When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, our connections to Great Britain were severed. The colonies now needed to come up with a new system of government. The Continental Congress wrote the Articles of Confederation in order to establish a new government. These articles were adopted on March 2, 1781, and did more to create a federation of independent republics than to create a unified system of governance.
The Articles established the name of the new country to be The United States of America, the right to coin money for a national currency, and to maintain armed forces. Yet, Congress could not raise funds. It could only ask the states to provide funds. Congress could not control trade between the states or internationally. No one could conduct a unified foreign policy.
To address these issues, a Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia between May and September of 1787. While some delegates came to adjust the Articles of Confederation, James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York suggested a new framework for the national government. Before the convention, Madison had been studying methods of governing from the early days of Greece to the laws governing Switzerland in the 1700s.
Writing a new Constitution was not going to be an easy task. There were large states and there were small states. Some states could expand West, while some were never going to expand.
Would the distribution of power be based on territorial size or population. Who would have a right to vote? Could only landowners vote?
Many did not want a single President after their experience under the King’s rule. Could the federal government overturn rules set up by state governments? There were so many areas of contention.
On Sept. 17, 1787, a new Constitution was created. It was presented on Sept. 28, 1787. New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution on June 22, 1788. The Constitution then became effective in March 1789. Rhode Island was the last state to ratify the constitution on May 29, 1790.
The Constitution begins with the words, “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the General Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States.”
The Constitution provides for three independent branches of government: legislative, executive and judicial. It also provides for a method to be amended.
To date, our Constitution has been amended 27 times. The first ten amendments, adopted on Dec. 15, 1791, are known as the Bill of Rights.
According to Digital History at University of Houston, our Constitution is the oldest and longest-standing written and codified constitution in force in the world today.
We can be thankful for the wisdom and leadership of our nation’s founders as we continue their work, always trying to form a more perfect union.