|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|
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
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.
The Constitution holds a central place in United States law and political culture. The handwritten original document penned by Jacob Shallus is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C.
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. Twelve states, Rhode Island being the only exception, accepted this invitation and sent delegates to convene in May 1787. 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. 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," 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). 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.
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. It was weighted toward the interests of the larger states, and proposed among other points:
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. 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.