The United States Constitution is one of the most important political documents ever created. It emerged out of a series of events in which the American colonies began to distance themselves from the tyranny of a foreign power and instead demand self-governance. In doing so, they began the process of creating a government that exists to serve the interests of the people.
Over 200 years old, the US Constitution is perhaps the most successful constitution ever written. It has ensured the stability of the USA as a self-governing nation-state while protecting the rights and freedoms of the people. This could only have come about through the careful deliberation of America's most highly educated leaders. They set out to create a unique and unprecedented document that would ensure a free state that was also strong and powerful enough to defend itself. This careful balancing act between state and federal power is what makes the US an almost perfect union, founded upon a carefully constructed constitution.
The value of the Consitution cannot be overstated but when and where did this vital writing process happen? In order to find out, it's important to begin with the historical context that led to the Constitution's creation.
The US Consitution was created following the American Revolutionary War, in which the 13 colonies fought for their right to self-governance. The British Empire had expanded and was attempting to tax the American colonies without sufficiently representing their interests in government. During this time, ideas about a government existing to serve the people were becoming popular and a War of Independence broke out to fight for these ideals. The war lasted from 1775 to 1783, with the Declaration of Independence being pronounced in 1776. This is when the American colonies declared themselves independent self-governing states.
In 1781, the Articles of Confederation was first ratified. This is regarded as the first American constitution and was designed to set out how the American government would function. Although each of the 13 colonies was considered an independent nation-state, they were unified under Congress and known as the United States of America.
Congress was given certain powers including regulating currency and conducting foreign affairs. In 1983, after winning the Revolutionary War, it became clear that a more powerful central government was needed in order to protect the freedom of America from foreign tyrants. A constitution was created to create a free and stable nation that protected the rights of the people.
In 1787, drafting began on the US Constitution as we know it today. The Constitutional Convention was opened in May of that year and the writing process began. 55 delegates from 12 of the 13 colonies attended and George Washington was unanimously voted president of the Constitutional Convention. Having become a war hero who led the colonies to victory over the British, Washington was considered to be the right person to lead proceedings.
Other well-educated leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Samuel Adams also attended the Convention. After fierce debate regarding which powers should be given to independent states and which would be afforded to the federal government, the US Constitution was written down. In September 1787, the Constitution was signed. However, it still needed to be ratified by at least 9 states in order to become enshrined in law. This didn't happen until June 1788 but the Constitution has remained in force ever since.
Although written in 1787, the US Constitution wasn't completely finished. The Founding Fathers left the option to suggest amendments. Such amendments were first put forward by James Madison in September 1789. He introduced 19 amendments. To be successful, an amendment must pass through Congress and then be ratified by at least three-fourths of the states. Out of 19 introduced, 12 were ratified and made it into the Constitution, 10 of which became the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights.
The 10 rights protected by the Bill of Rights are:
Beyond these 10, just seven other amendments have been ratified and become part of the US Constitution. The most recent amendment to pass was ratified in 1992 so you could say that the US Constitution was written between 1787 and 1992. Thousands more amendments have been introduced but getting them ratified is no easy task. It could be many decades before we see another change to the constitution.
The US Constitution was written in Philadelphia. The Constitutional Convention, known at the time as the Philadelphia Convention, was the way in which the Founding Fathers gathered to debate, write, and sign the Constitution. Specifically, they did so in the Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House. This venue was chosen because it's where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier. This building has since had its name changed to Independence Hall in honor of its significance in the history of the USA.
The writing of the US Constitution didn't happen overnight. It occurred across many months of high-pressure debate and depended on the cooperation of many important people. Although the writing occurred in one room, the completed document was the result of many years fighting against tyranny in favor of freedom.
Even after its initial ratification, amendments mean the Constitution is still being written in some sense. The debate continues and suggestions for changes are constantly being raised. The current role of the United States government is to protect the US Constitution, making changes if it can be widely agreed upon as a necessary amendment. This process has produced an almost perfect document that has protected US citizens for over two centuries.