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History >> US Government

United States Government

The Constitution

The Constitution is the framework for the federal government of the United States. It is the highest form of law in the country. The Constitution creates the branches of government and gives them the power to govern. However, it also protects the citizens of the United States and guarantees their basic rights.

History of the Constitution

Articles of Confederation

The first Constitution was called the Articles of Confederation, which was ratified in 1781. The Articles of Confederation had issues, however. The main issue was that the government had no money or way to get money under the Articles. The army wasn't being paid and was deserting. Debts to foreign countries weren't being paid. The government became too weak and a new constitution was needed.

Constitutional Convention

In May of 1787 the Constitutional Convention gathered to discuss changes to the Articles of the Confederation. After some debate it became apparent to the representatives that a new Constitution was needed. A lot of the debate was held in secret so that the delegates would feel free to speak their minds.

Picture of the United States Constitution Front Page
Constitution of the United States
from the National Archives
A primary aim of the Constitution was to create a government that would be powerful enough to run the country, but would not impose on people's or state's rights. To avoid too much power being held by one person or group, they created the Balance of Power between the three branches of government: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.

There were two primary competing plans for the Constitution:

Virginia Plan - The Virginia plan was written by James Madison. It represented the desires of the larger states and said that the number of representatives to Congress should be based on the state's population.

New Jersey Plan - The New Jersey plan was written by William Paterson from New Jersey. It represented the smaller states and said that each state should have the same number of representatives.

In the end, an agreement was reached called The Great Compromise. This allowed the number of representatives to the House be based on the state's population while each state would have two representatives in the Senate.

Articles of the Constitution

The Constitution is organized into seven articles: Ratification

In order for the Constitution to go into affect, 9 of the 13 states needed to ratify it. The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware on December 7, 1787. The last state was Rhode Island in May of 1790.

Preamble to the Constitution

"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 of America."

Fun Facts about the Constitution Activities

To learn more about the United States government:

Branches of Government
Executive Branch
President's Cabinet
US Presidents

Legislative Branch
House of Representatives
Senate
How Laws are Made

Judicial Branch
Landmark Cases
Serving on a Jury
Famous Supreme Court Justices
John Marshall
Thurgood Marshall
United States Constitution
The Constitution
Bill of Rights
Other Constitutional Amendments
First Amendment
Second Amendment
Third Amendment
Fourth Amendment
Fifth Amendment
Sixth Amendment
Seventh Amendment
Eighth Amendment
Ninth Amendment
Tenth Amendment
Thirteenth Amendment
Fourteenth Amendment
Fifteenth Amendment
Nineteenth Amendment
Overview
Democracy
Checks and Balances
Interest Groups
US Armed Forces
State and Local Governments
Becoming a Citizen
Civil Rights
Taxes
Glossary
Timeline

Elections
Voting in the United States
Two-Party System
Electoral College
Running for Office


Works Cited

History >> US Government





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