Constitution of the United States (1787)
The Constitution was written in 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by delegates from 12 states, in order to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new form of government. It created a federal system with a national government composed of three separated powers, and included both reserved and concurrent powers of states. The Constitution was a compact, although Federalists and Anti-Federalists disagreed over whether the states or the people were the agents of the compact. Principles of the Constitution include checks and balances, individual rights, liberty, limited government, natural rights theory, republican government, and popular sovereignty.
New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution on June 21, 1788, ensuring that it would become the law of the land. However, calls for amendments came from many states, and in 1791 ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were added. Over the course of the next two centuries, 17 more amendments have been ratified.
George Washington was the president of the Constitutional Convention, the body that framed the new government. James Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution” because of his great contributions to the formation of the new government. Gouverneur Morris wrote the Constitution’s final language.
Antecedents of the Constitution include John Locke’s political writings about forms of government and natural rights theory, Thomas Hobbes and Montesquieu, and English charters of liberty including the Magna Carta and the English Bill of Rights. James Madison saw one important difference between those documents and the Constitution, however: “In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example . . . of charters of power granted by liberty.”