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.
Past Featured Records
On January 8, 1790, President George Washington delivered his first annual message to Congress at Federal Hall in New York City. With this speech, Washington established the precedent of delivering a formal address to Congress to report on the state of the Union.
He praised the accomplishments... Read more
In mid-December 1944, Allied forces were surprised by a massive German offensive through the Ardennes Forrest that created a “bulge” in the Allied lines. Caught in what would become known as the “Battle of the Bulge,” the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Armed... Read more
The summer of 1814 saw military actions in Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland, with dramatically different outcomes. The British capture of the nation’s capital and the destruction of public buildings stand as one of the lowest points in U.S. history. The American victory at Baltimore,... Read more
On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced a series of proposed amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Though initially against the idea of an enumerated list of individual rights, fearing that they would be redundant and possibly limit... Read more