Constitution of the United States of America, the fundamental law of the U. S. system of and a landmark document of the Western world. The oldest written national
in use, the Constitution defines the principal organs of government and their jurisdictions and the basic rights of citizens. (For a, see below. ) Original copy of the U. S. Constitution, housed in the National Archives in Washington, D. C. National Archives, Washington, D. C. Congress: The Legislative Branches When the writers of the Constitution created Congress, they intended for it to be part of the system of checks and balances. Encyclopцdia Britannica, Inc. The Constitution was written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, by 55 delegates to a that was called ostensibly to (1781Б89), the countryБs first written constitution. The Constitution was the product of political compromise after long and often rancorous debates over issues such as, and. Delegates from small and large states disagreed over whether the number of representatives in the new federal should be the same for each stateБas was the case under the Articles of ConfederationБor different depending on a stateБs population. In addition, some delegates from Northern states sought to abolish slavery or, failing that, to make representation dependent on the size of a stateБs free population. At the same time, some Southern delegates threatened to abandon the convention if their demands to keep slavery and the legal and to count slaves for representation purposes were not met.
Eventually the framers resolved their disputes by adopting a proposal put forward by the delegation. The, as it came to be known, created a legislature with a, in which all states would be equally represented, and a, in which representation would be apportioned on the basis of a stateБs free population plus three-fifths of its slave population. (The inclusion of the slave population was known separately as the. ) A further compromise on slavery prohibited from banning the importation of slaves until 1808 (Article I, Section 9). After all the disagreements were bridged, the new Constitution was submitted for ratification to the 13 states on September 28, 1787. In 1787Б88, in an effort to persuade New York to ratify the Constitution, and published a series of essays on the Constitution and republican government in New York newspapers. Their work, written under the pseudonym БPubliusБ and collected and published in book form as The Federalist (1788), became a classic exposition and defense of the Constitution. In June 1788, after the Constitution had been ratified by nine states (as required by Article VII), set March 4, 1789, as the date for the new government to commence proceedings (the first elections under the Constitution were held late in 1788). Because ratification in many states was on the promised addition of a, Congress proposed 12 in September 1789; 10 were ratified by the states, and their adoption was certified on December 15, 1791. (One of the original 12 proposed amendments, which prohibited midterm changes in compensation for members of Congress, was ratified in 1992 as the.
The last one, concerning the ratio of citizens per member of the House of Representatives, has never been adopted. ) The authors of the Constitution were heavily influenced by the countryБs experience under the Articles of Confederation, which had attempted to retain as much independence and for the states as possible and to assign to the central government only those nationally important functions that the states could not handle individually. But the events of the years 1781 to 1787, including the national governmentБs inability to act during (1786Б87) in, showed that the Articles were unworkable because they deprived the national government of many essential powers, including direct and the ability to regulate. It was hoped that the new Constitution would remedy this problem. The framers of the Constitution were especially concerned with limiting the power of government and securing the liberty of citizens. The doctrine of legislative, and judicial, the of each branch against the others, and the explicit guarantees of were all designed to strike a balance between authority and libertyБthe central purpose of American. The United States Constitution defines the structure of the national government and dictates the scope and limitation of its powers. The Constitution is known as the supreme Law of the Land and all other laws are measured against it. The application of the articles and amendments of the Constitution comprise constitutional law.
In addition to the United States Constitution, each state has its own constitution and therefore, its own body of constitutional law as well. State constitutions resemble the federal Constitution in that they outline the state government s structure of legislative, executive and judicial branches as well as contain a bill of rights. But there are various ways state constitutions differ from the federal Constitution. Often, state constitutions are much longer and more detailed than the federal Constitution. State constitutions focus more on limiting rather than granting power since its general authority has already been established. As a result, the constitution of Alabama is six hundred pages long whereas the federal Constitution can be easily read in one sitting front to back. The details in state constitutions are not particularly constitutional in nature. They often address topics unique to the state. The federal Constitution can only be amended through a lengthy process designed to limit changes to this fundamental document. As a result, it has only been amended seventeen times since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791. State constitutions are more open to amendments. Amendments can be proposed by legislature, a constitutional commission or citizens petition and can be accepted by referendum. P For example. the constitution of Massachusetts has been amended one hundred and twenty times. The constitution of Georgia has even been replaced altogether as many as ten times.