U.S. Constitution Primer
Balancing the rights of the federal government, the states, and individuals
by Shmuel Ross
So begins the Constitution of the United States, written in 1787 to replace the nation's first guiding document, the 1777 Articles of Confederation. The Federalists had been clamoring for a stronger central government, and the Constitution was designed to provide this while balancing it with the rights of individual states—both large and small—and individual citizens. To meet all these requirements, it set up a bicameral legislature and independent judicial and executive branches. Much of this had been proposed by James Madison in his Virginia Plan earlier that year.
The Constitution was signed on September 17—now known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day—and was submitted to the states for ratification. Over the course of the following three years, it was ratified by all thirteen states then existing. The first ten amendments—the Bill of Rights—were added by the first Congress and ratified in 1791, to more explicitly safeguard individual rights.
The Constitution of the United States of America
Writing and Ratification of the Constitution
Precursors to the Constitution
Celebrating the Constitution
Ratification by the States
The draft (originally a preamble and seven Articles) was submitted to all thirteen states and was to become effective when ratified by nine states. It went into effect on the first Wednesday in March 1789, having been ratified by New Hampshire, the ninth state to approve, on June 21, 1788. The states ratified the Constitution in the following order:
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