On September 17, 1787, after spending a long, hot summer debating, the 55 delegates of the Constitutional Convention produced something many thought impossible: A brand new form of government. They set out to fix the problems that arose under the country’s first system of government - the Articles of Confederation - but soon realized they needed to go further.
The document produced by these men became the bedrock of American law, the Constitution of the United States of America. Today, it is the oldest constitution still in use in the world.
In the year following the Constitutional Convention, the delegates and other prominent political figures campaigned for the states to ratify the document as required by Article VII. The Framers of the Constitution included this requirement to ensure that the new federal government could not steamroll the states. Delaware, Connecticut, New Jersey, Georgia, and Pennsylvania ratified the Constitution right away. Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Maryland only agreed to ratify if Congress promised to add a bill of rights as soon as the Constitution took effect.
The Constitution became the official law of the land in 1788 when it was ratified by the New Hampshire legislature. New York and Virginia adopted it later that year. North Carolina ratified it after Congress added the bill of rights written by James Madison. And finally, in 1790, Rhode Island became the last of the original thirteen states to ratify the Constitution.
The Congressional Research Service, a segment of the Library of Congress, regularly releases a document entitled The Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation. FindLaw’s attorney writers and editors have divided this robust document into smaller sections and provided answers to frequently asked questions about constitutional law.
Congress has amended the Constitution twenty-seven times since its ratification in 1788. The first ten amendments are often known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments include many of the rights held in the highest esteem in the United States, such as freedom of speech, protections in criminal prosecutions, and the right to bear arms.