United States Constitution

United States Constitution

Page one of the original copy of the Constitution
Created September 17, 1787
Ratified June 21, 1788
Location 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 of America is the supreme law of the United States. 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.

History

Drafting and ratification requirements

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union were the first constitution of the United States of America.[5]

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 the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787.[6] Twelve states, Rhode Island being the only exception, accepted this invitation and sent delegates to convene in May 1787.[6] The resolution calling the Convention specified that its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, but through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention decided to propose a rewritten Constitution.[7] The Constitutional Convention voted to keep the debates secret, so that the delegates could speak freely. They also decided to draft a new fundamental government design. Despite Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation stating 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,"[8] 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] 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.[9]

Work of the Constitutional Convention

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.[9] It was weighted toward the interests of the larger states, and proposed among other points:

An alternative proposal, William Paterson's New Jersey Plan, includes the following points that countered the previous proposal that favored the larger states, among others:

  • A unicameral legislature with all states represented in equal numbers in order to insure fairness
  • An executive branch appointed by the legislature
  • A judicial branch appointed by the executive.[11]

Roger Sherman of Connecticut brokered The Great Compromise whereby the House would represent the people, a Senate would represent the states, and a president would be elected by electors.[12]

The contentious issue of slavery was too controversial to be resolved during the convention. As a result, the original Constitution contained four provisions tacitly allowing slavery to continue for the next 20 years. 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.[13] 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. The failure to do so contributed to the Civil War.[14]