The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution (click on image at right for high-resolution view) was groundbreaking in numerous ways, establishing a new government, the likes of which the world had never seen. Indeed, the very features which made it unique have also contributed to its longevity. These features also define the framework of American government and politics, establishing the United States of America, its national government and outlining the relationships between that government, the people and the states.

The most significant features of the U.S. Constitution are the establishment of the rule of law, the creation of a federal system with a supreme national government, the separation of governmental powers into three branches that check and balance each other, its flexibility and the establishment of a republican form of government.

The Constitution is considered the supreme law of the land both because of its content and because its authority is derived from the people. The concepts and ideas of the Constitution are the "higher law" in the United States of America, things which a government cannot create or destroy. Among these concepts and ideas is the notion that the people are sovereign and that legitimate governments must be based on popular consent. Because the Constitution was ratified by the representatives of the people, it is a document, in both word and deed, created by and for "we the people."

While the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, most of the specific, day-to-day rules and regulations that bring order to American society are not included in the Constitution itself. These "ordinary" laws are creations of the Congress, state legislatures and city councils. But the notion that laws are more important than the opinions of individual people--even important people--applies to these laws as well. In America, no one is considered to be above the law. In fact, deliberately trying to avoid the law through deception or bribery are crimes in and of themselves. Even a president who violates the law can be held accountable for doing so.

Facts & Figures

Constitution Quick Facts

Primary Author: James Madison (Drafted the Virginia Plan)

Origins: Proposed, Debated and Drafted at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the Summer of 1787. The meetings of the Convention took place at Independence Hall.

Ratified: June 21, 1788 (New Hampshire was the ninth state to ratify, meeting the requirements set forth in Article VII of the Constitution.) Order of Ratification by the States

Amendments to the United States Constitution

The Bill of Rights First 10 and the 27th Amendment
Scope of Federal Government Power 11th and 16th Amendments
Federal Elections & Terms 12th, 17th, 20th, 22nd, and 25th Amendments
Civil War Amendments 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments
Suffrage Amendments 15th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th Amendments
Prohibition 18th and 21st Amendments

Historical Documents

Thanksgiving Proclamation
United States Constitution
Amendments to the Constitution
Letter of Transmittal
Disapproving and Accepting the Constitution - Benjamin Franklin
The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 - Notes by James Madison

Supreme Court Decisions
Marbury v. Madison 1803
McCulloch v. Maryland 1819

Constitutions of Other Nations
Canada
France
Japan
The Former Soviet Union
Switzerland

Federalist Papers
No. 39 - The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles

AntiFederalist Papers

No. 3
- New Constitution Creates a National Government; Will Not Abate Foreign Influence; Dangers of Civil War and Despotism
No. 7 - Adoption of the Constitution Will Lead to Civil War
No. 23 - Certain Powers Necessary For the Common Defense, Can and Should Be Limited
No. 37 - Factions and the Constitution
No. 47 - "Balance" of Departments Not Achieved Under New Constitution
No. 49 - On Constitutional Convention (Part 1)
No. 50 - On Constitutional Convention (Part 2)
No. 60 - Will the Constitution Promote the Interests of Favorite Classes?

Reasearch and Study Helps

Is the United States a Democracy?
Why is George Washington considered the Father of this nation?

What is the purpose of the Census? What is the data used for?
Do laws that legislate morality violate the separation of church and state?

Why did the Founding Fathers create the Vice Presidency?

Think About It

Why is it important to have a written constitution?

What would have happened to the states if the Constitutional Convention had failed to produce a new Constitution or if the Constitution had not been ratified by the states?

Applying What You've Learned

Read The Federalist No.10. What is a faction? Why are they dangerous to liberty? How are they kept in check in the American system?

Read The Federalist No. 51. How did Madison intend to assure that the government remained accountable to the people? How were abuses of power to be minimize?

Read one of the constitution of another country listed above and compare it with the United States Constitution. How are they similar? How are they different?