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
The Meuse-Argonne Offensive was the largest operation of the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I and the deadliest military campaign in American history. Fought from September 26 – November 11, 1918, by over a million American soldiers, the Meuse-Argonne operation was part of the final Allied offensive... Read more
In celebration of Alexander Hamilton and the Broadway musical inspired by his extraordinary story, the National Archives will showcase original records from the Founder’s life and legacy, paired with related Hamilton lyrics.
On display in the East Rotunda Gallery through September 18, 2018.
Remembering the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Business Information Surveys for the Civil Disturbance Report, June 1968.
In a turbulent decade filled with protests and social upheaval, the murder of the civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968, resulted in widespread civil unrest in many American cities, including Washington, DC. The riots resulted in millions of dollars in... Read more
Telegram Requesting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Testimony before the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee on the Proposed Voting Rights Act, March 18, 1965
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a driving force behind the march that began in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 to protest the violent denial of African Americans’ right to vote. On March 15, President Lyndon Johnson addressed the nation in support of the Selma... Read more
Someone in the Office of War Information (OWI) News Bureau was having a jolly old time writing this memorandum on Christmas Eve 1942. It concerns rumors flying around (by way of a reindeer-led sled) about a “man in whiskers who…will come down many chimneys bringing gifts... Read more