The United States Constitution
The Constitution is the framework for the federal government of the United States. It is the highest form of law in the country. The Constitution creates the branches of government and gives them the power to govern. However, it also protects the citizens of the United States and guarantees their basic rights.
History of the Constitution
Articles of Confederation
The first Constitution was called the Articles of Confederation, which was ratified in 1781. The Articles of Confederation had issues, however. The main issue was that the government had no money or way to get money under the Articles. The army wasn’t being paid and was deserting. Debts to foreign countries weren’t being paid. The government became too weak and a new constitution was needed.
In May of 1787 the Constitutional Convention gathered to discuss changes to the Articles of the Confederation. After some debate it became apparent to the representatives that a new Constitution was needed. A lot of the debate was held in secret so that the delegates would feel free to speak their minds.
A primary aim of the Constitution was to create a government that would be powerful enough to run the country, but would not impose on people’s or state’s rights. To avoid too much power being held by one person or group, they created the Balance of Power between the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
There were two primary competing plans for the Constitution:
Virginia Plan – The Virginia plan was written by James Madison. It represented the desires of the larger states and said that the number of representatives to Congress should be based on the state’s population.
New Jersey Plan – The New Jersey plan was written by William Paterson from New Jersey. It represented the smaller states and said that each state should have the same number of representatives.
In the end, an agreement was reached called The Great Compromise. This allowed the number of representatives to the House be based on the state’s population while each state would have two representatives in the Senate.
Articles of the Constitution
The Constitution is organized into seven articles:
- Legislative Power
- Executive Power
- Judicial Power
- States’ Powers and Limits
- Federal Power
In order for the Constitution to go into effect, 9 of the 13 states needed to ratify it. The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware on December 7, 1787. The last state was Rhode Island in May of 1790.
Preamble to the Constitution
“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.”
Fun Facts about the Constitution
- James Madison is often called the father of the Constitution since so much of his work and ideas were incorporated into the final document.
- Gouverneur Morris wrote the Constitution and is widely credited with authoring the famous preamble.
- 39 of the 55 delegates at the convention signed the document. Many who refused did so because of the lack of a Bill of Rights.
- The US Constitution is the oldest written constitution still used in the world today.
- The Constitution that is on display at the National Archives was penned by Jacob Shallus.
- There are currently 27 amendments to the Constitution.