It was just sitting there, forgotten," Toler said.
to Farrand's writings, in 1911, he connected the three-paragraph
introduction on the back of Wilson's first draft to a document titled
"The Continuation of the Scheme," Toler said. The paper Toler found is
also called "The Continuation of the Scheme."
She doesn't believe it's a coincidence.
Not everyone, however, is as excited.
pretty skeptical," said Andrew Shankman, an associate professor of
history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, shortly after examining
the paper. "It doesn't appear to fit with the known drafts of the
said, the numbering system between the three-paragraph fragment and
"The Continuation of the Scheme" don't seem to match up, he said. The
style is less formal than Wilson's other drafts.
acknowledged the inconsistent style between drafts but attributed the
differences to a "more relaxed, scatterbrained" Wilson, she said.
is significant because James Wilson was always polished in front of
others," Toler said. "To me, the way these documents were written
demonstrates that he worked alone on this project for some time. These
are his raw thoughts."
Thursday, Shankman was the only established scholar who had evaluated
Toler's claims. The historical society is in the process of obtaining a
more thorough evaluation.
Arnold, senior director of the library and collections at the
Historical Society of Pennsylvania, denied that the document had ever
been lost. It was never recognized as a legitimate draft of the
Constitution, he said, so it was kept in a file of Wilson's notes from
the Constitutional Convention.
"It was right where it should have been," he said. "In a box labeled 'James Wilson.'"