U.S. Constitution

  • U.S. Constitution
  • U.S. Constitution
  • U.S. Constitution
  • U.S. Constitution
U.S. Constitution

The Constitution of the United States was written in Philadelphia during the sweltering summer of 1787 by a convention of delegates representing 12 of the 13 states. Presiding over this gathering of well-educated lawyers, merchants, soldiers, and landowners was George Washington, then a delegate from Virginia who had served as commander in chief of the American forces during the War for Independence.

Working in secret, the delegates abandoned the Articles of Confederation that had joined the states together during the American Revolution but had failed to create a cohesive nation. In their place, they drafted the Constitution, establishing a stronger central government that could print money, collect taxes, build an army, and regulate trade. To prevent this new government from growing too strong, the framers split its powers among three branches — executive, legislative, and judicial — each with the authority to check and balance the other two. They also balanced the powers of big states and small states, and, in the spirit of the Revolution, made clear that the real power rested with the people, who would choose their leaders and be responsible for holding them accountable.

Even as they wrote and signed the document, delegates to the Constitutional Convention knew it was imperfect and would be revised. The Constitution has been amended 27 times over the past two centuries, yet it remains the longest-lasting written national constitution in the world and continues to inspire people of other nations as they write their own laws.

The Constitution’s home is the National Archives, where it is held in trust for the American people and preserved for future generations to see in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

Download a high-resolution version of this document from the National Archives’ Online Public Access Database.

Past Featured Records
  • The Tuskegee Airmen
    The Tuskegee Airmen

    On January 16, 1941, the War Department announced the creation of the Army Air Corps 99th Pursuit Squadron – the nation’s first African American flying unit.

    The 99th Pursuit Squadron trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama, where there was an airfield and a civilian... Read more

  • 13th Amendment
    13th Amendment

    On December 6, 1865, slavery throughout the United States became illegal when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

    Four years earlier, however, Congress had passed a different 13th Amendment, stating, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power... Read more

  • Refugee Act of 1980
    Refugee Act of 1980

    In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the need for a change in American policy concerning refugees became apparent as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians fled political chaos and physical danger in their homelands. Between 1975 and 1979, some 300,000 of these refugees... Read more

  • The Coca-Cola Bottle: Celebrating 100 Years of an American Icon
    The Coca-Cola Bottle: Celebrating 100 Years of an American Icon

    “A bottle which a person could recognize even if they felt it in the dark”
    –Coca-Cola Company, 1915

    Today the Coca-Cola bottle is one of the most recognizable containers in the world, but a century ago nearly all soda bottles looked the same. To distinguish its product... Read more

  • Japanese Instrument of Surrender, 1945
    Japanese Instrument of Surrender, 1945

    On September 2, 1945, representatives from the Japanese government and Allied forces assembled aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, which effectively ended World War II.

    The document was prepared by the U.S. War Department and approved... Read more