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The Constitution of the United States of America is the supreme law of the United States. It is the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the United States of America; the Federal Government of the United States; and all the State & local governments and Territorial Administrative bodies contained therein. It provides the framework for the organization of the United States Government. The document defines the

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Page one of the original copy of the Constitution

three main branches of the government: The legislative branch with a bicameral Congress, an executive branch led by the President, and a judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court. Besides providing for the organization of these branches, the Constitution carefully outlines which powers each branch may exercise. It also reserves numerous rights for the individual states, thereby establishing the United States' federal system of government. It is the shortest and oldest written constitution of any major sovereign states.

The United States Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later ratified by conventions in each U.S. state in the name of "The People"; it has since been amended twenty-seven times, the first ten amendments being known as the Bill of Rights. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was actually the first constitution of the United States of America. The U.S. Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation as the governing document for the United States after being ratified by nine states. The Constitution has a central place in United States law and political culture. The handwritten, or "engrossed", original document penned by Jacob Shallus is on display at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington DC.


Drafting and ratification requirements Edit

In September 1786, commissioners from five states met in the Annapolis Convention to discuss adjustments to the Articles of Confederation that would improve commerce. They invited state representatives to convene in Philadelphia to discuss improvements to the federal government. After debate, the Congress of the Confederation endorsed the plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787. Twelve states, Rhode Island being the only exception, accepted this invitation and sent delegates to convene in May 1787. The resolution calling the Convention specified that its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, but through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention decided to propose a rewritten Constitution. The Philadelphia Convention voted to keep the debates secret, so that the delegates could speak freely. They also decided to draft a new fundamental government design, which eventually stipulated that only nine of the thirteen states would have to ratify for the new government to go into effect (for the participating states). Current knowledge of the drafting and construction of the United States Constitution comes primarily from the diaries left by James Madison, who kept a complete record of the proceedings at the Constitutional Convention.

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