Constitution Day History

Sep 8th, 2016

The United States Constitution was signed by Constitutional Convention delegates in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787. George Washington presided over the convention. The Constitution established basic rights for citizens, national government, and fundamental laws.




The first constitution in America, the Articles of Confederation, was ratified in 1781. America was, at that time, a confederation comprised of states that operated independently. The American government was comprised of the Congress of the Confederation; a single legislature with no judicial branch and no president. The congress had the power to regulate money, conduct war, and govern foreign affairs. The problem was that the Articles did not give congress any authority over the states. Its requests for assistance from states for troops or funds were just that, requests. It had no power to force the individual states to cooperate.


To correct that problem, Alexander Hamilton called for a Constitutional Convention to be held in 1787 to discuss the problem. Delegates from each state were invited by the Confederation Congress to attend. Of the 13 states, Rhode Island refused to send delegates because it was against having a centralized government.


During the convention, a new constitution was created that would strengthen the federal government. The plan included three government branches, executive, legislative and judicial, and included checks and balances to avoid giving a single branch too much power. The responsibilities and powers that each branch would have included in the document.


The Constitution was signed by some delegates on September 17, 1787, but before it could become law, it had to be ratified by 9 of the 13 states. Many states put up resistance. They simply did not want a central government that might interfere with their state rights. It took until June, 1788, and various compromises before the required nine states signed the document. By agreement, the United States Constitution would become effective on March 4, 1789. George Washington became the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789.




Later in 1789, 19 amendments to the constitution were introduced in the form of the Bill of Rights. Out of the 19 introduced, 12 were adopted by Congress and sent to the various states for ratification. Only ten of the amendments ended up in the Bill of Rights. The amendments guaranteed certain protections for American citizens, including “freedom of speech, religion and the press; the right to bear and keep arms; the right to peaceably assemble; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.” Since 1787, there have been 17 amendments added to the constitution.


The original Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution have been preserved and are on display in Washington, D.C., at the National Archives.


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