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U.S. Constitution: Articles, Ratifying and Summary

U.S. Constitution: Articles, Ratifying and Summary

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The Constitution of the United States established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens.

It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches—executive, legislative and judicial—along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power.

READ MORE: How the Constitution Has Changed and Expanded Since 1787

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution

The Preamble outlines the Constitution's purpose and guiding principles. It reads:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The Bill of Rights were 10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections, such as freedom of speech and religion, that became part of the Constitution in 1791. To date, there are 27 constitutional amendments.

READ MORE: Why Does the Constitution Include the Bill of Rights?

Articles of Confederation

America’s first constitution, the Articles of Confederation, was ratified in 1781, a time when the nation was a loose confederation of states, each operating like independent countries. The national government was comprised of a single legislature, the Congress of the Confederation; there was no president or judicial branch.

The Articles of Confederation gave Congress the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war and regulate currency; however, in reality these powers were sharply limited because Congress had no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops.

Soon after America won its independence from Great Britain with its 1783 victory in the American Revolution, it became increasingly evident that the young republic needed a stronger central government in order to remain stable.

In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer and politician from New York, called for a constitutional convention to discuss the matter. The Confederation Congress, which in February 1787 endorsed the idea, invited all 13 states to send delegates to a meeting in Philadelphia.

Forming a More Perfect Union

On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention opened in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier. There were 55 delegates in attendance, representing all 13 states except Rhode Island, which refused to send representatives because it did not want a powerful central government interfering in its economic business. George Washington, who’d become a national hero after leading the Continental Army to victory during the American Revolution, was selected as president of the convention by unanimous vote.

The delegates (who also became known as the “framers” of the Constitution) were a well-educated group that included merchants, farmers, bankers and lawyers. Many had served in the Continental Army, colonial legislatures or the Continental Congress (known as the Congress of the Confederation as of 1781). In terms of religious affiliation, most were Protestants. Eight delegates were signers of the Declaration of Independence, while six had signed the Articles of Confederation.

At age 81, Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was the oldest delegate, while the majority of the delegates were in their 30s and 40s. Political leaders not in attendance at the convention included Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and John Adams (1735-1826), who were serving as U.S. ambassadors in Europe. John Jay (1745-1829), Samuel Adams (1722-1803) and John Hancock (1737-93) were also absent from the convention. Virginia’s Patrick Henry (1736-99) was chosen to be a delegate but refused to attend the convention because he didn’t want to give the central government more power, fearing it would endanger the rights of states and individuals.

Reporters and other visitors were barred from the convention sessions, which were held in secret to avoid outside pressures. However, Virginia’s James Madison (1751-1836) kept a detailed account of what transpired behind closed doors. (In 1837, Madison’s widow Dolley sold some of his papers, including his notes from the convention debates, to the federal government for $30,000.)

Debating the Constitution

The delegates had been tasked by Congress with amending the Articles of Confederation; however, they soon began deliberating proposals for an entirely new form of government. After intensive debate, which continued throughout the summer of 1787 and at times threatened to derail the proceedings, they developed a plan that established three branches of national government–executive, legislative and judicial. A system of checks and balances was put into place so that no single branch would have too much authority. The specific powers and responsibilities of each branch were also laid out.

Among the more contentious issues was the question of state representation in the national legislature. Delegates from larger states wanted population to determine how many representatives a state could send to Congress, while small states called for equal representation. The issue was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which proposed a bicameral legislature with proportional representation of the states in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation in the upper house (Senate).

Another controversial topic was slavery. Although some northern states had already started to outlaw the practice, they went along with the southern states’ insistence that slavery was an issue for individual states to decide and should be kept out of the Constitution. Many northern delegates believed that without agreeing to this, the South wouldn’t join the Union. For the purposes of taxation and determining how many representatives a state could send to Congress, it was decided that enslaved people would be counted as three-fifths of a person. Additionally, it was agreed that Congress wouldn’t be allowed to prohibit the slave trade before 1808, and states were required to return fugitive enslaved people to their owners.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About the Constitutional Convention

Ratifying the Constitution

By September 1787, the convention’s five-member Committee of Style (Hamilton, Madison, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Gouverneur Morris of New York, Rufus King of Massachusetts) had drafted the final text of the Constitution, which consisted of some 4,200 words. On September 17, George Washington was the first to sign the document. Of the 55 delegates, a total of 39 signed; some had already left Philadelphia, and three–George Mason (1725-92) and Edmund Randolph (1753-1813) of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry (1744-1813) of Massachusetts–refused to approve the document. In order for the Constitution to become law, it then had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, with assistance from John Jay, wrote a series of essays to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. The 85 essays, known collectively as “The Federalist” (or “The Federalist Papers”), detailed how the new government would work, and were published under the pseudonym Publius (Latin for “public”) in newspapers across the states starting in the fall of 1787. (People who supported the Constitution became known as Federalists, while those opposed it because they thought it gave too much power to the national government were called Anti-Federalists.)

Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states–Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut–ratified the Constitution in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion and the press.

In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as America’s first president on April 30, 1789. In June of that same year, Virginia ratified the Constitution, and New York followed in July. On February 2, 1790, the U.S. Supreme Court held its first session, marking the date when the government was fully operative.

Rhode Island, the last holdout of the original 13 states, finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.

The Bill of Rights

In 1789, Madison, then a member of the newly established U.S. House of Representatives, introduced 19 amendments to the Constitution. On September 25, 1789, Congress adopted 12 of the amendments and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were ratified and became part of the Constitution on December 10, 1791. The Bill of Rights guarantees individuals certain basic protections as citizens, including freedom of speech, religion and the press; the right to bear and keep arms; the right to peaceably assemble; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. For his contributions to the drafting of the Constitution, as well as its ratification, Madison became known as “Father of the Constitution.”

To date, there have been thousands of proposed amendments to the Constitution. However, only 17 amendments have been ratified in addition to the Bill of Rights because the process isn’t easy–after a proposed amendment makes it through Congress, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The most recent amendment to the Constitution, Article XXVII, which deals with congressional pay raises, was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.

READ MORE: 8 Things You Should Know About the Bill of Rights

The Constitution Today

In the more than 200 years since the Constitution was created, America has stretched across an entire continent and its population and economy have expanded more than the document’s framers likely ever could have envisioned. Through all the changes, the Constitution has endured and adapted.

The framers knew it wasn’t a perfect document. However, as Benjamin Franklin said on the closing day of the convention in 1787: “I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a central government is necessary for us… I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution.” Today, the original Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Constitution Day is observed on September 17, to commemorate the date the document was signed.

Constitution of the United States of America

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Constitution of the United States of America, the fundamental law of the U.S. federal system of government and a landmark document of the Western world. The oldest written national constitution in use, the Constitution defines the principal organs of government and their jurisdictions and the basic rights of citizens. (For a list of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, see below.)

The Constitution: What Does it Say?

The Constitution of the United States contains a preamble and seven articles that describe the way the government is structured and how it operates. The first three articles establish the three branches of government and their powers: Legislative (Congress), Executive (office of the President,) and Judicial (Federal court system). A system of checks and balances prevents any one of these separate powers from becoming dominant. Articles four through seven describe the relationship of the states to the Federal Government, establish the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and define the amendment and ratification processes.

Article I

Article I assigns the responsibility for making laws to the Legislative Branch (Congress). Congress is divided into two parts, or “Houses,” the House of Representatives and the Senate. The bicameral Congress was a compromise between the large states, which wanted representation based on population, and the small ones, which wanted the states to have equal representation.

Article II

Article II details the Executive Branch and the offices of the President and Vice President. It lays down rules for electing the President (through the Electoral College), eligibility (must be a natural-born citizen at least 35 years old), and term length. The 12th and 25th Amendments modified some of these rules.

Article III

Article III establishes the Judicial Branch with the U.S. Supreme Court as the federal court system’s highest court. It specifies that Federal judges be appointed for life unless they commit a serious crime. This article is shorter than Articles I and II. The Federal Convention left much of the work of planning the court system to the First Congress. The 1789 Judiciary Act created the three-tiered court system in place today.

Article IV

Article IV outlines states’ powers in relationship to each other. States have the authority to create and enforce their own laws but must respect and help enforce the laws of other states. Congress may pass Federal laws regarding how states honor other states’ laws and records.

Article V

Article V explains the amendment process, which is different and more difficult than the process for making laws. When two-thirds of the Senate and two-thirds of the House of Representatives vote to change the Constitution, an amendment goes to the state legislatures for a vote. Alternatively, two-thirds of the state legislatures can submit an application to Congress, and then Congress calls a national convention at which states propose amendments. Three-fourths of the state legislatures or state conventions must vote in favor of an amendment to ratify it.

Article VI

Article VI states that Federal law is supreme, or higher than, state and local laws. This means that if a state law conflicts with a Federal law, Federal law takes precedence.

Article VII

Article VII describes the ratification process for the Constitution. It called for special state ratifying conventions. Nine states were required to enact the Constitution. Rhode Island became the 13th state to ratify the Constitution in 1790.

Creating the United States Road to the Constitution

The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777, but the states did not ratify them until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. Once peace removed the rationale of wartime necessity the weaknesses of the 1777 Articles of Confederation became increasingly apparent. Divisions among the states and even local rebellions threatened to destroy the fruits of the Revolution. Nationalists, led by James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Wilson, almost immediately began working toward strengthening the federal government. They turned a series of regional commercial conferences into a national constitutional convention at Philadelphia in 1787.

&ldquoAn opinion begins to prevail that a general convention for revising the articles of Confederation would be expedient.&rdquo

John Jay to George Washington, March 16, 1786

Benjamin Franklin’s Proposed Plan of Confederation, 1775

Shortly after the revolutionary war began at Concord and Lexington, Benjamin Franklin submitted this plan for a united colonial confederation or American republic to the Continental Congress on July 21, 1775.

Thomas Jefferson, a fellow delegate, annotated his copy of Franklin’s plan, which began a national debate on the creation of an American Republic.

Benjamin Franklin. Plan for a Confederation, July 21, 1775. Printed document annotated by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division. Library of Congress (46.01.01) [Digital ID#s us0046a_2, us0046a, us0046a_1]

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Writing the Articles of Confederation

In 1781, James Madison (1751&ndash1836) asked Thomas Jefferson (1743&ndash1826) for his account of those tumultuous pivotal days in which the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation were drafted. Recognizing the importance of the process for the Revolution and for posterity, Thomas Jefferson prepared his notes of the proceedings in Congress, June 7&ndashAugust 1, 1776. On this page, Jefferson’s notes reflect his interest in Article XVII, about representation in Congress.

Thomas Jefferson. Notes on Debates in the Continental Congress, June 7&ndashAugust 1, 1776 [ante 1781]. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (046.05.01) [Digital ID#s us0046_05p1, us0046_05a]

Thomas Jefferson. &ldquoNotes of Proceedings in Congress on Drafting the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,&rdquo [July 12&ndashAugust 1, 1776]. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (046.03.00) [Digital ID# us0046_03p1]

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Articles of Confederation Emerge from Congress in 1777

After undergoing more than a year of planning and compromise in the Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States was finally ready to be sent to the states for ratification. Nearly four years would pass before all thirteen states had ratified the document&mdashMaryland being the last to ratify on March 1, 1781&mdashand it was put into action. The Articles provided for a one-house legislature, a weak executive, no national power of taxation, a lack of standard currency, and voting by state&mdashflaws that would eventually lead to its failure.

United States Continental Congress. Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States. . . . Lancaster: Francis Bailey, 1777. Pamphlet. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (048.05.00) [Digital ID# us0048_05]

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Articles of Confederation Ratified

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was the first constitution of the United States. After more than a year of consideration, it was submitted to the states for ratification in 1777, but not enough states approved it until 1781. The Articles provided for a weak executive branch, no national power of taxation, and voting by states.

[United States Continental Congress]. Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States of. . . . Williamsburg, Virginia: J. Dixon & W. Hunter, 1778. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (048.04.00) [Digital ID# us0048_04]

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Articles of Confederation Ratified

After Maryland’s ratification established the Articles of Confederation as the first United States constitution, Thomas Rodney (1744&ndash1811), a delegate to the Continental Congress from Delaware, recorded in his diary on March 1, 1781, that &ldquothe Completion of this grand Union & Confederation was announced by Firing thirteen Cannon on the Hill&rdquo in Philadelphia.

Thomas Rodney. Diary entry, March 1, 1781. Rodney Family Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (48.00.00) [Digital ID# us0048, us0048_1, us0048_2, us0048_3, us0048_4]

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Confederation Congress Elects A President

Between March 1, 1781, when the Articles of Confederation were enacted, and November 5, 1781, when a new Congress convened, Samuel Huntington and Thomas McKean served briefly as presidents of the body. Samuel Johnston had declined the presidency when elected. When the first Confederation Congress met on November 5, 1781, it elected John Hanson (1715&ndash1783), delegate from Maryland, as its president. In this letter, Charles Thomson (1729&ndash1824), secretary of Congress, informs George Washington of Hanson’s election. According to the Articles, the president of the Congress presided only over Congress George Washington, chosen after the ratification of the Federal Constitution, was the first president of the United States.

Letter from Charles Thomson to George Washington, November 5, 1781. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (48.01.00) [Digital ID# us0048_01]

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Northwest Ordinance Prohibits Slavery

When the Confederation Congress began planning the organization of the territories north and west of the Ohio River, Thomas Jefferson and his congressional committee moved against mainstream eighteenth-century thought to draft regulations that prohibited in the territories slavery or involuntary servitude except for convicted criminals. Although Jefferson envisioned that the prohibition would go into effect in 1800, the final ordinance of 1787 contained an immediate ban.

Committee of Congress. Draft Report of Northwest Ordinance, March 1784. Broadside with emendations by Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (49.00.00) [Digital ID# us0049]

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New States in the West and Northwest

While Congress considered an ordinance to govern the newly won territory west of the Appalachian Mountains and northwest of the Ohio River, Thomas Jefferson outlined plans for the boundaries of six unnamed new states, which he ironically referred to as &ldquoNew Colonies.&rdquo

Thomas Jefferson. Plan for Boundaries in Western Territory, [1784]. Manuscript document. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (49.01.00) [Digital ID# us0049_01]

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Congress Drafts Northwest Ordinance

When the Confederation Congress began planning the organization of the territories north and west of the Ohio River, Thomas Jefferson and his congressional committee acted outside of mainstream eighteenth-century thought in drafting regulations to immediately prohibit slavery or involuntary servitude for anyone except convicted criminals. The final plan for western territories in 1787 did prohibit slavery.

Printed draft of the Northwest Ordinance of 1784. Virginia Gazette, May 15, 1784. Serial and Government Publications Division Library of Congress (049.02.00) [Digital ID# us0049_02p1]

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Call to Revise Articles of Confederation

In this 1786 letter to George Washington, John Jay (1745&ndash1829), a Continental Congress delegate from New York and later the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, expressed what most U.S. leaders had come to believe: that &ldquoan opinion begins to prevail that a general convention for revising the articles of Confederation would be expedient.&rdquo It was clear that George Washington was the fulcrum around which plans to revise or even replace the articles often revolved.

Letter from John Jay to George Washington, March 16, 1786. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (50.00.00) [Digital ID# us0050]

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&ldquoThe Source of the Evil is the Nature of the Government&rdquo

With these words, Henry Knox (1750&ndash1806), George Washington’s former artillery commander, described to Washington an uprising of indebted farmers and laborers in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays in 1786 and 1787. Shays’ Rebellion was caused by excessive land taxation, high legal costs, and economic depression following the American Revolution, which threatened the stability of the Confederation. The protest was one of several that exposed the need to curb the excesses and inequities of state governments and led men such as Knox and Washington to seek remedies in a stronger national government.

Letter from Henry Knox to George Washington, December 17, 1786. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (50.01.00) [Digital ID#s us0050_01p1, us0050_01p2, us0050_01p3]

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Revolt in Massachusetts

Abigail Adams (1744&ndash1818) predicted that the 1786 rebellion in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays (ca. 1741&ndash1825) &ldquowill prove sallutary to the state at large,&rdquo even though it was led by &ldquoignorant, wrestless desperadoes, without conscience or principals.&rdquo Many in the United States believed a strong national government was needed to prevent such local uprisings against legitimate government. Shays and Job Shattuck (1736&ndash1819), both veterans of the Revolutionary Army and leaders of the 1786 rebellion, are depicted in this scene.

Letter from Abigail Adams to Thomas Jefferson, January 29, 1787. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (050.02.01) [Digital ID#s us0050_02p1, us0050_02p2]

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Madison and Washington Consider Confederation

In 1785, James Madison and George Washington were in the midst of a written conversation about ways to create a stronger national government. Both men believed that the confederation government might have to sink lower before the time would be right for a successful &ldquomeeting of Politico-Commercial Commssrs. from all states&rdquoa meeting that would occur in Philadelphia two years later.

Letter from James Madison to George Washington, December 9, 1785. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (51.00.00) [Digital ID#s us0051, us0051_1, us0051_2, us0051_3]

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Annapolis Meeting Leads to a Broader National Convention

In September 1786, delegates from five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, ostensibly to discuss barriers to trade under the Articles of Confederation. The commissioners decided that not enough states were represented to make any substantive agreement. Despite the failure of the &ldquoAnnapolis Convention&rdquo to attract broad support, the nationalist delegates who had attended it, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, pressed on with a recommendation for a national convention to address defects in the Articles of Confederation.

Letter from James Madison to James Monroe, September 11, 1786. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (51.01.00) [Digital ID# us0051_01]

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Financial Crisis Fears

In 1786 James Monroe (1758&ndash1831), then a congressman from Virginia, expressed fears that the rejection of efforts to grant a national impost for revenue &ldquoendangers the govt&rdquo and &ldquowill most probably induce a change of some kind.&rdquo These fears of economic instability and lack of operating funds for the national government fueled calls for a national convention to revise the Articles of Confederation.

Letter from James Monroe to James Madison, September 12, 1786. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (051.02.00) [Digital ID# us0051_02p1]

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Washington and Madison Plan for a New Government

In this letter written in 1787 on the eve of the federal Constitutional Convention, James Madison warns George Washington of the dangers from both temporizers and radicals. Madison also sketches his plans for a new federal government and constitution to be formulated in Philadelphia. Proportional representation and a national legislative veto over state laws were just two of Madison’s major proposals.

Letter from James Madison to George Washington, April 16, 1787. Manuscript. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (52.00.02) [Digital ID#s us0052_2, us0052, us0052_1, us0052_3, us0052_4, us0052_5]

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Setting for the Creation of the Federal Constitution

Delegates to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 created the instrument of government in the East Room on the first floor of the Pennsylvania State House, which is known as Independence Hall because the American Declaration of Independence was adopted here on July 4, 1776. In order to secure secrecy the delegates took an oath and met behind closed doors and windows with pulled drapes.

John Rubens Smith. Sketch of the State House In Philadelphia, [1829]. Pencil drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (53.01.00) [Digital ID# LC-USZ62-113780]

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Independence Hall

Delegates to the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 created the instrument of government in the East Room on the first floor of the Pennsylvania State House (known today as Independence Hall) on Chestnut Street, Philadelphia. The delegates took an oath of secrecy and met behind closed doors and windows with pulled drapes throughout the often hot and humid Delaware Valley summer. This engraving shows a view of the State House from High Street.

William Birch & Son. &ldquoHigh Street, from Ninth Street,&rdquo from The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania, North America, As it Appeared in the Year 1800. . . . Hand-colored engraving. Springland, Pennsylvania: William Birch and Son, 1800. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (54.00.02) [Digital ID# us0054_04]

William Birch & Son. &ldquoState-house with a View of Chestnut Street, Philadelphia&rdquo from The City of Philadelphia . . . Hand-colored engraving. Philadelphia: William Birch & Son, 1800. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (54.00.00) [Digital ID# us0054]

William Birch & Son. &ldquoBack of the State-house,&rdquo from The City of Philadelphia in the State of Pennsylvania, North America, As it Appeared in the Year 1800. . . . Hand-colored engraving. Springland, Pennsylvania: William Birch and Son, 1800. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (54.00.01) [Digital ID# us0054_1]

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Congress Adopts the Northwest Ordinance

The Northwest Ordinance, adopted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787, established a precedent for the organization of territories outside of the nation’s original thirteen states. A minimum of five territories or states were to be created. Each was to have a republican government with an executive, legislative council (upper house), assembly, and judiciary. Not only was the territory north and west of the Ohio River to be settled by Americans and admitted into full statehood in the union, but the Ordinance stipulated that those territories would be free from slavery or involuntary servitude and have a bill of rights.

United States Continental Congress. Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the U.S. Northwest of the Ohio. New York, 1787. Broadside. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (049.04.00) [Digital ID# us0049_04]

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Congress Adopts the Northwest Ordinance

The Northwest Ordinance, adopted by the Confederation Congress on July 13, 1787, established a precedent for the organization of territories outside of the nation’s original thirteen states. A minimum of five territories or states were to be created. Each was to have a republican government with an executive, legislative council (upper house), assembly, and judiciary. Not only was the territory north and west of the Ohio River to be settled by Americans and admitted into full statehood in the union, but the Ordinance stipulated that those territories would be free from slavery or involuntary servitude and have a bill of rights. Nathan Dane (1752&ndash1835), who authored the clause prohibiting slavery, annotated this copy.

United States Continental Congress. An Ordinance for the Government of the Territory of the U.S. Northwest of the Ohio. New York: 1787. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (049.03.00) [Digital ID# us0049_03]

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Crucible for the Creation of the American Republic

Philadelphia, site of both Continental Congresses, was one of the most urban, advanced cities in America in the eighteenth century. Originally drawn by George Heap (1714&ndash1752), a surveyor and mapmaker in Philadelphia, and Nicolas Scull (1687&ndash1762), Surveyor General of the Province of Pennsylvania, this map was engraved and published by Matthäus Albrect Lotter (1741&ndash1810), and shows streams, roads, and names of the landowners in the vicinity of Philadelphia. The bottom of the map contains an illustration of the State House, home of the second Continental Congress and the Federal Convention of 1787.

Matthäus Albrect Lotter. A Plan of the City and Environs of Philadelphia. [Augsburg: M.A. Lotter, 1777]. Hand-colored engraved map. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (053.03.00) [Digital ID# ar132200]

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Fear of Wasting George Washington’s Political Capital

James Madison expressed a fear that George Washington would waste his political capital by attending an &ldquoabortive&rdquo convention. Madison wondered if Washington should hold off on his appearance until some progress had been made, suggesting that Benjamin Franklin might provide &ldquosufficient dignity into the Chair&rdquo of the convention until the proper time. Washington had left Virginia by the time Edmund Randolph received this letter and arrived in Philadelphia in time to help Madison and other members of the Virginia delegation to draft a proposed plan of government, known as the &ldquoVirginia Plan.&rdquo

Letter from James Madison to Edmund Randolph, April 15, 1787. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (052.02.00) [Digital ID# us0052_02]

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Fear of Wasting Washington’s Political Capital

James Madison worried that George Washington would waste his political capital by attending an &ldquoabortive&rdquo convention. He thought Washington should delay his appearance until some progress at the Constitutional Convention had been made and suggested that in the meantime, Benjamin Franklin might provide &ldquosufficient dignity into the Chair.&rdquo Before Madison could address the matter, however, Washington had already left for Philadelphia, as indicated by this letter from John Dawson (1762&ndash1814), a fellow Virginian, who realized the high stakes of the convention.

Letter from John Dawson to James Madison, April 15, 1787. Manuscript. James Madison Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (052.03.00) [Digital ID# us0052_03]

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Not Worth a Continental

During the American Revolution the Continental Congress issued paper currency to finance the Revolutionary War. These notes, called &ldquoContinentals,&rdquo had no backing in gold or silver, but were instead backed by the &ldquoanticipation&rdquo of tax revenues. Easily counterfeited and without solid backing, the notes quickly lost their value, so that the term &ldquonot worth a Continental&rdquo became common slang. After the war Congress and the state governments continued to produce money contributing to what Madison referred to as the &ldquomortal diseases&rdquo of the government under the Articles of Confederation and resulting in calls for a new federal constitution to strengthen the national government.

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.00.00) [Digital ID # us0136]

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.01.00) [Digital ID# us0136_01]

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.02.00) [Digital ID# us0136_02]

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.03.00) [Digital ID# us0136_03]

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.04.00) [Digital ID# us0136_04]

United States Continental Congress. Paper currency, 1775&ndash1777. Printed by Hall and Sellers Rhode Island. Paper Currency, 1786. Printed by Southwick and Barber. Marian Carson Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (136.05.00) [Digital ID# us0136_05]

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Plans to Revise the Articles of Confederation

Rufus King (1755&ndash1827), a member of the Confederation Congress and a delegate to the Federal Constitution Convention of 1787, expressed concern for a 1785 Massachusetts legislative call for a national convention to revise the Articles of Confederation. In his letter to Nathan Dane (1752&ndash1835), a Massachusetts delegate to the Confederation Congress and architect of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, King correctly predicted that any new government would be less republican and that the larger states would want more control of the new government. The Massachusetts delegates refused to submit the request to Congress or to the other states.

Letter from Rufus King to Nathan Dane, September 17, 1785. Manuscript. Nathan Dane Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (051.03.00) [Digital ID# us0051_03p2]

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Washington Voices Doubts About a &ldquogeneral Convention&rdquo

In early 1786 George Washington (1732&ndash1799) recognized that the Articles of Confederation needed to be revised, but he still harbored doubts about calling a &ldquogeneral Convention.&rdquo Despite his fears that a bad solution or a failed attempt to change the Articles might worsen America’s economic and political conditions, Washington believed that &ldquosomething must be done, or the fabrick must fall.&rdquo

Letter from George Washington to John Jay, May 18, 1786. Letter book. George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (050.03.00) [Digital ID# us0050_03]

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Thomas Jefferson on Black Education

Robert Pleasants (1723&ndash1801), a Virginia Quaker who had recently freed his own eighty slaves, wrote to Thomas Jefferson asking his support for education for slave children in order to prepare them for freedom. Responding to his letter, Jefferson suggested that private efforts would be inadequate and that state support would be necessary to provide education for slaves &ldquodestined to be free.&rdquo

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Robert Pleasants, [August 27, 1796]. Manuscript. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (048.03.00) [Digital ID# us0048_03]

Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution

Constitution of the United States, 9/17/1787 General Records of the United States Government, Record Group 11 National Archives.

En Español


This lesson engages students in a study of the Constitution to learn the significance of "Six Big Ideas" contained in it. Students analyze the text of the Constitution in a variety of ways, examine primary sources to identify their relationship to its central ideas and debate the core constitutional principles as they relate to today's political issues.


In order to understand how our government works students must understand the major ideas that underpin it. This lesson asks students to explore those ideas and apply them to current issues.

Guiding Question:

What is the significance of the Six Big Ideas in the Constitution historically and for Americans today? The Six Big Ideas are:

  1. limited government
  2. republicanism
  3. checks and balances
  4. federalism
  5. separation of powers
  6. popular sovereignty


U.S. Constitution
Background information on Founding Fathers (online)
Copies of primary sources
4 Handouts
Answer Key (Activity 1&4)

Recommended Grade Levels:


American history U.S. government Civics

Topics included in this lesson:

limited government, republicanism, checks and balances, federalism, separation of powers, popular sovereignty, Founding Fathers

Time Required:

The time needed to complete each step of this lesson is presented in parenthesis at each step. The lesson can be done as a whole or each step can be done separately (except Step 4 which should follow Step 3).


  • Articles of Confederation
  • Federal
  • Ratification
  • Sovereignty
  • Great Compromise
  • Republic
  • 3/5 Compromise

Learning Steps:

1: Orientation to the Constitution - Mapping the Text (45 minutes)

To understand the Six Big Ideas which underpin the Constitution students need to be familiar with the text itself. Mapping the text of the Constitution presents the national charter in a way that illustrates the attention the Founders gave to the structure and power of government. The 4379 words of the U.S. Constitution are the foundation of our nation and establish the federal government's structures and branches. By counting the words in each article and calculating the percentage of the whole it represents, students can determine how much of the overall project was dedicated to each structure or power.

Fill out the table on Handout 1 to determine the number of words contained in each Article of the Constitution, and the percentage of the whole document that represents. This can be done easily with a digital copy of the text using the word count feature available in most word processing programs. Note: count only the words in the sentence that comprises Article VII, not the summarizing/concluding date.

Map the Constitution by representing the percentages from the table in a visual form on Handout 1. Using different colors for each of the Articles and the Preamble, color in the squares to represent the percentage of the whole Constitution that is dedicated to each article. Each square represents 1% of the document (round up or down as necessary).

Hold a class discussion to analyze the map and address the following questions: Which topics received the most attention in the Constitution? Does the map suggest hypotheses about the relative importance to the Founders of the powers of the new government? To what extent do the powers of each branch of government displayed in the map match how the federal government works today?

2: Introducing the Founders (45 minutes)

Studying the Founders themselves can aid in understanding the government they created. Many of the Founders knew each other before the Constitutional Convention and were able to draw on their personal relationships when trying to garner a consensus for specific proposals to be included in the Constitution. Students will explore these relationships by creating a Founders' Social Network using Handout 2.

The teacher may assign a Founder to each student or allow the students to choose one. After students complete the profile and likes section on Handout 2, post them on the wall. Students will then browse the other profiles to determine who would likely be "friends" with their assigned Founder, then fill out the Friends section of the handout.

Direct students to these web sites for biographical information:

3: Outlining the Constitution's Six Big Ideas (45 minutes)

Students will analyze the text of the Constitution to identify specific examples of the Six Big Ideas in action. Provide the list of the Six Big Ideas to the students, direct them to define each term, then discuss with the whole class to check for understanding.

Divide the students into six groups with each group assigned a Big Idea. Provide a copy of the Constitution to each group (printed or electronic) and direct them to examine the text to identify two examples of the assigned Big Idea in action. Students will fill in Handout 3 with the quote from the Constitution and its location. Students will then rephrase the quote in their own words to hone in on its meaning. There will be multiple correct answers for each Big Idea. Each group will share their examples with the class.

Example: Separation of Powers-Article II, Section 2, clause 2 says that the Executive "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur." This means that two branches, the President and Congress (the Senate), have to agree before a treaty goes into effect.

4. Analyzing Primary Sources to Relate the Six Big Ideas to History (45 minutes)

Students will apply their understanding of the Big Ideas gained in Step 3 to actual documents which were created or received by the federal government as it was exercising its powers under the Constitution. Students will act as historians who must consider the source of each document, when it was created and its content to determine how it relates to the Big Ideas.

The teacher will list the Six Big Ideas on the board or post them on a wall. Pairs of students will be given a copy of one document from a selected list. Students will carefully read and inspect the document to determine which Big Idea is represented within it. They will then post the document under the corresponding Big Idea on the board or wall.

After all pairs have posted their document, the pairs will each take a turn describing their assigned document and explaining three clues in the document which support their determination of the Big Idea illustrated within. Some documents may be related to more than one Big Idea so students should be prepared to justify why they determined that one was more relevant than another.

5: Debating the Six Big Ideas in America Today (45 minutes for preparation and 45 minutes to implement)

More than 220 years after the ratification of the Constitution, the Six Big Ideas still inspire debate. Different understandings of how the Big Ideas should be manifested in the actions of the federal government often engender debates over what government should be doing in the name of the people it serves. Students will obtain an understanding of these current disputes by taking sides in a debate featuring current issues.

The cases against ratification were made by the Anti-Federalist. The collection of these arguments is The Complete Anti-Federalist.

The Founders' Constitution online and in print. Arranged by constitutional provision, it provides excerpts from the debates and articles as well as court decisions and commentaries. A joint project of the University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund.

The Debates in the Several States Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, also known as Elliot's Debates.
Also available online at the Library of Congress.

The authoritativeness of Elliot's Debates has been questioned by some. Therefore, also consult The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, originally edited by Merrill Jensen and now by John P. Kaminski et al. This source is regarded as being more accurate and authoritative. It contains debates, commentaries and other documents on the ratification process and covers ratification debates in eight states and extensive commentaries in the contemporary press.

16. Ratifying the Constitution

The Flag Room &mdash The United States is born.

A framework for a new and stronger national government had been crafted at the Philadelphia Convention by a handful of leaders. But how could their proposed system be made into law?

Could they convince the public that the weak central government of the Articles of Confederation needed to be strengthened? The Articles required that any changes in constitutional law be presented to the state legislatures, and that any successful alteration required unanimous approval. Since the new proposal increased the power of the national government at the expense of state sovereignty, it was a certainty that one, and probably several more, state legislatures would oppose the changes. Remember, that Rhode Island had refused to even send a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention because it opposed any stronger revisions in the Articles, much less the sweeping proposal that ended up being produced there.

Aware of the major challenge before them, the framers of the new plan crafted a startling new approach through a ratifying procedure that went directly to the people. By this method, the Constitution would become law if nine of the thirteen states approved it after holding special conventions to consider the issue. Building on a model adopted by Massachusetts in passing its state constitution of 1780, the framers suggested that constitutional law was of such sweeping significance that it would be inappropriate to have it approved though ordinary political channels.

The caption under this cartoon, which appeared in 1788 in the Massachusetts Centinel, stated "The Pillar of the Great Federal Edifice rises daily." It depicts Massachusetts as an addition to the "Federal Superstructure," indicating Massachusetts' impending ratification of the Constitution.

Instead, special conventions should be held for the people to evaluate such important changes. Politicians in Congress were well aware of the weaknesses of the current central government and shared the framers' sense that the state legislatures were very likely to oppose the new plan, so Congress approved the new terms of this unusual, and even illegal, ratification route. Surprisingly, so too did state legislatures that began arranging for the election of special delegates to the state ratification conventions.


Declaration of Independence Edit

On June 4, 1776, a resolution was introduced in the Second Continental Congress declaring the union with Great Britain to be dissolved, proposing the formation of foreign alliances, and suggesting the drafting of a plan of confederation to be submitted to the respective states. Independence was declared on July 4, 1776 the preparation of a plan of confederation was postponed. Although the Declaration was a statement of principles, it did not create a government or even a framework for how politics would be carried out. It was the Articles of Confederation that provided the necessary structure to the new nation during and after the American Revolution. The Declaration, however, did set forth the ideas of natural rights and the social contract that would help form the foundation of constitutional government.

The era of the Declaration of Independence is sometimes called the "Continental Congress" period. John Adams famously estimated as many as one-third of those resident in the original thirteen colonies were patriots. Scholars such as Gordon Wood describe how Americans were caught up in the Revolutionary fervor and excitement of creating governments, societies, a new nation on the face of the earth by rational choice as Thomas Paine declared in Common Sense.

Republican government and personal liberty for "the people" were to overspread the New World continents and to last forever, a gift to posterity. These goals were influenced by Enlightenment philosophy. The adherents to this cause seized on English Whig political philosophy as described by historian Forrest McDonald as justification for most of their changes to received colonial charters and traditions. It was rooted in opposition to monarchy they saw as venal and corrupting to the "permanent interests of the people."

To these partisans, voting was the only permanent defense of the people. Elected terms for legislature were cut to one year, for Virginia's Governor, one year without re-election. Property requirements for suffrage for men were reduced to taxes on their tools in some states. Free blacks in New York could vote if they owned enough property. New Hampshire was thinking of abolishing all voting requirements for men except residency and religion. New Jersey let women vote. In some states, senators were now elected by the same voters as the larger electorate for the House, and even judges were elected to one-year terms.

These "radical Whigs" were called the people "out-of-doors." They distrusted not only royal authority, but any small, secretive group as being unrepublican. Crowds of men and women massed at the steps of rural Court Houses during market-militia-court days. Shays' Rebellion (1786–87) is a famous example. Urban riots began by the out-of-doors rallies on the steps of an oppressive government official with speakers such as members of the Sons of Liberty holding forth in the "people's "committees" until some action was decided upon, including hanging his effigy outside a bedroom window, or looting and burning down the offending tyrant's home.

First and Second Continental Congresses Edit

The First Continental Congress met from September 5 to October 26, 1774. It agreed that the states should impose an economic boycott on British trade, and drew up a petition to King George III, pleading for redress of their grievances and repeal of the Intolerable Acts. It did not propose independence or a separate government for the states.

The Second Continental Congress convened on May 10, 1775, and functioned as a de facto national government at the outset of the Revolutionary War. Beginning in 1777, the substantial powers assumed by Congress "made the league of states as cohesive and strong as any similar sort of republican confederation in history". [1] The process created the United States "by the people in collectivity, rather than by the individual states", because only four states had constitutions at the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and three of those were provisional.

The Supreme Court in Penhallow v. Doane's Administrators (1795), and again in Ware v. Hylton (1796), ruled on the federal government's powers prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. It said that Congress exercised powers derived from the people, expressly conferred through the medium of state conventions or legislatures, and, once exercised, those powers were "impliedly ratified by the acquiescence and obedience of the people". [2]

Confederation Period Edit

The Articles of Confederation was approved by the Second Continental Congress on November 15, 1777, and sent to the states for ratification. It came into force on March 1, 1781, after being ratified by all 13 states. Over the previous four years it had been used by Congress as a "working document" to administer the early United States government and win the Revolutionary War. and secure

Lasting successes under the Articles of Confederation included the Treaty of Paris with Britain and the Land Ordinance of 1785, whereby Congress promised settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains full citizenship and eventual statehood. [3] Some historians characterize this period from 1781 to 1789 as weakness, dissension, and turmoil. [4] Other scholars view the evidence as reflecting an underlying stability and prosperity. [5] But the returning of prosperity in some areas did not slow the growth of domestic and foreign problems. Nationalists saw the confederation's central government as not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, regulate trade, enforce treaties, or go to war when needed. [6]

The Congress of the Confederation, as defined in the Articles of Confederation, was the sole organ of the national government there was no national court to interpret laws nor an executive branch to enforce them. Governmental functions, including declarations of war and calls for an army, were voluntarily supported by each state, in full, partly, or not at all. [6]

The newly independent states, separated from Britain, no longer received favored treatment at British ports. The British refused to negotiate a commercial treaty in 1785 because the individual American states would not be bound by it. Congress could not act directly upon the States nor upon individuals. It had no authority to regulate foreign or interstate commerce. Every act of government was left to the individual States. Each state levied taxes and tariffs on other states at will, which invited retaliation. Congress could vote itself mediator and judge in state disputes, but states did not have to accept its decisions. [6]

The weak central government could not back its policies with military strength, embarrassing it in foreign affairs. The British refused to withdraw their troops from the forts and trading posts in the new nation's Northwest Territory, as they had agreed to do in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. British officers on the northern boundaries and Spanish officers to the south supplied arms to Native American tribes, allowing them to attack American settlers. The Spanish refused to allow western American farmers to use their port of New Orleans to ship produce. [6]

Revenues were requisitioned by Congressional petition to each state. None paid what they were asked sometimes some paid nothing. Congress appealed to the thirteen states for an amendment to the Articles to tax enough to pay the public debt as principal came due. Twelve states agreed, Rhode Island did not, so it failed. [7] The Articles required super majorities. Amendment proposals to states required ratification by all thirteen states, all important legislation needed 70% approval, at least nine states. Repeatedly, one or two states defeated legislative proposals of major importance. [6]

Without taxes the government could not pay its debt. Seven of the thirteen states printed large quantities of its own paper money, backed by gold, land, or nothing, so there was no fair exchange rate among them. State courts required state creditors to accept payments at face value with a fraction of real purchase power. The same legislation that these states used to wipe out the Revolutionary debt to patriots was used to pay off promised veteran pensions. The measures were popular because they helped both small farmers and plantation owners pay off their debts. [8]

The Massachusetts legislature was one of the five against paper money. It imposed a tightly limited currency and high taxes. Without paper money veterans without cash lost their farms for back taxes. This triggered Shays' Rebellion to stop tax collectors and close the courts. Troops quickly suppressed the rebellion, but nationalists like George Washington warned, "There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to." [9]

Mount Vernon Conference Edit

An important milestone in interstate cooperation outside the framework of the Articles of Confederation occurred in March 1785, when delegates representing Maryland and Virginia met in Virginia, to address navigational rights in the states's common waterways. [10] [a] On March 28, 1785, the group drew up a thirteen-point proposal to govern the two states' rights on the Potomac River, Pocomoke River, and Chesapeake Bay. [10] Known as the Mount Vernon Compact (formally titled the "Compact of 1785"), [11] this agreement not only covered tidewater navigation but also extended to issues such as toll duties, commerce regulations, fishing rights, and debt collection. [12] Ratified by the legislatures of both states, the compact, which is still in force, helped set a precedent for later meetings between states for discussions into areas of mutual concern. [10] [b]

The conference's success encouraged James Madison to introduce a proposal in the Virginia General Assembly for further debate of interstate issues. With Maryland's agreement, on January 21, 1786, Virginia invited all the states to attend another interstate meeting later that year in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the trade barriers between the various states. [13]

Constitutional reforms considered Edit

The Congress of the Confederation received a report on August 7, 1786 from a twelve-member "Grand Committee", appointed to develop and present "such amendments to the Confederation, and such resolutions as it may be necessary to recommend to the several states, for the purpose of obtaining from them such powers as will render the federal government adequate to" its declared purposes. Seven amendments to the Articles of Confederation were proposed. Under these reforms, Congress would gain "sole and exclusive" power to regulate trade. States could not favor foreigners over citizens. Tax bills would require 70% vote, public debt 85%, not 100%. Congress could charge states a late payment penalty fee. A state withholding troops would be charged for them, plus a penalty. If a state did not pay, Congress could collect directly from its cities and counties. A state payment on another's requisition would earn annual 6%. There would have been a national court of seven. No-shows at Congress would have been banned from any U.S. or state office. [14] These proposals were, however, sent back to committee without a vote and were not taken up again. [15]

Annapolis Convention Edit

The Annapolis Convention, formally titled "A Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government", convened at George Mann's Tavern [16] on September 11, 1786. Delegates from five states gathered to discuss ways to facilitate commerce between the states and establish standard rules and regulations. At the time, each state was largely independent from the others and the national government had no authority in these matters. [17]

Appointed delegates from four states either arrived too late to participate or otherwise decided not attend. Because so few states were present, delegates did not deem "it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission." However, they did adopt a report calling for another convention of the states to discuss possible improvements to the Articles of Confederation. They desired that Constitutional Convention take place in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. [18]

Legislatures of seven states—Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Georgia—immediately approved and appointed their delegations. New York and others hesitated thinking that only the Continental Congress could propose amendments to the Articles. [ citation needed ] Congress then called the convention at Philadelphia. The "Federal Constitution" was to be changed to meet the requirements of good government and "the preservation of the Union". Congress would then approve what measures it allowed, then the state legislatures would unanimously confirm whatever changes of those were to take effect.

Twelve state legislatures, Rhode Island being the only exception, sent delegates to convene at Philadelphia in May 1787. [19] While the resolution calling the Convention specified that its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that the Convention would propose a Constitution with a fundamentally new design. [20]

Sessions Edit

The Congress of the Confederation endorsed a plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787. [19] It called on each state legislature to send delegates to a convention "'for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation' in ways that, when approved by Congress and the states, would 'render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.'" [21]

To amend the Articles into a workable government, 74 delegates from the twelve states were named by their state legislatures 55 showed up, and 39 eventually signed. [22] On May 3, eleven days early, James Madison arrived to Philadelphia and met with James Wilson of the Pennsylvania delegation to plan strategy. Madison outlined his plan in letters: (1) State legislatures shall each send delegates instead of using members of the Congress of the Confederation. (2) The Convention will reach agreement with signatures from every state. (3) The Congress of the Confederation will approve it and forward it to the state legislatures. (4) The state legislatures independently call one-time conventions to ratify it, using delegates selected via each state's various rules of suffrage. The Convention was to be "merely advisory" to the people voting in each state. [c]

Convening Edit

George Washington arrived on time, Sunday, the day before the scheduled opening. [d] For the entire duration of the Convention, Washington was a guest at the home of Robert Morris, Congress' financier for the American Revolution and a Pennsylvania delegate. Morris entertained the delegates lavishly. William Jackson, in two years to be the president of the Society of the Cincinnati, had been Morris' agent in England for a time and he won election as a non-delegate to be the convention secretary.

The convention was scheduled to open May 14, but only Pennsylvania and Virginia delegations were present. The Convention was postponed until a quorum of seven states gathered on Friday the 25th. [e] George Washington was elected the Convention president, and Chancellor (judge) George Wythe (Va) was chosen Chair of the Rules Committee. The rules of the Convention were published the following Monday. [f]

Nathaniel Gorham (MA) was elected Chair of the "Committee of the Whole". These were the same delegates in the same room, but they could use informal rules for the interconnected provisions in the draft articles to be made, remade and reconnected as the order of business proceeded. The Convention officials and adopted procedures were in place before the arrival of nationalist opponents such as John Lansing (NY) and Luther Martin (MD). [g] By the end of May, the stage was set.

The Constitutional Convention voted to keep the debates secret so that the delegates could speak freely, negotiate, bargain, compromise and change. Yet the proposed Constitution as reported from the Convention was an "innovation", the most dismissive epithet a politician could use to condemn any new proposal. It promised a fundamental change from the old confederation into a new, consolidated yet federal government. The accepted secrecy of usual affairs conducted in regular order did not apply. It became a major issue in the very public debates leading up to the crowd-filled ratification conventions. [h]

Despite the public outcry against secrecy among its critics, the delegates continued in positions of public trust. State legislatures chose ten Convention delegates of their 33 total for the Constitutional Convention that September. [29]

Agenda Edit

Every few days, new delegates arrived, happily noted in Madison's Journal. But as the Convention went on, individual delegate coming and going meant that a state's vote could change with the change of delegation composition. The volatility added to the inherent difficulties, making for an "ever-present danger that the Convention might dissolve and the entire project be abandoned." [30]

Although twelve states sent delegations, there were never more than eleven represented in the floor debates, often fewer. State delegations absented themselves at votes different times of day. There was no minimum for a state delegation one would do. Daily sessions would have thirty members present. Members came and went on public and personal business. The Congress of the Confederation was meeting at the same time, so members would absent themselves to New York City on Congressional business for days and weeks at a time. [31]

But the work before them was continuous, even if attendance was not. The Convention resolved itself into a "Committee of the Whole", and could remain so for days. It was informal, votes could be taken and retaken easily, positions could change without prejudice, and importantly, no formal quorum call was required. The nationalists were resolute. As Madison put it, the situation was too serious for despair. [32] They used the same State House, later named Independence Hall, as the Declaration signers. The building setback from the street was still dignified, but the "shaky" steeple was gone. [33] When they adjourned each day, they lived in nearby lodgings, as guests, roomers or renters. They ate supper with one another in town and taverns, "often enough in preparation for tomorrow's meeting." [34]

Delegates reporting to the Convention presented their credentials to the Secretary, Major William Jackson of South Carolina. The state legislatures of the day used these occasions to say why they were sending representatives abroad. New York thus publicly enjoined its members to pursue all possible "alterations and provisions" for good government and "preservation of the Union". New Hampshire called for "timely measures to enlarge the powers of Congress". Virginia stressed the "necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects". [30]

On the other hand, Delaware categorically forbade any alteration of the Articles one-vote-per-state provision in the Articles of Confederation. [35] The Convention would have a great deal of work to do to reconcile the many expectations in the chamber. At the same time, delegates wanted to finish their work by fall harvest and its commerce. [36]

May 29, Edmund Randolph (VA) proposed the Virginia Plan that would serve as the unofficial agenda for the Convention. It was weighted toward the interests of the larger, more populous states. The intent was to meet the purposes set out in the Articles of Confederation, "common defense, security of liberty and general welfare". The Virginia Plan was national, authority flowed from the people. If the people will ratify them, changes for better republican government and national union should be proposed.

Much of the Virginia Plan was adopted. [i] All the powers in the Articles transfer to the new government. Congress has two houses, the 'house' apportioned by population. It can enact laws affecting more than one state and Congress can override a veto. The President can enforce the law. The Supreme Court and inferior courts rule on international, U.S. and state law. The Constitution is the supreme law and all state officers swear to uphold the Constitution. Every state is a republic, and new states can be admitted. [38] The Congress of the Confederation continued until the new system started. Amendments are possible without Congress. The Convention recommendations went to Congress, from them to the states. State legislatures set the election rules for ratification conventions, and the people "expressly" chose representatives to consider and decide about the Constitution. [37]

June 15, William Patterson (NJ) proposed the Convention minority's New Jersey Plan. It was weighted toward the interests of the smaller, less populous states. The intent was to preserve the states from a plan to "destroy or annihilate" them. The New Jersey Plan was purely federal, authority flowed from the states. Gradual change should come from the states. If the Articles could not be amended, then advocates argued that should be the report from the Convention to the states. [39]

Although the New Jersey Plan only survived three days as an alternate proposal, substantial elements of it were adopted. [j] The articles were "revised, corrected and enlarged" for good government and preservation of the Union. The Senate is elected by the states, at first by the state legislatures. Congress passes acts for revenue collected directly in the states, and the rulings of state courts are reviewed by the Supreme Court. [41] State apportionment for taxes failed, but the 'house' is apportioned by the population count of free inhabitants and three-fifths of others originally. States can be added to the Union. Presidents appoint federal judges. Treaties entered into by Congress are the supreme law of the land. All state judiciaries are bound to enforce treaties, state laws notwithstanding. The President can raise an army to enforce treaties in any state. States treat a violation of law in another state as though it happened there. [41]

Current knowledge of drafting the Constitution comes primarily from the Journal left by James Madison, found chronologically incorporated in Max Farrand's "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787", which included the Convention Journal and sources from other Federalists and Anti-Federalists. [42]

Scholars observe that it is unusual in world history for the minority in a revolution to have the influence that the "old patriot" Anti-Federalists had over the "nationalist" Federalists who had the support of the revolutionary army in the Society of the Cincinnati. Both factions were intent on forging a nation in which both could be full participants in the changes which were sure to come, since that was most likely to allow for their national union, guarantee liberty for their posterity, and promote their mutual long-term material prosperity.

Slavery in debate Edit

The contentious issue of slavery was too controversial to be resolved during the Convention. But it was at center stage in the Convention three times: June 7 regarding who would vote for Congress, June 11 in debate over how to proportion relative seating in the 'house', and August 22 relating to commerce and the future wealth of the nation.

Once the Convention looked at how to proportion the House representation, tempers among several delegates exploded over slavery. When the Convention progressed beyond the personal attacks, it adopted the existing "federal ratio" for taxing states by three-fifths of slaves held. [43]

On August 6, the Committee of Detail reported its proposed revisions to the Randolph Plan. Again the question of slavery came up, and again the question was met with attacks of outrage. Over the next two weeks, delegates wove a web of mutual compromises relating to commerce and trade, east and west, slave-holding and free. The transfer of power to regulate slave trade from states to central government could happen in 20 years, but only then. [k] Later generations could try out their own answers. The delegates were trying to make a government that might last that long. [44]

Migration of the free or "importation" of indentures and slaves could continue by states, defining slaves as persons, not property. Long-term power would change by population as counted every ten years. Apportionment in the House would not be by wealth, it would be by people, the free citizens and three-fifths the number of other persons meaning propertyless slaves and taxed Indian farming families. [l]

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson sent a message to the 9th Congress on their constitutional opportunity to remove U.S. citizens from the transatlantic slave trade "[violating] human rights". [45] The 1807 "Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves" took effect the first instant the Constitution allowed, January 1, 1808. The United States joined the British that year in the first "international humanitarian campaign". [46]

In the 1840–1860 era abolitionists denounced the Fugitive Slave Clause and other protections of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison famously declared the Constitution "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." [47]

In ratification conventions, the anti-slavery delegates sometimes began as anti-ratification votes. Still, the Constitution "as written" was an improvement over the Articles from an abolitionist point of view. The Constitution provided for abolition of the slave trade but the Articles did not. The outcome could be determined gradually over time. [48] Sometimes contradictions among opponents were used to try to gain abolitionist converts. In Virginia, Federalist George Nicholas dismissed fears on both sides. Objections to the Constitution were inconsistent, "At the same moment it is opposed for being promotive and destructive of slavery!" [49] But the contradiction was never resolved peaceably, and the failure to do so contributed to the Civil War. [50]

"Great Compromise" Edit

Roger Sherman (CT), although something of a political broker in Connecticut, was an unlikely leader in the august company of the Convention. [m] But on June 11, he proposed the first version of the Convention's "Great Compromise". It was like the proposal he made in the 1776 Continental Congress. Representation in Congress should be both by states and by population. There, he was voted down by the small states in favor of all states equal, one vote only. [52] Now in 1787 Convention, he wanted to balance all the big-state victories for population apportionment. He proposed that in the second 'senate' branch of the legislature, each state should be equal, one vote and no more. [n] [54] The motion for equal state representation in a 'senate' failed: 6 against, 5 for. [55]

Luther Martin, MD
if not state equality
create regional nations

After these defeats, the delegates who called themselves the "old patriots" of 1776 and the "men of original principles" organized a caucus in the Convention. William Paterson (NJ) spoke for them introducing his "New Jersey Plan". [56] [o] Roger Sherman (CT), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was with them. Supporters explained that it "sustained the sovereignty of the states", while the Edmund Randolph (VA) "Virginia Plan" erased it. The Convention had no authority to propose anything not sent up from state legislatures, and the states were not likely to adopt anything new. The "nationalists" answered, The Convention could not conclude anything, but it could recommend anything. [58]

"Patriots" said if their legislature knew anything about proposals for consolidated government, it would not have sent anyone. "Nationalists" countered, that it would be treason to withhold any proposal for good government when the salvation of the American republic was at stake. [58] Three sessions after its introduction, the New Jersey Plan failed : 7 against, 3 for, 1 divided. [59] For nearly a month there was no progress small states were seriously thinking of walking out of the Convention. [p]

Then June 25, the "original principles" men finally won a vote. The 'senate' would be chosen by the state legislatures, not the people, passed: 9 for, 2 against. [61] The basis of representation for both the 'house' and the 'senate' re-surfaced. Sherman tried a second time to get his idea for a 'house' on the basis of population and a 'senate' on an equal states basis. The "big states" got their population 'house' win, then his equal state 'senate' motion was dropped without a vote. The majority adjourned "before a determination was taken in the House." [62] Luther Martin (MD) insisted that he would rather divide the Union into regional governments than submit to a consolidated government under the Randolph Plan. [63]

Sherman's proposal came up again for the third time from Oliver Ellsworth (CT). In the "senate", the states should have equal representation. Advocates said that it could not be agreed to, the union would fall apart somehow. [64] Big states would not be trusted, the small states could confederate with a foreign power showing "more good faith". If delegates could not unite behind this here, one day the states could be united by "some foreign sword". [65] On the question of equal state representation, the Convention adjourned in the same way again, "before a determination was taken in the House.". [66]

On July 2, the Convention for the fourth time considered a "senate" with equal state votes. This time a vote was taken, but it stalled again, tied at 5 yes, 5 no, 1 divided. The Convention elected one delegate out of the delegation of each state onto a Committee to make a proposal it reported July 5. [67] Nothing changed over five days. July 10, Lansing and Yates (NY) quit the Convention in protest over the big state majorities repeatedly overrunning the small state delegations in vote after vote. [68] No direct vote on the basis of 'senate' representation was pushed on the floor for another week.

But the Convention floor leaders kept moving forward where they could. First the new 'house' seat apportionment was agreed, balancing big and small, north and south. The big states got a decennial census for 'house' apportionment to reflect their future growth. Northerners had insisted on counting only free citizens for the 'house' southern delegations wanted to add property. Benjamin Franklin's compromise was that there would be no "property" provision to add representatives, but states with large slave populations would get a bonus added to their free persons by counting three-fifths other persons. [69]

On July 16, Sherman's "Great Compromise" prevailed on its fifth try. Every state was to have equal numbers in the United States Senate. [70] Washington ruled it passed on the vote 5 yes, 4 no, 1 divided. It was not that five was a majority of twelve, but to keep the business moving forward, he used precedent established in the Convention earlier. [71] Now some of the big-state delegates talked of walking out, but none did. Debate over the next ten days developed an agreed general outline for the Constitution. [72] Small states readily yielded on many questions. Most remaining delegates, big-state and small, now felt safe enough to chance a new plan. [73]

Two new branches Edit

The Constitution innovated two branches of government that were not a part of the U.S. government during the Articles of Confederation. Previously, a thirteen-member committee had been left behind in Philadelphia when Congress adjourned to carry out the "executive" functions. Suits between states were referred to the Congress of the Confederation, and treated as a private bill to be determined by majority vote of members attending that day.

On June 7, the "national executive" was taken up in Convention. The "chief magistrate", or 'presidency' was of serious concern for a formerly colonial people fearful of concentrated power in one person. But to secure a "vigorous executive", nationalist delegates such as James Wilson (PA), Charles Pinckney (SC), and John Dickenson (DE) favored a single officer. They had someone in mind whom everyone could trust to start off the new system, George Washington.

After introducing the item for discussion, there was a prolonged silence. Benjamin Franklin (Pa) and John Rutledge (SC) had urged everyone to speak their minds freely. When addressing the issue with George Washington in the room, delegates were careful to phrase their objections to potential offenses by officers chosen in the future who would be 'president' "subsequent" to the start-up. Roger Sherman (CT), Edmund Randolph (VA) and Pierce Butler [q] (SC) all objected, preferring two or three persons in the executive, as the ancient Roman Republic had when appointing consuls.

Nathaniel Gorham was Chair of the Committee of the Whole, so Washington sat in the Virginia delegation where everyone could see how he voted. The vote for a one-man 'presidency' carried 7-for, 3-against, New York, Delaware and Maryland in the negative. Virginia, along with George Washington, had voted yes. As of that vote for a single 'presidency', George Mason (VA) gravely announced to the floor, that as of that moment, the Confederation's federal government was "in some measure dissolved by the meeting of this Convention." [74]

Rufus King, MA
district courts = flexibility

The Convention was following the Randolph Plan for an agenda, taking each resolve in turn to move proceedings forward. They returned to items when overnight coalitions required adjustment to previous votes to secure a majority on the next item of business. June 19, and it was Randolph's Ninth Resolve next, about the national court system. On the table was the nationalist proposal for the inferior (lower) courts in the national judiciary.

Pure 1776 republicanism had not given much credit to judges, who would set themselves up apart from and sometimes contradicting the state legislature, the voice of the sovereign people. Under the precedent of English Common Law according to William Blackstone, the legislature, following proper procedure, was for all constitutional purposes, "the people." This dismissal of unelected officers sometimes took an unintended turn among the people. One of John Adams's clients believed the First Continental Congress in 1775 had assumed the sovereignty of Parliament, and so abolished all previously established courts in Massachusetts. [75]

In the Convention, looking at a national system, Judge Wilson (PA) sought appointments by a single person to avoid legislative payoffs. Judge Rutledge (SC) was against anything but one national court, a Supreme Court to receive appeals from the highest state courts, like the South Carolina court he presided over as Chancellor. Rufus King (MA) thought national district courts in each state would cost less than appeals that otherwise would go to the 'supreme court' in the national capital. National inferior courts passed but making appointments by 'congress' was crossed out and left blank so the delegates could take it up later after "maturer reflection." [75]

Re-allocate power Edit

The Constitutional Convention created a new, unprecedented form of government by reallocating powers of government. Every previous national authority had been either a centralized government, or a "confederation of sovereign constituent states." The American power-sharing was unique at the time. The sources and changes of power were up to the states. The foundations of government and extent of power came from both national and state sources. But the new government would have a national operation. [76] To meet their goals of cementing the Union and securing citizen rights, Framers allocated power among executive, senate, house and judiciary of the central government. But each state government in their variety continued exercising powers in their own sphere. [77]

Increase Congress Edit

The Convention did not start with national powers from scratch, it began with the powers already vested in the Congress of the Confederation with control of the military, international relations and commerce. [r] The Constitution added ten more. Five were minor relative to power sharing, including business and manufacturing protections. [s] One important new power authorized Congress to protect states from the "domestic violence" of riot and civil disorder, but it was conditioned by a state request. [79]

The Constitution increased Congressional power to organize, arm and discipline the state militias, to use them to enforce the laws of Congress, suppress rebellions within the states and repel invasions. But the Second Amendment would ensure that Congressional power could not be used to disarm state militias. [80] [81]

Taxation substantially increased the power of Congress relative to the states. It was limited by restrictions, forbidding taxes on exports, per capita taxes, requiring import duties to be uniform and that taxes be applied to paying U.S. debt. But the states were stripped of their ability to levy taxes on imports, which was at the time, "by far the most bountiful source of tax revenues".

Congress had no further restrictions relating to political economy. It could institute protective tariffs, for instance. Congress overshadowed state power regulating interstate commerce the United States would be the "largest area of free trade in the world." [82] The most undefined grant of power was the power to "make laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the Constitution's enumerated powers. [80]

Limit governments Edit

As of ratification, sovereignty was no longer to be theoretically indivisible. With a wide variety of specific powers among different branches of national governments and thirteen republican state governments, now "each of the portions of powers delegated to the one or to the other . is . sovereign with regard to its proper objects". [83] There were some powers that remained beyond the reach of both national powers and state powers, [t] so the logical seat of American "sovereignty" belonged directly with the people-voters of each state. [84]

Besides expanding Congressional power, the Constitution limited states and central government. Six limits on the national government addressed property rights such as slavery and taxes. [u] Six protected liberty such as prohibiting ex post facto laws and no religious tests for national offices in any state, even if they had them for state offices. [v] Five were principles of a republic, as in legislative appropriation. [w] These restrictions lacked systematic organization, but all constitutional prohibitions were practices that the British Parliament had "legitimately taken in the absence of a specific denial of the authority." [85]

The regulation of state power presented a "qualitatively different" undertaking. In the state constitutions, the people did not enumerate powers. They gave their representatives every right and authority not explicitly reserved to themselves. The Constitution extended the limits that the states had previously imposed upon themselves under the Articles of Confederation, forbidding taxes on imports and disallowing treaties among themselves, for example. [x]

In light of the repeated abuses by ex post facto laws passed by the state legislatures, 1783–1787, the Constitution prohibited ex post facto laws and bills of attainder to protect United States citizen property rights and right to a fair trial. Congressional power of the purse was protected by forbidding taxes or restraint on interstate commerce and foreign trade. States could make no law "impairing the obligation of contracts." [86] [y] To check future state abuses the framers searched for a way to review and veto state laws harming the national welfare or citizen rights. They rejected proposals for Congressional veto of state laws and gave the Supreme Court appellate case jurisdiction over state law because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. [88] The United States had such a geographical extent that it could only be safely governed using a combination of republics. Federal judicial districts would follow those state lines. [84]

Population power Edit

The British had relied upon a concept of "virtual representation" to give legitimacy to their House of Commons. According to many in Parliament, it was not necessary to elect anyone from a large port city, or the American colonies, because the representatives of "rotten boroughs", mostly abandoned medieval fair towns with twenty voters, "virtually represented" them. Philadelphia in the colonies was second in population only to London. [89]

"They were all Englishmen, supposed to be a single people, with one definable interest. Legitimacy came from membership in Parliament of the sovereign realm, not elections from people. As Blackstone explained, the Member is "not bound . to consult with, or take the advice, of his constituents." As Constitutional historian Gordon Wood elaborated, "The Commons of England contained all of the people's power and were considered to be the very persons of the people they represented." [90]

While the English "virtual representation" was hardening into a theory of parliamentary sovereignty, the American theory of representation was moving towards a theory of sovereignty of the people. In their new constitutions written since 1776, Americans required community residency of voters and representatives, expanded suffrage, and equalized populations in voting districts. There was a sense that representation "had to be proportioned to the population." [91] The Convention would apply the new principle of "sovereignty of the people" both to the House of Representatives, and to the United States Senate.

House changes Edit

Once the Great Compromise was reached, delegates in Convention then agreed to a decennial census to count the population. The Americans themselves did not allow for universal suffrage for all adults. [z] Their sort of "virtual representation" said that those voting in a community could understand and themselves represent non-voters when they had like interests that were unlike other political communities. There were enough differences among people in different American communities for those differences to have a meaningful social and economic reality. Thus New England colonial legislatures would not tax communities which had not yet elected representatives. When the royal governor of Georgia refused to allow representation to be seated from four new counties, the legislature refused to tax them. [93]

The 1776 Americans had begun to demand expansion of the franchise, and in each step, they found themselves pressing towards a philosophical "actuality of consent." [94] The Convention determined that the power of the people, should be felt in the House of Representatives. For the U.S. Congress, persons alone were counted. Property was not counted.

Senate changes Edit

The Convention found it more difficult to give expression to the will of the people in new states. What state might be "lawfully arising" outside the boundaries of the existing thirteen states? [95] The new government was like the old, to be made up of pre-existing states. Now there was to be admission of new states. Regular order would provide new states by state legislatures for Kentucky, Tennessee and Maine. But the Congress of the Confederation had by its Northwest Ordinance presented the Convention with a new issue. Settlers in the Northwest Territory might one day constitute themselves into "no more than five" states. More difficult still, most delegates anticipated adding alien peoples of Canada, Louisiana and Florida to United States territory. [96] Generally in American history, European citizens of empire were given U.S. citizenship on territorial acquisition. Should they become states?

Some delegates were reluctant to expand into any so "remote wilderness". It would retard the commercial development of the east. They would be easily influenced, "foreign gold" would corrupt them. Western peoples were the least desirable Americans, only good for perpetual provinces. [97] There were so many foreigners moving out west, there was no telling how things would turn out. These were poor people, they could not pay their fair share of taxes. It would be "suicide" for the original states. New states could become a majority in the Senate, they would abuse their power, "enslaving" the original thirteen. If they also loved liberty, and could not tolerate eastern state dominance, they would be justified in civil war. Western trade interests could drag the country into an inevitable war with Spain for the Mississippi River. [98] As time wore on, any war for the Mississippi River was obviated by the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 1812 American victory at New Orleans.

Even if there were to be western states, a House representation of 40,000 might be too small, too easy for the westerners. "States" had been declared out west already. They called themselves republics, and set up their own courts directly from the people without colonial charters. In Transylvania, Westsylvania, Franklin, and Vandalia, "legislatures" met with emissaries from British and Spanish empires in violation of the Articles of Confederation, just as the sovereign states had done. [aa] In the Constitution as written, no majorities in Congress could break up the larger states without their consent. [96]

"New state" advocates had no fear of western states achieving a majority one day. For example, the British sought to curb American expansion, which caused the angered colonists to agitate for independence. Follow the same rule, get the same results. Congress has never been able to discover a better rule than majority rule. If they grow, let them rule. As they grow, they must get all their supplies from eastern businesses. Character is not determined by points of a compass. States admitted are equals, they will be made up of our brethren. Commit to right principles, even if the right way, one day, benefits other states. They will be free like ourselves, their pride will not allow anything but equality. [100]

It was at this time in the Convention that Reverend Manasseh Cutler arrived to lobby for western land sales. He brought acres of land grants to parcel out. Their sales would fund most of the U.S. government expenditures for its first few decades. There were allocations for the Ohio Company stockholders at the Convention, and for others delegates too. Good to his word, in December 1787, Cutler led a small band of pioneers into the Ohio Valley. [101]

The provision for admitting new states became relevant at the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France. It was constitutionally justifiable under the "treaty making" power of the federal government. The agrarian advocates sought to make the purchase of land that had never been administered, conquered, or formally ceded to any of the original thirteen states. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans would divide the Louisiana Purchase into states, speeding land sales to finance the federal government with no new taxes. The new populations of new states would swamp the commercial states in the Senate. They would populate the House with egalitarian Democrat-Republicans to overthrow the Federalist Party. [ab] Jefferson dropped the proposal of Constitutional amendment to permit the purchase, and with it, his notion of a confederation of sovereign states. [102]

Final document Edit

After nearly four months of debate, on September 8, 1787, the final text of the Constitution was set down and revised. Then, an official copy of the document was engrossed by Jacob Shallus. The effort consisted of copying the text (prelude, articles and endorsement) on four sheets of vellum parchment, made from treated animal skin and measuring approximately 28 inches (71 cm) by 23 inches (58 cm), probably with a goose quill. Shallus engrossed the entire document except for the list of states at the end of the document, which are in Alexander Hamilton's handwriting. [103] On September 17, 1787, following a speech given by Benjamin Franklin, 39 delegates endorsed and submitted the Constitution to the Congress of the Confederation. [104]

Massachusetts' Rufus King assessed the Convention as a creature of the states, independent of the Congress of the Confederation, submitting its proposal to that Congress only to satisfy forms. Though amendments were debated, they were all defeated. On September 28, 1787, the Congress of the Confederation resolved "unanimously" to transmit the Constitution to state legislatures for submitting to a ratification convention according to the Constitutional procedure. [105] Several states enlarged the numbers qualified just for electing ratification delegates. In doing so, they went beyond the Constitution's provision for the most voters for the state legislature. [ac]

Delaware, on December 7, 1787, became the first State to ratify the new Constitution, with its vote being unanimous. Pennsylvania ratified on December 12, 1787, by a vote of 46 to 23 (66.67%). New Jersey ratified on December 19, 1787, and Georgia on January 2, 1788, both unanimously. The requirement of ratification by nine states, set by Article Seven of the Constitution, was met when New Hampshire voted to ratify, on June 21, 1788.

In New York, fully two thirds of the convention delegates were at first opposed to the Constitution. Hamilton led the Federalist campaign, which included the fast-paced appearance of The Federalist Papers in New York newspapers. An attempt to attach conditions to ratification almost succeeded, but on July 26, 1788, New York ratified, with a recommendation that a bill of rights be appended. The vote was close – yeas 30 (52.6%), nays 27 – due largely to Hamilton's forensic abilities and his reaching a few key compromises with moderate anti-Federalists led by Melancton Smith. [ad]

Following Massachusetts's lead, the Federalist minorities in both Virginia and New York were able to obtain ratification in convention by linking ratification to recommended amendments. [111] A minority of the Constitution's critics continued to oppose the Constitution. Maryland's Luther Martin argued that the federal convention had exceeded its authority he still called for amending the Articles. [112] Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation stated that the union created under the Articles was "perpetual" and that any alteration must be "agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State". [113]

However, the unanimity required under the Articles made all attempts at reform impossible. Martin's allies such as New York's John Lansing Jr., dropped moves to obstruct the Convention's process. They began to take exception to the Constitution "as it was", seeking amendments. Several conventions saw supporters for "amendments before" shift to a position of "amendments after" for the sake of staying in the Union. New York Anti's "circular letter" was sent to each state legislature on 26 July 1788 (the same date on which that state's legislature voted to ratify the Constitution) proposing a second constitutional convention for "amendments before". It failed in the state legislatures. Ultimately only North Carolina and Rhode Island would wait for amendments from Congress before ratifying. [111]

The Constitution was ratified by the states
in the following order: [114]
# Date State Votes
Yea Nay
1 December 7, 1787 Delaware 30 0
2 December 12, 1787 Pennsylvania 46 23
3 December 18, 1787 New Jersey 38 0
4 January 2, 1788 Georgia 26 0
5 January 9, 1788 Connecticut 128 40
6 February 6, 1788 Massachusetts 187 168
7 April 28, 1788 Maryland 63 11
8 May 23, 1788 South Carolina 149 73
9 June 21, 1788 New Hampshire 57 47
10 June 25, 1788 Virginia 89 79
11 July 26, 1788 New York 30 27
12 November 21, 1789 North Carolina 194 77
13 May 29, 1790 Rhode Island 34 32

Article VII of the proposed constitution stipulated that only nine of the thirteen states would have to ratify for the new government to go into effect for the participating states. [115] By the end of July 1788, eleven states had ratified the Constitution, and soon thereafter, the process of organizing the new government began. On September 13, 1788, the Congress of the Confederation certified that the new Constitution had been ratified by more than enough states for it to go into effect. Congress fixed the city of New York as the temporary seat of the new government and set the dates for the election of representatives and presidential electors. It also set the date for operations to begin under the new government. [116] This occurred on March 4, 1789, when the First Congress convened.

The membership of the new Congress was decidedly federalist. In the eleven-state (minus North Carolina and Rhode Island) Senate 20 were Federalist and two Anti-federalist (both from Virginia). The House included 48 Federalists and 11 Anti-federalists (from four states: Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia). [117] On April 6 the House and Senate held a joint meeting to count the electoral vote. George Washington was unanimously elected the first president, even receiving the electoral vote of ardent anti-federalist Patrick Henry. [118] John Adams of Massachusetts was elected vice president. Both were sworn into office on April 30, 1789. The business of setting up the new government was completed.

Anti-Federalists' fears of personal oppression by Congress were allayed by twelve amendments passed under the floor leadership of James Madison during the first session of Congress. The ten of these that were ratified by the required number of state legislatures became known as the Bill of Rights. [119] Objections to a potentially remote federal judiciary were reconciled with 13 federal courts (11 states, plus Maine and Kentucky), and three federal riding circuits out of the Supreme Court: Eastern, Middle and South. [120] Suspicion of a powerful federal executive was answered by Washington's cabinet appointments of once-Anti-Federalists Edmund Jennings Randolph as Attorney General and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. [121] [122] What Constitutional historian Pauline Maier termed a national "dialogue between power and liberty" had begun anew. [123]

Since the beginning of federal operations under the Constitution in 1789 through the beginning of 2013, approximately 11,539 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced in the United States Congress. [124] Of these, thirty-three have been approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Twenty-seven of these amendments have been ratified and are now part of the Constitution. The first ten amendments were adopted and ratified simultaneously and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Prior to the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which languished for 202 years, 7 months, 12 days before being ratified (submitted for ratification in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights, but not ratified until 1992), the Twenty-second Amendment held the record for longest time taken to successfully complete the ratification process – 3 years, 11 months, 6 days. The Twenty-sixth Amendment holds the record for shortest time taken – 3 months, 8 days. [125] Six amendments adopted by Congress and sent to the states have not been ratified by the required number of states and are not part of the Constitution. Four of these are still technically open and pending, one is closed and has failed by its own terms, and one is closed and has failed by the terms of the resolution proposing it.

Bill of Rights Edit

Much of opposition to the proposed Constitution within several states arose, not because the machinery of the new frame of government was considered unworkable or because strengthening the union between the 13 states viewed as undesirable. The debates in the state ratifying conventions centered around the absence of anything equivalent to the bill of rights found in several state constitutions. [126] George Mason, a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, refused to sign the document because he felt it did not specifically spell out or protect individual rights sufficiently. He also opposed the constitution when it was brought before the state for ratification. He acquiesced and the convention voted narrowly to give its assent only after it was decided that a list of twenty proposed amendments be sent along with the state's resolution of ratification. Delegates to Massachusetts' convention had many of the same concerns, and along with its notification of approval made a request for nine alterations, the first among them being "that it be explicitly declared that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved to the states to be exercised by them." New York, not to be outdone, appended a list of thirty-two requested amendments plus a lengthy statement of impressions and explanations about the new Constitution to their affirmative vote. [126]

The sharp Anti-Federalist critique of the Constitution did not abate after it became operational, and by the time the First Congress convened in March 1789, there existed widespread sentiment in both the House and Senate in favor of making alterations. That September, Congress adopted twelve amendments and sent to the states for ratification. Ten of these were ratified by the required number of states in December 1791 and became part of the Constitution. These amendments enumerate freedoms not explicitly indicated in the main body of the Constitution, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, and free assembly the right to keep and bear arms freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, security in personal effects, and freedom from warrants issued without probable cause indictment by a grand jury for a capital or "infamous crime" guarantee of a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury and prohibition of double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States.

Subsequent amendments Edit

Amendments to the Constitution subsequent to the Bill of Rights cover a wide range of subjects. Several have added significant content to the original document. One of the most far-reaching is the Fourteenth, ratified in 1868, which establishes a clear and simple definition of citizenship and guarantees equal treatment under the law. Also significant are the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth, which were enacted to extend the right to vote to persons previously considered ineligible and also to protect their exercise of that right. One Amendment, the Eighteenth, which criminalized the production, transport and sale of alcohol nationwide, was later repealed by another, the Twenty-first. Nine ratified amendments (11, [127] 12, [128] 13, [127] 14, [129] 16, [130] 17, [131] 20, [132] 22, [133] and 25 [134] ) have explicitly superseded or modified the text of the original Constitution.

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3a α Regarding how the apportionment
of representatives and direct taxes
among the states is determined.
Superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 Regarding the senators from each
state being chosen by the
legislature of that state.
Superseded by the Seventeenth Amendment, Section 1 β
Article 1, Section 3, Clause 2 Regarding the filling of vacancies
in the senate.
Superseded by the Seventeenth Amendment, Section 2
Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2 Regarding when each year the
Congress must assemble.
Modified by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 2
Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4 Regarding Congress' restricted
taxation power.
Superseded by the Sixteenth Amendment
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1b Regarding the length of the
president's and vice president's
term of office.
Temporarily modified γ by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 1
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3 Regarding Electoral College
voting procedures.
Superseded by the Twelfth Amendment δ
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 Regarding eligibility for
holding the office of president.
Modified by the Twenty-second Amendment, Section 1
Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6 Regarding presidential powers and
duties if the presidency is vacant
or if the President is unable to
discharge said powers and duties.
Superseded by the Twenty-fifth Amendment
Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1 Regarding the diversity jurisdiction
given to the judiciary to hear cases
between a state and citizens
of another state.
Modified by the Eleventh Amendment
Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 Regarding persons held (involuntarily)
to service or labor.
Superseded by the Thirteenth Amendment, Section 1
α – In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment rendered the formula prescribed in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, whereby only three-fifths of all other Persons (slaves) were counted when determining a state's total population for apportionment purposes, moot de jure. Three years later, the entire first sentence of the clause was superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2. This later amendment however, left Congress' taxation power unchanged, as the replacement clause in it made no mention of apportionment of direct taxes. Even so, Congress' ability to levy taxes was still governed by Article 1 Section 9 Clause 4 of the Constitution.
β – Section 1 of the Seventeenth Amendment, regarding the six-year term of office for senators, was shortened for those persons whose term as senator ended on March 4, 1935, 1937, and 1939, by the interval between January 3 and March 4, of that year (61 days) by the Twentieth Amendment, which became part of the Constitution on January 23, 1933 and the changes made by Section 1 took effect on October 15, 1933. This amendment also had a de facto effect on Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1a, for although the election was held as prescribed, the term of office for the persons elected to Congress in November 1932, was in effect shortened by the same interval of days.
γ – The term of office for the persons elected President and Vice President (Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner respectively) in November 1932, was shortened by the interval between January 20 and March 4, 1937 (44 days), by the Twentieth Amendment.
δ – The fourth sentence of the Twelfth Amendment, regarding the Vice President acting as President if the House, when the choice is theirs to make, has not elected a President by March 4, has been superseded by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 3.

Expand democracy Edit

In the early twentieth century Lochner era, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional various state laws that limited labor contracts. The Constitution was criticized as putting the government at the beck and call of big business. [135]

More recent criticism has often been academic and limited to particular features. University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson wonders whether it makes sense for the Connecticut Compromise to give "Wyoming the same number of votes as California, which has roughly seventy times the population". [136] Levinson thinks this imbalance causes a "steady redistribution of resources from large states to small states." [136] Levinson is critical of the Electoral College as it allows the possibility of electing presidents who do not win the majority, or even plurality, of votes. [136] Five times in American history, presidents have been elected despite failing to win a plurality of the popular vote: 1824 (John Quincy Adams), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison), 2000 (George W. Bush) and 2016 (Donald Trump). [137] [138] [139] [140] The current impeachment powers do not give the people a quick way to remove incompetent or ill presidents, in his view. [140] Others have criticized gerrymandering. [141]

Yale professor Robert A. Dahl saw a problem with an American tendency towards worship of the Constitution itself. He sees aspects of American governance which are "unusual and potentially undemocratic: the federal system, the bicameral legislature, judicial review, presidentialism, and the electoral college system." [142] Levinson and Labunski and others have called for a Second Constitutional Convention, [143] although professors like Dahl believe there is no real hope this would ever happen. [142] French journalist Jean-Philippe Immarigeon wrote in Harper's that the "nearly 230-year-old constitution stretched past the limits of its usefulness", and suggested key problem points were the inability to call an election when government became gridlocked, a several month period between election of a president and when he or she takes office, and inability of the lower house of Congress to influence serious foreign policy decisions such as ending a war when faced with a veto. [144]

University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato advocates an amendment to organize presidential primaries. [145] Sabato details more objections in his book A More Perfect Constitution. [145] [146] He opposes life tenure for Federal Court judges, including Supreme Court justices. [146] He also writes that "If the 26 least populated states voted as a bloc, they would control the U.S. Senate with a total of just under 17% of the country's population." [146] Sabato further contends that the Constitution is in need of an overhaul, and argues that only a national constitutional convention can bring the document up to date and settle many of the issues that have arisen over the past two centuries. [147]

States' rights Edit

In United States history, four periods of widespread Constitutional criticism have been characterized by the idea that specific political powers belong to state governments and not to the federal government—a doctrine commonly known as states' rights. At each stage, states' rights advocates failed to develop a preponderance in public opinion or to sustain the democratic political will required to alter the generally held constitutional understanding and political practice in the United States. At its adoption among the people in the state ratification conventions, the "men of original principles" opposed the new national government as violating the Whig philosophy generally accepted among the original thirteen colonies in 1776. According to this view, Congress as a legislature should be only equal to any state legislature, and only the people in each state might be sovereign. They are now referred to as the Anti-Federalists in American historiography. The proponents of "state sovereignty" and "states rights" were outvoted in eleven of thirteen state ratification conventions, then thirteen of thirteen, to "ordain and establish" the Constitution.

During Andrew Jackson's administration, South Carolina objected to U.S. government's "tariff of abominations" collected as federal duties in Charleston Harbor. The Nullification Crisis ensued. Justification for the nullifiers was found in the U.S. Senate speeches and writings of John C. Calhoun. He defended slavery against the Constitutional provisions allowing its statutory regulation or its eventual abolition by Constitutional amendment, most notably in his Disquisition on Government. The crisis was averted when President Jackson, a former Major General, declared he would march a U.S. army into South Carolina and hang the first nullifier he saw from the first tree, and a new negotiated tariff, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, satisfactory to South Carolina was enacted. Despite this, a states-rights-based defense of slavery persisted amongst Southerners until the American Civil War conversely, Northerners explored nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Abraham Lincoln kept a portrait of Andrew Jackson above his desk at the U.S. War Department for the duration of the American Civil War as a clear symbol of Lincoln's intent and resolve as well as to draw attention to an executive precedent for Lincoln's actions.

In the mid-19th Century during the administrations of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, the United States suffered a tragic passage through the Civil War and Reconstruction. An important survey of the philosophical and legal underpinnings of "States Rights" as held by secessionists and Lost Cause advocates afterwards is found in the speeches of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Davis defended secession by appealing to the "original principles" of the Founders' 1776 Revolutionary generation, and by expanding on William Blackstone's doctrine of legislative supremacy. By the elections of 1872, all states which had been admitted to the United States in accordance with the Constitution were fully represented in the U.S. Congress.

Following the Supreme Court 1954 holding in Brown v. Board of Education, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used National Guard and U.S. paratroopers to enforce the rulings of the Federal Courts as they pertained to the Constitution. The "States Rights" doctrine was again appealed to during the mid-20th Century resistance to racial integration in the schools, notably in Arkansas' Little Rock Nine, Alabama's Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, and Virginia's Massive Resistance. Public schools in every state are now racially integrated by law under the authority of the U.S. Constitution.

The tradition is seen in many shorter episodes of limited minority protest against the United States. During the War of 1812, Federalists conducted a Hartford Convention proposing New England secession during wartime to reopen trade with the declared enemy of the United States. It led to accusations of treason and the demise of the Federalist Party as a force in American politics. In 1921, the Maryland Attorney General sued to block woman suffrage. He argued in Leser v. Garnett that state legislatures were Constitutionally the sole determiners of who should vote in what federal or state elections, and that the 19th Amendment was improper. The Supreme Court's judicial review of the state court findings held that the 19th Amendment was Constitutional, and that it applied to the women's right to vote in every state. Women now vote in every state under the authority of the U.S. Constitution.

One exceptional example of "states rights" persuading overwhelming majorities in a democratic and sustained way, and so transforming the nation came in the John Adams administration. Fear had spread that radical democratic sentiment might turn subversive as it had in the French Reign of Terror. But the Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Acts meant to preempt the danger led to suppression of opposition press. The political reaction in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions sparked public opposition against the Federalist policy and led to twenty-four years of Constitutionally elected Democratic-Republican Party rule through six administrations of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, opponents of federal laws prohibiting the sale and possession of marijuana have based their objections partially on states' rights grounds, as have opponents of federal laws and regulations pertaining to firearms. States' rights under the constitution has also been recently raised as an issue on a number of other occasions, most notably regarding Common Core, the Affordable Care Act, and same-sex marriage. [148]

At first, little interest was shown in the parchment object itself. Madison had custody of it as Secretary of State (1801–1809) but having left Washington, he had lost track of it in the years leading to his death. A publisher had access to it in 1846 for a book on the Constitution. In 1883 historian J. Franklin Jameson found the parchment folded in a small tin box on the floor of a closet at the State, War and Navy Building. In 1894 the State Department sealed the Declaration and Constitution between two glass plates and kept them in a safe. [149]

The two parchment documents were turned over to the Library of Congress by executive order, and in 1924 President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the bronze-and-marble shrine for public display of the Constitution in the main building. The parchments were laid over moisture absorbing cellulose paper, vacuum-sealed between double panes of insulated plate glass, and protected from light by a gelatin film. Although building construction of the Archives Building was completed in 1935, in December 1941 they were moved from the Library of Congress until September 1944, and stored at the U.S. Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. [150] In 1951 following a study by the National Bureau of Standards to protect from atmosphere, insects, mold and light, the parchments were re-encased with special light filters, inert helium gas and proper humidity. They were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration in 1952. [151]

Since 1952, the "Charters of Freedom" have been displayed in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building. Visual inspections have been enhanced by electronic imaging. Changes in the cases led to removal from their cases July 2001, preservation treatment by conservators, and installment in new encasements for public display in September 2003. [152] [153] [154]

The United States Constitution

In May 1787, 55 men from twelve states met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. At the outset, however, Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph presented a plan prepared by James Madison for the design of an entirely new national government. The proposed plan would lead to a four-month process of argument, debate, compromise, and the development of the Constitution of the United States.

On September 17, 1787, the final draft of the new Constitution was read to the 42 delegates still at the convention. Of the 42 men present, 39 affixed their signatures to the document and notified the Confederation Congress that their work was finished. The Congress, in turn, submitted the document to the states for ratification, where more argument, debate, and compromise would take place. The state of Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution. On June 21, 1788, just nine months after the state ratification process had begun, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, and the Constitution went into effect.

In the two centuries since its ratification, many changes have been made to the Constitution. However, the basic premises on which the Constitution was framed--the protection of individual rights and liberties, limited government with separation of powers and checks and balances, the federal system, and judicial review--remain at the heart of the "living" document.

Constitution of the United States - Preamble, Articles & Summary

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Article. I Annotations

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years and each Senator shall have one Vote.

Immediately after they shall be assembled in Consequence of the first Election, they shall be divided as equally as may be into three Classes. The Seats of the Senators of the first Class shall be vacated at the Expiration of the second Year, of the second Class at the Expiration of the fourth Year, and of the third Class at the Expiration of the sixth Year, so that one third may be chosen every second Year and if Vacancies happen by Resignation, or otherwise, during the Recess of the Legislature of any State, the Executive thereof may make temporary Appointments until the next Meeting of the Legislature, which shall then fill such Vacancies.

No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

The Senate shall chuse their other Officers, and also a President pro tempore, in the Absence of the Vice President, or when he shall exercise the Office of President of the United States.

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

The Congress shall assemble at least once in every Year, and such Meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall by Law appoint a different Day.

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.

All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other Bills.

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law. But in all such Cases the Votes of both Houses shall be determined by Yeas and Nays, and the Names of the Persons voting for and against the Bill shall be entered on the Journal of each House respectively. If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law

Every Order, Resolution, or Vote to which the Concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of Adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States and before the Same shall take Effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives, according to the Rules and Limitations prescribed in the Case of a Bill.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States

To establish Post Offices and post Roads

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years

To provide and maintain a Navy

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repeal Invasions

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of Particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings--And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases or Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census of Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear or pay Duties in another.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal coin Money emit Bills of Credit make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing it's inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.

Article. II Annotations

The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representatives from each State having one Vote a quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.

The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.

The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be encreased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:--''I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.''

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Article. III Annotations

The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority--to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls--to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction--to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party--to Controversies between two or more States--between a State and Citizens of another State--between Citizens of different States--between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.

The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.

The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

Article. IV Annotations

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.

A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State.

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

Article. V Annotations

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

Article. VI Annotations

All Debts contracted and Engagements entered into, before the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be as valid against the United States under this Constitution, as under the Confederation.

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Article. VII Annotations

The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the same.

In Convention Monday, September 17 th 1787. Present The States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, M R Hamilton from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

That the preceeding Constitution be laid before the United States in Congress assembled, and that it is the Opinion of this Convention, that it should afterwards be submitted to a Convention of Delegates, chosen in each State by the People thereof, under the Recommendation of its Legislature, for their Assent and Ratification and that each Convention assenting to, and ratifying the Same, should give Notice thereof to the United States in Congress assembled. Resolved, That it is the Opinion of this Convention, that as soon as the Conventions of nine States shall have ratified this Constitution, the United States in Congress assembled should fix a Day on which Electors should be appointed by the States which shall have ratified the same, and a Day on which the Electors should assemble to vote for the President, and the Time and Place for commencing Proceedings under this Constitution. That after such Publication the Electors should be appointed, and the Senators and Representatives elected: That the Electors should meet on the Day fixed for the Election of the President, and should transmit their Votes certified, signed, sealed and directed, as the Constitution requires, to the Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled, that the Senators and Representatives should convene at the Time and Place assigned that the Senators should appoint a President of the Senate, for the sole Purpose of receiving, opening and counting the Votes for President and, that after he shall be chosen, the Congress, together with the President, should, without Delay, proceed to execute this Constitution.

Ratification Dates and Votes

Each of the original thirteen states in the United States was invited to ratify the Constitution created in Philadelphia in 1787. The Constitution specified that nine ratifications would be sufficient to consider the Constitution accepted.

Some states ratified quickly, others had to hold several conventions to accept the Constitution — though all eventually did. This page lists the votes of each state's conventions.

September 17, 1787: The Constitutional Convention adjourns.

September 28, 1787: The Congress agrees to send the Constitution to the states for debate and ratification.

December 7, 1787: Delaware ratifies. Vote: 30 for, 0 against.

December 12, 1787: Pennsylvania ratifies. Vote: 46 for, 23 against.

December 18, 1787: New Jersey ratifies. Vote: 38 for, 0 against.

January 2, 1788: Georgia ratifies. Vote: 26 for, 0 against.

January 9, 1788: Connecticut ratifies. Vote: 128 for, 40 against.

February 6, 1788: Massachusetts ratifies. Vote: 187 for, 168 against.

March 24, 1788: Rhode Island popular referendum rejects. Vote: 237 for, 2708 against.

April 28, 1788: Maryland ratifies. Vote: 63 for, 11 against.

May 23, 1788: South Carolina ratifies. Vote: 149 for, 73 against.

June 21, 1788: New Hampshire ratifies. Vote: 57 for, 47 against. Minimum requirement for ratification met.

June 25, 1788: Virginia ratifies. Vote: 89 for, 79 against.

July 26, 1788: New York ratifies. Vote: 30 for, 27 against.

August 2, 1788: North Carolina convention adjourns without ratifying by a vote of 185 in favor of adjournment, 84 opposed.

November 21, 1789: North Carolina ratifies. Vote: 194 for, 77 against.

May 29, 1790: Rhode Island ratifies. Vote: 34 for, 32 against.

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