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U.S. Constitution
Constitution Ratification

U.S. Constitution
Constitution History

History
 
Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is the world’s longest surviving written charter of government. See also Transcript of the U.S. Constitution.
 
The members of the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The present Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789, when the first Federal Congress assembled in New York.
 
Drafted in secret by delegates to the Constitutional Convention during the summer of 1787, this four-page document, signed on September 17, 1787, established the government of the United States.

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The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were initially present, the members adjourned until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate, it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles of Confederation, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government.
 
During that summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution of the United States. Among the chief points: how much power assigned or allowed to the central government, how many representatives in Congress for each state, and how these representatives should be elected—directly by the people or by the state legislators.
The work, diligence and master creation of many minds, the United States Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.
 

Less than three months after the U.S. Constitution was signed, the first state to ratify it was Delaware on December 7, 1787. New Hampshire was the ninth state, putting the Constitution into effect on June 21, 1788.

U.S. Constitution
Order the states ratified Constitution.jpg
Order in which the states ratified the Constitution

Order of Ratification

1

Delaware

December 7, 1787

2

Pennsylvania

December 12, 1787

3

New Jersey

December 18, 1787

4

Georgia

January 2, 1788

5

Connecticut

January 9, 1788

6

Massachusetts

February 6, 1788

7

Maryland

April 28, 1788

8

South Carolina

May 23, 1788

9

New Hampshire

June 21, 1788
(With this state's signing, the Constitution became legal)

10

Virginia

June 25, 1788

11

New York

July 26, 1788

12

North Carolina

November 21, 1788
(Initially voted against ratification)

13

Rhode Island

May 29, 1790
(Did not even hold a constitutional convention)

Sources: Library of Congress, National Archives, U.S. Department of State, ourdocuments.gov, United States Senate, U.S. Government Printing Office.

Recommended Reading: The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Bill of Rights and all of the Amendments; The Declaration of Independence; and the Articles of Confederation, by Thomas Jefferson (Author), Second Continental Congress (Author), Constitutional Convention (Author). Description: Collected in one affordable volume are the most important documents of the United States of America: The Constitution of the United States of America, with the Bill of Rights and all of the Amendments; The Declaration of Independence; and the Articles of Confederation. These three documents are the basis for our entire way of life. Every citizen should have a copy.

Recommended Reading: America's Constitution: A Biography (Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. You can read the U.S. Constitution, including its 27 amendments, in about a half-hour, but it takes decades of study to understand how this blueprint for our nation's government came into existence. Amar, a 20-year veteran of the Yale Law School faculty, has that understanding, steeped in the political history of the 1780s, when dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation led to a constitutional convention in Philadelphia, which produced a document of wonderful compression and balance creating an indissoluble union. Amar examines in turn each article of the Constitution, explaining how the framers drew on English models, existing state constitutions and other sources in structuring the three branches of the federal government and defining the relationship of the that government to the states. Continued below...

Amar takes on each of the amendments, from the original Bill of Rights to changes in the rules for presidential succession. The book squarely confronts America's involvement with slavery, which the original Constitution facilitated in ways the author carefully explains. Scholarly, reflective and brimming with ideas, this book is miles removed from an arid, academic exercise in textual analysis. Amar evokes the passions and tumult that marked the Constitution's birth and its subsequent revisions. Only rarely do you find a book that embodies scholarship at its most solid and invigorating; this is such a book.

 

Recommended Reading: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Review: In retrospect, it seems as if the American Revolution was inevitable. But was it? In Founding Brothers, Joseph J. Ellis reveals that many of those truths we hold to be self-evident were actually fiercely contested in the early days of the republic. Ellis focuses on six crucial moments in the life of the new nation, including a secret dinner at which the seat of the nation's capital was determined--in exchange for support of Hamilton's financial plan; Washington's precedent-setting Farewell Address; and the Hamilton and Burr duel. Most interesting, perhaps, is the debate (still dividing scholars today) over the meaning of the Revolution. Continued below...

In a fascinating chapter on the renewed friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson at the end of their lives, Ellis points out the fundamental differences between the Republicans, who saw the Revolution as a liberating act and hold the Declaration of Independence most sacred, and the Federalists, who saw the revolution as a step in the building of American nationhood and hold the Constitution most dear. Throughout the text, Ellis explains the personal, face-to-face nature of early American politics--and notes that the members of the revolutionary generation were conscious of the fact that they were establishing precedents on which future generations would rely. In Founding Brothers, Ellis (whose American Sphinx won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 1997) has written an elegant and engaging narrative, sure to become a classic. Highly recommended.

 

Recommended Reading: The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, by Edwin Meese (Author), Matthew Spalding (Editor), David F. Forte (Editor), Matthew Spalding (Author), David F. Forte (Author) (Hardcover). Description: This guide is the first of its kind, and presents the U.S. Constitution as never before, including a clause-by-clause analysis of the document, each amendment and relevant court case, and the documents that serve as the foundation of the Constitution. About the Authors: Edwin Meese III served as the 75th Attorney General of the United States under President Reagan. Continued below...

The Chairman of the Editorial Advisory Board, he is a distinguished legal expert and holds the Ronald Reagan Chair in Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation; Executive Editor Dr. Matthew Spalding is an expert in and teaches constitutional history, is an Adjunct Fellow of the Claremont Institute, and is the Director of the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation; Senior Editor Dr. David F. Forte is a widely published legal scholar, a former Chief Counsel to the United States Delegation to the United Nations, and the Charles R. Emrick, Jr. —Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law at Cleveland State University.
 

Recommended Reading: The U.S. Constitution: And Fascinating Facts About It. Description: In The U.S. Constitution & Fascinating Facts About It you'll see the entire text of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence--and much more! You'll find interesting insights into the men who wrote the Constitution, how it was created, and how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution in the two centuries since its creation.

 

Recommended Viewing: Founding Fathers (A&E) (200 minutes). Description: The four programs from the History Channel in this set profile America's Founding Fathers, noting right at the outset they were a "mismatched group of quarrelsome aristocrats, merchants, and lawyers." The story of how these disparate characters fomented rebellion in the colonies, formed the Continental Congress, fought the Revolutionary War, and wrote the Constitution is told by noted historians, and the production is enhanced with beautifully photographed reenactments as well as intelligent use of period paintings and engravings. The story begins with Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Boston, whose protests against British taxation led to the Boston Tea Party. Moving on to the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, the brilliant delegates from the South, particularly George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, appear on the scene, and the story is told of how an improbable cohesion between the colonies began. Continued below…

Other main characters, including Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, appear in turn, and each of the major participants is portrayed in a biographical profile. How these men all came to act together, despite the stark differences in their backgrounds and temperaments, becomes the main thread of the story. They were all quite human, as the historians who appear in interviews remind us. Some of them drank too much, some had illegitimate children, some owned slaves, and some could hardly get along with anyone. Yet these men with complicated private lives worked together and performed heroically. This is an intelligently rendered and captivating look at the men who formed the American nation.

 

Recommended Reading: Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. Description: Imagine, for a preposterous moment, that 55 national leaders convened to write a document to guide the country for hundreds of years. It seems unlikely--given that our current contingent of so-called leaders can't agree on how to balance a checkbook--that they could reach consensus on such issues as the allotment of congressional seats. The political and ideological issues that faced the creators of the Constitution were similar in some ways to those at play today. And in some ways they were vastly different ones. Jack Rakove, a history professor at Stanford University, has in this book framed the process that led to the drafting of the constitution in its historical and political context to offer insight into the difficulty of interpreting that most influential of documents.

 

Recommended Viewing: Just The Facts - The United States Constitution. Description: Just the Facts: The United States Constitution is a superior video resource for history and social studies classrooms. Teachers and parents can use this to make the Constitution accessible on many levels. The program is targeted at junior high and high school freshmen and sophomores and is divided into sections corresponding to the articles of the Constitution. With contributions from experts on constitutional history and theory, the program lacks flashy production values but is nonetheless engaging. "...Outstanding for teachers and educators."

 

Recommended Reading: The Complete Idiot's Guide to the U.S. Constitution. Description: The “living” document that changed the world. One of the most revered, imitated, and controversial government documents in the world, the U.S. Constitution serves as the foundation for the American government and shapes the lives of Americans every day. But how many know its history and the impact it’s had on American laws and practices throughout history? This guide serves as the most current and accessible handbook to this all-important document. —Covers the document itself, as well as controversial interpretations and decisions.

 

Recommended Viewing: John Adams (HBO Miniseries) (2008) (501 minutes). Description: Based on David McCullough's bestselling biography, the HBO miniseries John Adams is the furthest thing from a starry-eyed look at America's founding fathers and the brutal path to independence. Adams (Paul Giamatti), second president of the United States, is portrayed as a skilled orator and principled attorney whose preference for justice over anti-English passions earns enemies. But he also gains the esteem of the first national government of the United States, i.e., the Continental Congress, which seeks non-firebrands capable of making a reasoned if powerful case for America's break from England's monarchy. The first thing one notices about John Adams' dramatizations of congress' proceedings, and the fervent pro-independence violence in the streets of Boston and elsewhere, is that America's roots don't look pretty or idealized here. Some horrendous things happen in the name of protest, driving Adams to push the cause of independence in a legitimate effort to get on with a revolutionary war under the command of George Washington. But the process isn't easy: not every one of the 13 colonies-turned-states is ready to incur the wrath of England, and behind-the-scenes negotiations prove as much a part of 18th century congressional sessions as they do today. Continued below...

Besides this peek into a less-romanticized version of the past, John Adams is also a story of the man himself. Adams' frustration at being forgotten or overlooked at critical junctures of America's early development--sent abroad for years instead of helping to draft the U.S. Constitution--is detailed. So is his dismay that the truth of what actually transpired leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence has been slowly forgotten and replaced by a rosier myth. But above all, John Adams is the story of two key ties: Adams' 54-year marriage to Abigail Adams (Laura Linney), every bit her husband's intellectual equal and anchor, and his difficult, almost symbiotic relationship with Thomas Jefferson (Stephen Dillane) over decades. Giamatti, of course, has to carry much of the drama, and if he doesn't always seem quite believable in the series' first half, he becomes increasingly excellent at the point where an aging Adams becomes bitter over his place in history. Linney is marvelous, as is Dillane, Sarah Polley as daughter Nabby, Danny Huston as cousin Samuel Adams, and above all Tom Wilkinson as a complex but indispensable Ben Franklin.

Recommended Viewing: The Founding Fathers of the United States of America; U.S. History; Primary Documents in American History (Biography Channel, A&E, The History Channel, PBS)

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