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United States Constitution

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Page one of the original copy of the Constitution

Created Ratified Location

September 17, 1787 June 21, 1788 National Archives, Washington, D.C. Authors Delegates of the Philadelphia Convention Signatories 39 of the 55 Philadelphia Convention delegates Purpose National constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation United States of America

This article is part of the series:

United States Constitution Original text of the Constitution Preamble

Articles of the Constitution I II III IV V VI VII Amendments to the Constitution Bill of Rights I II III IV V VI VII VIII IX X Subsequent Amendments XI XII XIII XIV XV XVI XVII XVIII XIX XX XXI XXII XXIII XXIV XXV XXVI XXVII
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The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. The Constitution is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States. The Constitution creates the three branches of the national government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress; an executive branch led by the President; and a judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court. The Constitution specifies the powers and duties of each branch. The Constitution reserves all unenumerated powers to the respective states and the people, thereby establishing the federal system of government. The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and ratified by conventions in each U.S. state in the name of "The People". The Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times; the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.[1][2] The United States Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in use by any nation in the world,[3] although the Statutes of 1600, the principal part of San Marino's Constitution, is older. The Constitution holds a central place in United States law and political culture.[4] The handwritten original document penned by Jacob Shallus is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.


1 History

1.1 The First Constitution 1.2 Calling and convening 1.3 Work of the Constitutional Convention 1.3.1 Slavery o 1.4 Ratification and inauguration of the new government o 1.5 Historical influences 1.5.1 Native American Influence o 1.6 Influences on the Bill of Rights 2 Articles of the Constitution o 2.1 Preamble: Statement of purpose o 2.2 Article One: Legislative Power o 2.3 Article Two: Executive power o 2.4 Article Three: Judicial power o 2.5 Article Four: States' powers and limits o 2.6 Article Five: Amendments o 2.7 Article Six: Federal power o 2.8 Article Seven: Ratification 3 Judicial review 4 Amendments o 4.1 Successful amendments 4.1.1 The Bill of Rights (Amendments 1 to 10) 4.1.2 Subsequent amendments (11 to 27) o 4.2 Unratified amendments 5 Criticism of the Constitution 6 Original pages of the Constitution 7 Commemoration on U.S. postage 8 See also o 8.1 General o 8.2 Related documents 9 Notes 10 References o 10.1 Primary sources o 10.2 Reference books o 10.3 Secondary sources 11 Further reading 12 External links o 12.1 National Archives o 12.2 Official U.S. government sources
o o o o

12.3 Non-governmental web sites

Main article: History of the United States Constitution

The First Constitution

British Forts on independent US soil traded supplies to treaty tribes in US territory Here, Fort Mackinac, Mich. on a Lakes isle

Shays' Rebellion, mobbing "committees" disrupted 1780s cities in Ma, Ct, Pa, SC[5] Here, Paxtons threaten Philadelphia earlier.

Barbary Pirates attack a Frenchman. France paid extortion, the Articles govt could not. US lost ships, cargos, crews enslaved. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were the first constitution of the United States of America.[6] The problem with the United States government under the Articles of Confederation was, in the words of George Washington, no money.[7] Congress could print money, but by 1786, it was useless. It could borrow money, but it could not pay it back.[8] Under the Articles, Congress requisitioned money from the states. But no state paid all of their requisition; Georgia paid nothing. A few states paid the US an amount equal to interest on the national debt owed to their citizens, but no more.[9] Nothing was paid toward the interest on debt owed foreign governments. By 1786, the United States was about to default on its contractual obligations when the principal came due.[10] Most of the US troops in the 625-man US Army were deployed facing British forts on American soil. They had not been paid; they were deserting and the remainder threatened

mutiny.[11] Spain closed New Orleans to American commerce. The US protested to no effect. The Barbary Pirates began seizing American commercial ships. The US had no funds to pay their extortion demands.[12] States such as New York and South Carolina violated the peace treaty with Britain by prosecuting Loyalists for wartime activity. The US had no more credit if another military crisis required action.[13] In Massachusetts during Shays' Rebellion, Congress had no money; General Benjamin Lincoln had to raise funds among Boston merchants to pay for a volunteer army.[14] Congress was paralyzed. It could do nothing significant without nine states, and some legislative business required all thirteen. By April 1786, there had been only three days out of five months with nine states present. When nine states did show up, if there were only one member of a state on the floor, that states vote did not count. If a delegation were evenly divided, the division was duly noted in the Journal, but there was no vote from that state towards a nine-count.[15] States, in violation of the Articles, laid embargoes, negotiated unilaterally abroad, provided for armies and made war. [16] The Articles Congress had virtually ceased trying to govern.[17] The vision of a respectable nation among nations seemed to be fading in the eyes of such men as Virginias George Washington and James Madison, New Yorks Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, Pennsylvanias Benjamin Franklin and George Clymer, and Massachusetts Henry Knox and Rufus King. The dream of a republic, a nation without hereditary rulers, with power derived from the people in frequent elections, was in doubt.

Calling and convening

In September 1786, commissioners from five states met in the Annapolis Convention to discuss adjustments to the Articles of Confederation that would improve commerce. They invited state representatives to convene in Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the federal government. After debate, 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.[20] Twelve states, Rhode Island being the only exception, accepted this invitation and sent delegates to convene 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, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would propose a Constitution with a fundamentally new design.[21] The Constitutional Convention voted to keep the debates secret, so that the delegates could speak freely. Of those participating, ten members would also number in the 33 chosen by their state legislatures for the Articles Congress that September. [22]

Current knowledge of the drafting and construction of the United States Constitution comes primarily from the diaries left by James Madison, who kept a complete record of the proceedings at the Constitutional Convention.[23]

Work of the Constitutional Convention

See also: Constitutional Convention (United States)

The Philadelphia Convention George Washington will be President of the Convention, then President of the US The Virginia Plan was the unofficial agenda for the Convention, and was drafted chiefly by James Madison, considered to be "The Father of the Constitution" for his major contributions.[23] It was weighted toward the interests of the larger states, including the following:

A bicameral legislature of a House proportioned to population and variable state representation in a Senate[24] An executive chosen by the legislature A judiciary, with life-terms of service and vague powers The national legislature would be able to veto state laws

An alternative proposal, William Paterson's New Jersey Plan, contained proposals geared toward smaller states:

A unicameral national legislature with each state legislature sending an equal number to represent it An executive branch appointed by the legislature A judicial branch appointed by the executive.[25]

Roger Sherman of Connecticut brokered The Great Compromise whereby the House would represent the people and a Senate would represent the states.[26]

Slavery The contentious issue of slavery was too controversial to be resolved during the Convention. As in many of its issues, there was a compromise. The Articles of Confederation did not allow for the abolition of slavery, but the Convention would provide for its regulation and eventual extinction.[27] On the other hand, the cost of keeping Georgia and South Carolina agreeable to the Constitution eventually required that the original Constitution contain four provisions tacitly allowing slavery to continue for the next 20 years.[28] Section 9 of Article I allowed the continued "importation" of such persons, Section 2 of Article IV prohibited the provision of assistance to escaping persons and required their return if successful and Section 2 of Article I defined other persons as "three-fifths" of a person for calculations of each state's official population for representation and federal taxation.[29] Article V prohibited any amendments or legislation changing the provision regarding slave importation until 1808, thereby giving the States then existing 20 years to resolve this issue. Just as in the Convention debates, where George Mason refused to sign the Constitution, in the ratification conventions of Massachusetts and Virginia, the anti-slavery delegates began as anti-ratification votes. But those opposed to slavery were persuaded that the evils of a broken Union would bring worse consequences than allowing the fate of slavery to be determined gradually over time. [30] Virginias 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! [31] But the contradiction was never resolved peaceably, and the failure to do so contributed to the Civil War.[32]

Ratification and inauguration of the new government

Rufus King, Massachusetts Friend to ratifying Constitution, influenced Va & NY

Luther Martin, Maryland "Anti" in Articles Congress, lost Amend Articles"



Patrick Henry, Virginia, "Anti" like those in Ma, NY, and SC lost "Amend before" vote

James Madison, Virginia pushed "Amendments after" in US House, the Bill of Rights

Ratification of the Constitution Votes Date State Yes No 1 December 7, 1787 Delaware 30 46 38 26 128 0 23 0 0 40

2 December 11, 1787 Pennsylvania 3 December 18, 1787 New Jersey 4 January 2, 1788 5 January 9, 1788 6 February 6, 1788 7 April 26, 1788 8 May 23, 1788 9 June 21, 1788 Georgia Connecticut Massachusetts Maryland South Carolina New Hampshire

187 168 63 149 57 11 73 47

1 June 25, 1788 0 1 July 26, 1788 1 1 November 21, 2 1789 1 May 29, 1790 3




New York



North Carolina



Rhode Island



On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was completed, followed by a speech given by Benjamin Franklin, who urged unanimity, although the Convention decided that only nine states were needed to ratify. The Convention submitted the Constitution to the Congress of the Confederation[24] Massachusetts Rufus King assessed the Convention as a creature of the states, independent of the Articles Congress, submitting its proposal to Congress only to satisfy forms. Though amendments were debated, they were all defeated, and on September 28, 1787, the Articles Congress resolved unanimously to transmit the Constitution to state legislatures for submitting to a ratification convention according to the Constitutional procedure.[33] Several states enlarged the numbers qualified just for electing ratification delegates. In this they went beyond the Constitution's provision for the most voters for the state legislature to make a new social contract among, more nearly than ever before, "We, the people".[34] Following Massachusetts' lead, the Federalist minorities in both Virginia and New York were able to obtain ratification in convention by linking ratification to recommended amendments.[35] A minority of the Constitutions critics continued to oppose the Constitution. Marylands Luther Martin argued that the federal convention had exceeded its authority; he still called for amending the Articles.[36] 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".[37] However, the unanimous requirement under the Articles made all attempts at reform impossible. Martins allies such as New Yorks 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

Antis circular letter was sent to each state legislature 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.[38] 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).[1] After a year had passed in state-by-state ratification battles, on September 13, 1788, the Articles Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified. The new government would be inaugurated with eleven of the thirteen. The Articles Congress directed the new government to begin in New York City on the first Wednesday in March, [39] and on March 4, 1789, the government duly began operations. George Washington had earlier been reluctant to go the Convention for fear the states with their darling sovereignties could not be overcome.[40] But he was elected the Constitution's President unanimously, including the vote of Virginias presidential elector, the Anti-federalist Patrick Henry.[41] The new Congress would be a triumph for the Federalists. The Senate of eleven states would be 20 Federalists to two Virginia (Henry) Anti-federalists. The House would seat 48 Federalists to 11 Antis from only four states: Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and South Carolina.[42] Antis' fears of personal oppression by Congress would be allayed by Amendments passed under the floor leadership of James Madison in the first session of the first Congress. These first ten Amendments ratified by the states were to become known as the Bill of Rights. [43] Objections to a potentially remote federal judiciary would be reconciled with 13 federal courts (11 states, Maine and Kentucky), and three Federal riding circuits out of the Supreme Court: Eastern, Middle and South.[44] Suspicion of a powerful federal executive was answered by Washingtons cabinet appointments of once-Anti-Federalists Edmund Jennings Randolph as Attorney General and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State.[45][46] What Constitutional historian Pauline Maier calls a national dialogue between power and liberty had begun anew. [47]

Historical influences
Several ideas in the Constitution were new, and a large number were drawn from the literature of republicanism in the United States, the experiences of the 13 states, and the British experience with mixed government. The most important influence from the European continent was from Montesquieu, who emphasized the need to have balanced forces pushing against each other to prevent tyranny. (This in itself reflects the influence of Polybius's 2nd century BC treatise on the checks and balances of the constitution of the Roman Republic.) British political philosopher John Locke was a major influence, and the due process clause of the Constitution was partly based on common law stretching back to Magna Carta (1215).[24]

Native American Influence The Iroquois nations' political confederacy and democratic government have been credited as influences on the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution.[48][49] Historians debate how much the colonists borrowed from existing Native American governmental models. Several founding fathers had contact with Native American leaders and had learned about their styles of government. Prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were more involved with leaders of the Iroquois Confederacy, based in New York. John Rutledge of South Carolina in particular is said to have read lengthy tracts of Iroquoian law to the other framers, beginning with the words, "We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order..."[50] In October 1988, the U.S. Congress passed Concurrent Resolution 331 to recognize the influence of the Iroquois Constitution upon the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.[51]

Influences on the Bill of Rights

The United States Bill of Rights consists of the ten amendments added to the Constitution in 1791, as supporters of the Constitution had promised critics during the debates of 1788.[52] The English Bill of Rights (1689) was an inspiration for the American Bill of Rights. Both require jury trials, contain a right to keep and bear arms, prohibit excessive bail and forbid "cruel and unusual punishments." Many liberties protected by state constitutions and the Virginia Declaration of Rights were incorporated into the Bill of Rights.