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How the US Constitution appeared and changed and why this document is so important

The Constitution of the United States is the highest piece of legislation in the country that governs the principles of federal government. It is designed to protect the rights of citizens, writes MC Today.

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It was adopted on September 17, 1787 at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Prior to this, the Articles of Confederation were considered the main regulatory document, which did not give the national government a sufficient scope of powers.

Each state was considered an independent state. At the 1787 convention, delegates presented a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches of government - executive, legislative, and judicial.

In parallel, a system of checks and balances was developed to give all three branches equal power.


The Preamble defines the purpose and guiding principles of the Constitution:

“We, the people of the United States, establish and adopt this Constitution for the United States of America in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, ensure internal peace, organize joint defense, promote the common welfare and provide us and our posterity with the benefits of freedom.”

The Bill of Rights contained ten amendments to guarantee personal integrity (freedom of speech and religion, and so on) and became part of the Constitution in 1791. Of the hundreds of submitted amendments to the Constitution, 27 have been adopted today.

Articles of Confederation

America's first constitution, the Articles of Confederation (Treaty of the Confederation of the Thirteen States of the United States), was ratified in 1781. At the time, the country was a shaky union of states, each of which functioned as an independent state.

The central government consisted of a single legislative body - the Congress of the Confederation. There was no president or judicial branch.

The Articles of Confederation gave Congress powers to regulate foreign economic issues, wage war, and foreign exchange control. However, in reality, these powers were severely limited, since Congress had no real power to demand money or troops from the states.

Did you know that George Washington initially did not want to go to the Constitutional Convention? Of course, he believed that the country needed a strong federal government, but at the same time he did not believe that the convention would fulfill its tasks. In addition, he could not leave his Mount Vernon plantation unattended, and besides, he suffered from rheumatism.

In 1783, America won the War of Independence from Great Britain. It soon became clear that the young republic needed a strong central government, otherwise it would not see stability.

In 1786, Alexander Hamilton, a lawyer and politician from New York, convened a Constitutional Convention to discuss the issue. The Confederate Congress supported this idea in February 1787 and invited representatives from all thirteen states to a meeting in Philadelphia.

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The formation of a more perfect Union

The Constitutional Convention began on May 25, 1787 at Independence Hall (Pennsylvania), where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted 11 years earlier.

The convention was attended by 55 delegates from all states except Rhode Island: the state authorities refused to send representatives to the convention. They feared that a strong central government would interfere in their economic policies.

George Washington, a national hero of the US Revolutionary War, was unanimously elected as chairman of the convention.

The delegates (later named by the authors of the Constitution) belonged to the educated class, among whom were merchants, farmers, bankers and lawyers. Many served in the Continental Army, colonial legislatures, or the Continental Congress (from 1781 this meeting became known as the Congress of the Confederation).

Most were Protestant. Eight of those present signed the Declaration of Independence, six - approved the Articles of Confederation.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) from Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate at 81. Most of the delegates were in their fourths and fifths. Political leaders who did not attend the convention included Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) and John Adams (1735–1826), who served as US ambassadors to Europe at the time.

John Jay (1745–1829), Samuel Adams (1722–1803), and John Hancock (1737–93) were also absent. Patrick Henry (1736–1799) of Virginia was elected a delegate but refused to travel. He feared that strengthening government would weaken the rights of states and individuals.

The meetings of the convention were held behind closed doors, journalists and spectators were not allowed. Moreover, the venue and time of the event were also kept secret to avoid external pressure. James Madison (1751–1836) of Virginia kept detailed minutes of the meetings. In 1837, Madison's widow sold the constitutional debate tapes to the government for $ 30.

Constitutional debate

Congress instructed delegates to amend the Articles of Confederation. However, during the debate, proposals were made that implied a completely new form of government.

After intense discussions that lasted throughout the summer of 1787, a plan was drawn up that established three branches of national power - executive, legislative and judicial. A system of checks and balances has also been developed to ensure that no branch is given more authority than the rest.

Representation of each state in the national legislature was one of the most controversial. Delegates from the larger states wanted the population to decide how many representatives a state could send to Congress. The smaller states called for an equal number of representatives.

The solution was the so-called Connecticut compromise, according to which Congress should consist of two chambers - lower and upper (representatives and the Senate). The states delegated an equal number of representatives to the Senate, and proportional to the lower house.

Slavery was another provocative issue. In some northern states, it has already been outlawed, but the northerners still compromised. The meeting decided that each state should resolve this issue independently and it should not be prescribed in the Constitution.

Many delegates from the northern states believed that without agreement on this issue, the South would not join the Union. In the end, it was decided that only three-fifths of the total number of slaves in each state would be counted in determining the population of each state (for tax purposes and to determine the number of representatives from each state in Congress).

In addition, Congress could not ban the slave trade until 1808. All escaped slaves were ordered to return to their owners.

Ratification of the Constitution

By September 1787, a faction of Hamilton, Madison William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Governer Morris of New York, and Rufus King of Massachusetts had drawn up the final text of the Constitution (about 4 words). On September 200, George Washington was the first to sign the document.

A total of 39 out of 55 signatures were affixed: some delegates had already left Philadelphia by that time. Three others (George Mason and Edmund Randolph from Virginia and Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts) refused to approve the text. Now, nine out of thirteen states had to ratify it to make the Constitution a law.

James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, with the assistance of John Jay, wrote a series of articles to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. A collection of 85 essays became known as The Federalist Papers, and it detailed the work of the new government.

Articles were published in the local state press under the pseudonym Publius beginning in the fall of 1787. The people who supported the Constitution were called federalists, and their opponents were called anti-federalists.

Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut) ratified the Constitution one by one. Other states (especially Massachusetts) spoke out against the document, because it did not allow the preservation of undistributed powers for individual states and did not guarantee sufficient protection of basic political rights (freedom of speech, religion and press).

In February 1788, a compromise was reached: Massachusetts and the other states agree to ratify the document with a promise to immediately propose amendments to it. Thus, Massachusetts, Maryland and South Carolina ratified the Constitution. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to sign the document.

The new government, in accordance with the US Constitution, began to work on March 4, 1789. On April 30, 1789, George Washington was elected the first president of the United States. In June of the same year, Virginia joined the signatories, followed by New York. On February 2, 1790, the US Supreme Court held its first session, marking the full entry into force of the new government.

Rhode Island lasted the longest and ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.

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Bill of rights

In 1789, Madison, then a member of the new House of Representatives, introduced 19 amendments to the Constitution. On September 25, 1789, Congress passed 12 listed amendments and sent them to state governments for ratification. Ten of these amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were approved and entered into the Constitution on December 10, 1791.

The Bill of Rights guarantees to individuals the protection of fundamental civil rights, including freedom of speech, religion and the press; the right to carry and keep weapons; the right to peaceful assembly; protection from illegal searches and confiscation of property; and the right to a prompt criminal trial by an impartial jury.

For his contributions to the draft Constitution and its ratification, Madison became famous as the "Father of the Constitution."

Since then, thousands of constitutional amendments have been proposed. However, besides the Bill of Rights, only 17 were passed. The procedure is rather complicated: after consideration of the amendment in Congress, it must be approved by three-quarters of the states. The last amendment to date, Article XXVII, governing the salaries of senators and representatives, was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.

Constitution today

In the 200 years since the birth of the Constitution, America has stretched across the entire continent. The population and economy had grown so much that the authors of the Constitution could not even think about such a thing. Despite all the changes, the Constitution survived and adapted.

The Founding Fathers knew this document was not perfect. On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin said: “I agree with this Constitution and all its shortcomings - if they can be considered as such. We really need a federal government ... and I'm not at all sure that we can write a better constitution than this one. " Today, the first copy of the Constitution is on display in the National Archives in Washington. Constitution Day in the United States is celebrated on September 17.

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