"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."
Thus begins the United States Constitution.
On September 17, 1787, the members of the Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, signed the final draft of that document.
All of the states, except Rhode Island, sent delegates to the Convention. Many of the delegates were not satisfied with the Constitution and left before the signing. Three of those who remained refused to sign.
Edmund Randolph of Virginia refused to sign the final draft because he did not believe there were sufficient checks and balances, but he eventually he ratified it for fear that Virginia would suffer if they were left out of the new government.
George Mason, also of Virginia, refused to sign because he felt that more explicit statements of states' rights needed to be made. He never did sign any form of the document, and he and George Washington, his friend and neighbor stopped speaking to one another because of this.
Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts, was the third man present who did not sign, and he also refused because he thought the federal government needed more detail about what individual rights were to be protected. Gerry is best remembered for being the first part of the word "gerrymander." The word was coined in 1812 after he, as Governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill which redrew the district boundaries in order to weaken the Federalists.
The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States and was the foundation of the government. It defined the relationship between the federal government and the states, and the citizens. It established a federal democratic republic form of government which includes under its umbrella a union of the sovereign states.
The definition of federal is "a union of states under a central government distinct from the individual governments of the separate states;" the definition of democratic is characterized by the principle of political or social equality for all;" and the definition of a republic is "a state or nation in which the supreme power rests in all the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives elected, directly or indirectly, by them and responsible to them."
The democratic part of the principle allows the people to govern themselves, while the republic part of the principle means that the government derives its power from the people.
James Madison, now known as the "Father of the Constitution," not only composed most of the document, but also kept meticulous notes about the process and the reasoning that went into the writing of it.
From those notes, we find out about the four months of debate -- held in secrecy -- which formed the document which replaced the Articles of Confederation and marks the birth of a brand new, experimental form of government.
President George Washington was elected president of the Convention by unanimous vote, and presided over the lively debates between delegates over everything from the issue of state sovereignty to the distribution of power.
The Bill of Rights, which is the name given to the first ten amendments of the Constitution, was proposed before the Constitution was signed by the delegates, and that proposal was the only way that they would sign it. Those amendments were not introduced to the First U.S. Congress until 1789 and went into effect after three-fourths of the states ratified them.
The Constitution lays out the three branches of federal government: the legislative branch, which is made up of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives; the judicial branch, which is known as the Supreme Court; and the executive branch, which is the Administration led by the President. It specifically states that any powers not assigned to the federal government in the document are given to the states and to the people in those states.
There were fears that the new Constitution gave too much power to the central -- or federal -- government and took away from individual freedoms. Many of those with such fears were in New York state, and they were threatening not to ratify the document.
In an effort to educate them about the safeguards embedded in the Constitution, the Federalist Papers were written. This collection of essays were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, under the pseudonym "Publius."
Originally called simply "The Federalist," 77 of the 85 essays which made up the body of work were published in newspapers, so the citizens of New York and indeed those in the new nation, the United States of America, could read the reasoning behind the new Constitution.
In the end, it was not the Federalist papers which convinced the New York delegates to ratify. It was the fact that New York City threatened to secede if they did not.
Additional Resources for September 2010:
- USA.gov Labor Day - A look at the history of Labor Day, United States labor facts, and popular resources for safely celebrating the extended weekend.
- Wikipedia: Patriot Day - Brief description and history of Patriot Day, honoring those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- USA.gov Back To School - A collection of Back to School resources for students, parents, and educations.
- U.S. Constitution Online - Find full text of the United States Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, The Articles of Confederation, and more.