It was 11 years after the Declaration of Independence—and four years after American victory in the Revolutionary
for governing the young nation. The result was the longest lasting, most successful, most enviable, and most imitated constitution man has ever known. The United States Constitution has secured an unprecedented degree of human freedom, upholding the rule of law, securing the blessings of liberty, and providing the framework for the people of America to build a great, prosperous, and just nation unlike any other in the world.
George Washington thought that it was “little short of a miracle” that the delegates could agree on the Constitution. Americans had stumbled on this road before. The United States had established an earlier constitution in 1781, the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, each state governed itself through elected representatives, and the state representatives in turn elected a weak central government, one so feeble that it was unworkable. This league of states, hastily crafted during wartime, had to be replaced with a real government.
The challenge was devising stable institutional arrangements that would reconcile majority rule and minority rights, that is, reflect the consent of the governed but avoid majority tyranny. The new constitution would need to secure the rights promised in the Declaration of Independence and do so through a republican form of government. The founders responded with a written Constitution that created a strong government of limited powers, with the then-novel institutions of the separation of powers and federalism.
Drafting and Ratifying the Constitution. From May 25 to September 17, 1787, delegates from 12 states met in what is now Independence Hall at Philadelphia to “form a more perfect Union” and establish a government that would “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The Constitutional Convention was one of the most remarkable bodies ever assembled. Not only were there leaders in the fight for independence, such as Roger Sherman and John Dickinson, and leading thinkers just coming into prominence, such as Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, and Federalist Papers authors James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, but also legendary figures, such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, who was chosen as president of the Convention. Every state was represented, except for Rhode Island, which feared a strong national government and refused to send delegates. Adams declared the three-and-a-half month convention “the greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.” Jefferson described it as “an assembly of demigods.”
From the Committee of Detail and the Committee of Style Gouverneur Morris produced a final draft that the delegates revised. On the Convention’s last day, September 17, 1787, now celebrated as Constitution Day, Benjamin Franklin, the 81-year-old patriarch of the group, praised the Constitution as possibly the best ever written. He observed of the sun painted on the back of George Washington’s chair: “Now, I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.” The 39 delegates who remained through the four months, representing 12 states, signed the Constitution and sent it to the Congress of the Confederation, and the Convention officially adjourned.
On September 28, Congress sent the Constitution to the states, which in turn referred it to ratifying conventions chosen by the people. In accordance with Article VII of the Constitution, the new government was approved with the ratification of the ninth state—New Hampshire on June 21, 1788.