In 1781, the Continental Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation, which gave very limited power to the national government. After the Revolutionary War, it became clear that this document was too weak. Instead of revising it, George Washington and delegates from all 13 states met to write a completely new document, the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution laid out the framework for the government we have today.
The Framers of the Constitution understood the importance of their efforts. They met in Philadelphia from May to September of 1787. Even though the summer was hot, the men kept the doors and windows shut so the press and public couldn’t hear the deliberations. They didn’t want people pressuring or influencing the delegates.
The Constitution laid out three federal branches of government: the legislative branch, or Congress, which is made up of the Senate (two senators coming from each state) and the House of Representatives (determined by the states’ population); the judicial branch, which includes the Supreme Court and federal courts; and the executive branch, which includes the President and Cabinet.
This system was designed to prevent any one branch of the government from becoming too powerful.
The Constitution also laid out the powers held by the federal government and state governments. The federal government was given the power to maintain a military; create a postal service; make money; declare war; and govern foreign and interstate trade. The states were given power to create schools; conduct local elections and create local governments; and regulate marriages and businesses. The federal and state governments shared the power to establish courts and banks; borrow money; build roads, levy taxes; create laws for health and safety; and maintain law and order.
Not everyone approved of the Constitution. Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the convention because the state worried that the Constitution would give too much power to the national government. In other states, the Constitution was hotly debated.
Slavery was a difficult issue. Northern states wanted the Constitution to ban the practice. Southern states believed the question of slavery should be decided by each state. A compromise left any mention out of the Constitution.
Framework: a foundation or underlying structure
Deliberation: a thoughtful discussion
Levy: to impose, put in place, charge a tax
Debate: to argue, discuss
Questions and Answers
Question: Does the Constitution guarantee individual rights?
Answer: Yes. James Madison drafted a Bill of Rights that guaranteed important rights to people. These ten amendments guaranteed the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to bear arms (keep guns).
To learn more about the U.S. Constitution, head to Scholastic.