Following the end of the American Revolutionary War that lasted from 1775 to 1783 and led to America gaining its Independence from Great Britain, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was put together by member states to serve as the country’s governing document. The Articles, which is regarded as the first US Constitution, went on to prove to be very ineffective as the central government was unable to perform some of the most basic functions required, including raising an army, imposing taxes, adjudicating disputes and regulating commerce between states, among other things.
This weakness of the national government prompted the Confederation Congress to call a convention of state delegates to propose a plan of government that led to what today serves as the US Constitution, establishing the country’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteeing certain basic rights for its citizens.
How The US Constitution Was Written
To write the US Constitution, dozens of delegates from twelve states in America were invited to what is now known as the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. George Washington, who had led the revolutionary army to victory in the American Revolutionary War, presided over the gathering that included other notable figures in American history such as Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Gouverneur Morris, and James Madison among many others.
While all the delegates at the convention went on to contribute to the governing document, Alexander Hamilton, William Samuel Johnson, Rufus King, James Madison, and Gouverneur Morris, the convention’s five-member Committee of Style, were the ones charged with writing the final draft of the US constitution that consisted of about 4,200 words.
Morris, particularly, is said to have been the primary author of the document that ended up containing seven articles, a preamble, and a closing endorsement, hence his nickname of Penman of the Constitution.
But while Morris and the other four men that represented different American states are known to be the writers of the Constitution, much of the language and ideas behind it came from elsewhere. The language used to write the US constitution was heavily borrowed from the documents drafted by John Jay and John Adams, documents that served as the constitutions for their respective states of New York and Massachusetts.
In regards to the ideas behind it, British political philosopher John Locke and his French counterpart Montesquieu were two people who were said to have been of great influence to most of the delegates at the Philadelphia convention. Locke condemned monarchy as he pointed out that the chief function of government was to secure the rights of life, liberty, and property. He went on to add that the best government is one that is accountable to the people. Montesquieu, on the other hand, stressed the importance of the separation of powers, noting that the legislative, executive and judicial functions of government should not reside in the same person or body to prevent tyranny.
The Timeline of its Writing
As mentioned above, the US Constitution which is today regarded as the oldest written and codified national constitution in force was written at the Philadelphia Convention in the old Pennsylvania State House, a place today known as Independence Hall in 1787.
The convention held for close to four months, from May 25 when drafting first began to September 17 when Washington became the first person to sign the document. From the total number of 55 delegates that attended the convention, only 39 signed the document as some had already left Philadelphia while others outrightly refused to put pen to paper on it.
In order for the US Constitution to then become law, it had to be ratified by nine of the 13 American states. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Georgia, and Connecticut became the first states to do so on December 7, 1787. States like Massachusetts first held out over issues that a compromise on amendments was later reached on. This prompted the constitution’s ratification in the state as well as in Maryland and South Carolina in February 1788. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the governing document, thus signaling the birth of a new American government under the U.S. Constitution on March 4, 1789.