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 October 20, 1774, the First Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Association in response to the “Intolerable Acts” the British government had imposed on its subjects in the colonies. These punitive laws were passed in response to patriot uprisings in the north, particularly the... Read more
On May 1, 1915, when the RMS Lusitania departed New York, it was carrying a decent amount of passengers, despite the announcement from the German Embassy printed in newspapers on April 23 warning Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so... Read more
On the evening of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln during a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. Booth chose a moment with loud laughter from the audience, which obscured the sound of the pistol. The... Read more
On May 27, 1943, Army Air Force bombardier Louis “Louie” Zamperini’s B-24 airplane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The former U.S. Olympian survived, only to face months adrift at sea and years as a Japanese POW. His fate unknown in the U.S., Louie was declared dead... Read more
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