Constitution of the United States



Constitution of the United States, document embodying the fundamental principles upon which the American republic is conducted. Drawn up at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, the Constitution was signed on Sept. 17, 1787, and ratified by the required number of states (nine) by June 21, 1788. It superseded the original charter of the United States in force since 1781 (see Confederation, Articles of) and established the system of federal government that began to function in 1789. The Constitution is concise, and its very brevity and its general statement of principles have, by accident more than by design, made possible the extension of meaning that has fostered growth. There are seven articles and a preamble; 27 amendments have been adopted (see the table entitled Text of the Constitution of the United Statesthat accompanies this article for the text of the Constitution).

The wording of the Constitution is general, necessitating interpretation, and any short summary is only rough and approximate. From its very beginnings, the Constitution has been subject to stormy controversies, not only in interpretation of some of its phrases, but also between the “loose constructionists” and “strict constructionists.” The middle of the 19th cent. saw a tremendous struggle concerning the nature of the Union and the extent of states' rights. The Civil War decided the case in favor of the advocates of strong union, and since that time the general tendency has been toward the centralization and strengthening of federal power.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. Government