SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah native may have found a lost draft of the U.S. Constitution.

If

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.

"This

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."

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania,

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.

__IMAGE1__Toler

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.

Later,

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.

"To

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."

Toler

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

in 1911.

"It was just sitting there, forgotten," Toler said.

According

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.

"I'm

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

Constitution."

Specifically, he

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.

Toler

acknowledged the inconsistent style between drafts but attributed the

differences to a "more relaxed, scatterbrained" Wilson, she said.

"This

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."

As of

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.

Lee

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.'"


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com