What is the Constitution?
The U.S. Constitution is the fundamental framework of America’s system of government.
1. Creates a government that puts the power in the hands of the people
2. Separates the powers of government into three branches: the legislative branch, which makes the laws; the executive branch, which executes the laws; and the judicial branch, which interprets the laws
3. Sets up a system of checks and balances that ensures no one branch has too much power
4. Divides power between the states and the federal government
5. Describes the purposes and duties of the government
6. Defines the scope and limit of government power
7. Prescribes the system for electing representatives
8. Establishes the process for the document’s ratification and amendment
9. Outlines many rights and freedoms of the people
"The Constitution acted like a colossal merger, uniting a group of states with different interests, laws, and cultures. Under America’s first national government, the Articles of Confederation, the states acted together only for specific purposes. The Constitution united its citizens as members of a whole, vesting the power of the union in the people. Without it, the American Experiment might have ended as quickly as it had begun."
10 Fast Facts about the Constitution
10 Fast Facts on the Constitution
From the Constitution Center
- The U.S. Constitution was written in the same Pennsylvania State House where the Declaration of Independence was signed and where George Washington received his commission as Commander of the Continental Army. Now called Independence Hall, the building still stands today on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, directly across from the National Constitution Center.
- Written in 1787, the Constitution was signed on September 17th. But it wasn’t until 1788 that it was ratified by the necessary nine states.
- The U.S. Constitution was prepared in secret, behind locked doors that were guarded by sentries.
- Some of the original framers and many delegates in the state ratifying conventions were very troubled that the original Constitution lacked a description of individual rights. In 1791, Americans added a list of rights to the Constitution. The first ten amendments became known as The Bill of Rights
- Of the 55 delegates attending the Constitutional Convention, 39 signed and 3 delegates dissented. Two of America’s “founding fathers” didn’t sign the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson was representing his country in France and John Adams was doing the same in Great Britain.
- Established on November 26, 1789, the first national “Thanksgiving Day” was originally created by George Washington as a way of “giving thanks” for the Constitution.
- Of the written national constitutions, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest and shortest.
- At 81, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest delegate at the Constitutional Convention and at 26, Jonathon Dayton of New Jersey was the youngest.
- The original Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, it was moved to Fort Knox for safekeeping.
- More than 11,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress. Thirty three have gone to the states to be ratified and twenty seven have received the necessary approval from the states to actually become amendments to the Constitution.
The Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation
From the Library of Congress
"The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.
In what respect had the Confederation failed?
From the National Archives
It had three great weaknesses. It had no means of revenue independent of that received through its requisitions on the States, which were nothing more than requests, which the States could and did disregard; and it had no control over foreign or interstate commerce. Behind these lacks was its inability to compel the States to honor the national obligations. It could make treaties but had no means to compel obedience to them; or to provide for the payment of the foreign debt. It had responsibility but no power as a national government; no means of coercing the States to obedience even to the very inadequate grant given to the "League of Friendship" by the Articles of Confederation. But its greatest weakness was that it had no direct origin in, or action on, the people themselves; but, unlike both the Declaration of Independence and the later Constitution, knew only the States and was known only to them, calling them sovereign.
What Does the Constitution Say?
The Constitution of the United States contains a preamble and seven articles that describe the way the government is structured and how it operates. The first three articles establish the three branches of government and their powers: Legislative (Congress), Executive (office of the President,) and Judicial (Federal court system). A system of checks and balances prevents any one of these separate powers from becoming dominant. Articles four through seven describe the relationship of the states to the Federal Government, establish the Constitution as the supreme law of the land, and define the amendment and ratification processes.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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.