The Constitution of the United States is the foundation of our American Government. It lays out the system of Government and the rights of the American people. The Constitution has three parts. The Preamble tells the purpose of the document and Government. The Articles set up how the Government is organized and how the Constitution can be changed. The Amendments are changes to the Constitution. The first ten Amendments are called the Bill of Rights.

In the early 1600s, the British king set up colonies in America along the Atlantic coast. People came to the colonies for many reasons; some wanted to make money, and others came to find religious freedom. By the 1700s there were 13 British colonies. But the colonists were unhappy about paying taxes without having any say in the laws that governed them. This would eventually lead to war between the Americans and the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

Before the American Revolutionary War, each state had its own constitution. After the war ended, the states joined together to set up a Federal Government under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles turned out to be a weak system of government and this needed to be changed.

The Writing of the Constitution of the United States of America

Representatives from the states met at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. They debated about what should be included in the Constitution. Large states felt that they should have more representation in Congress, while small states wanted equal representation. The leaders created a bicameral legislative branch, which gave equal representation to each state in the Senate and representation based on population in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution also created an executive branch and a judicial branch to set up a system of checks and balances. All three branches would have power so no one branch could become more powerful than another. The Constitution was presented to the American public on September 17, 1787.

The Constitution is known as a living document because it can be changed, or amended. Since its ratification, or formal approval, it has only been changed 27 times. Although it has been amended over the years, the Constitution's basic form still exists today.

U.S. Constitution facts and figures:

  • The Constitutional Convention met at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • The Constitution became law on June 21, 1788, when two-thirds of the states ratified it.
  • The 13 colonies later became the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina.

To learn more, see the Constitution of the United States site at the National Archives.