Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Constitutional Convention

On May 25, 1787, representatives of 12 American states met at Philadelphia. Only five years earlier, these states had defeated the British and had become independent. They then banded together under an agreement called the Articles of Confederation. But now they needed a better agreement – a constitution outlining a unified democratic government.

Delegates included James Madison and George Washington of Virginia, Alexander Hamilton of New York, and old Benjamin Franklin from Pennsylvania, among 51 others. They debated long and hard over many issues. How much power would the new federal government have and how much would be kept by the states? Who would make national laws? Who would enforce those laws? Gradually the delegates worked out their differences. The Constitution they agreed upon called for three branches of government – the legislative (Congress) to make the laws, the executive (the President) to enforce the laws, and the judicial (the Supreme Court) to interpret the laws.

The new constitution went into effect in 1789 when nine of the 13 state state governments approved, or ratified, it. It has been the main governing document of the US for more than 200 years. And it has been used as a model by name newer nations.

Rhode Island sent no delegates to Philadelphia and was the last state to ratify the Constitution.

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