The Constitutional Convention and Preamble

An overview of the Constitutional Convention followed by the Preamble the Constitution of the United States.
3 |
4 |
5 |
6 |
7 |
8 |
9 |
10 |
11 |

The Constitutional Convention

Social unrest and economic difficulties among the States necessitated the formation of a strong central government and the writing of the United States Constitution. George Washington described the States as being united by a "rope of sand" during the late 1700's. At the time Congress was ineffectual, radical economic and political movements (such as Shay's Rebellion) arose and the existing central government was unable to follow through on any agreements it made with foreign nations. In short, the United States needed some reorganization.

In reaction to all of these difficulties, George Washington called upon each state to appoint a representative and attend a meeting he called the Continental Congress. Some controversy surrounded this idea, but once George Washington was elected as the delegate from Virginia, elections were held in all of the states except for Rhode Island.

The delegates met at the Federal Convention in the Philadelphia State House in May, 1787. Two menfrom Pennsylvania, Gouverneur Morris and James Wilson, argued vehemently for the formation of a national government. Other delegates included Benjamin Franklin, James Madison from Virginia, Rufus King and Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts, Roger Sherman from Connecticut, and Alexander Hamilton from New York. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were unable to attend this meeting.

The Convention was only supposed to draft amendments to the Articles of Confederation but, as Madison later wrote, the delegates, "with a manly confidence in their country," discarded the Articles and built a whole new form of government. The delegates realized that they needed to forge some type of cooperation between the two different powers that existed in America -- the local governing power of the 13 semi-independent states, and the power of a central government. They decided that the new central government needed to be respectful of the powers already belonging to the states. However, they wanted the central government to have real power, so they authorized it to coin money, to regulate commerce, to declare war and to make peace, among other rights.

Although it took most of the summer to create, on September 17, 1787 the Constitution of the United States was signed. The delegates had finally forged a compromise addressing all of their concerns and created a constitution that was to be voted upon and ratified by all of the states. And, as James Madison wrote in a letter later in his life, no government can be perfect so "that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government." The government created by the Constitutional Convention aptly fits that description.


The oldest federal constitution in existence was framed by a convention of delegates from twelve of the thirteen original states in Philadelphia in May, 1787, Rhode Island failing to send a delegate.George Washington presided over the session, which lasted until September 17, 1787. The draft (originally a preamble and seven Articles) was submitted to all thirteen states and was to become effective when ratified by nine states. It went into effect on the first Wednesday in March, 1789, having been ratified by New Hampshire, the ninth state to approve, on June 21, 1788.

Below is the beginning (or "Preamble") to the Constitution of the United States.


We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

loading gif