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
In 1916 – four years before before the 19th Amendment granted women across the country the right to vote – Jeannette Rankin was elected to Congress as a Representative from Montana.
Rankin was sworn into office on April 2, 1917, having presented this credential as evidence that she... Read more
On April 30, 1789, George Washington placed his hand upon a Bible and took the oath as the first President of the United States. The oath was administered on a second-floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. President... Read more
At 7:55 a.m. on December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes attacked the U.S. Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, catapulting the United States into World War II. In less than 2 hours, the fleet was devastated, and more than 3,500 Americans were either killed... Read more
Following decades of work to promote and feature the contributions of African Americans, the Act to establish the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was authorized by Congress in 2003. The museum, which will house 36,000 artifacts, officially opens on the National... Read more
During World War II, the U.S. Armed Forces established a policy that discharged homosexuals regardless of their behavior. In 1981, the Defense Department prohibited gay and lesbian military members from serving in its ranks with a policy that stated, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” In... Read more