The United States Constitution was written in 1787 during the Philadelphia Convention. The old Congress set the rules the new government followed in terms of writing and ratifying the new constitution. After ratification in eleven states, in 1789 its elected officers of government assembled in New York City, replacing the Articles of Confederation government. The original Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. The meaning of the Constitution is interpreted and extended by judicial review in the federal courts. The original parchment copies are on display at the National Archives Building.
Two alternative plans were developed in Convention. The nationalist majority, soon to be called "Federalists," put forth the Virginia Plan, a consolidated government based on proportional representation among the states by population. The "old patriots," later called "Anti-Federalists," advocated the New Jersey Plan, a purely federal proposal, based on providing each state with equal representation. The Connecticut Compromise allowed for both plans to work together. Other controversies developed regarding slavery and a Bill of Rights in the original document.
The drafted Constitution was submitted to the Confederation Congress. It in turn forwarded the Constitution as drafted to the states for ratification by the Constitutional method proposed. The Federalist Papers provided background and justification for the Constitution. Some states agreed to ratify the Constitution only if the amendments that were to become the Bill of Rights would be taken up immediately by the new government, and they were duly proposed in the first session of the First Congress.
Once the Confederation Congress certified that eleven states had ratified the Constitution, elections were held, the new government began on March 4, 1789, and the Articles Congress dissolved itself. Later Amendments address individual liberties and freedoms, federal relationships, election procedures, terms of office, expanding the electorate, ending slavery, financing government, consumption of alcohol and Congressional pay. Criticism over the life of the Constitution has centered on expanding democracy and states rights.
On June 4, 1776, a resolution was introduced in the Second Continental Congress declaring the union with Great Britain to be dissolved, proposing the formation of foreign alliances, and suggesting the drafting of a plan of confederation to be submitted to the respective states. Independence was declared on July 4, 1776; the preparation of a plan of confederation was postponed. Although the Declaration was a statement of principles, it did not create a government or even a framework for how politics would be carried out. It was the Articles of Confederation that provided the necessary structure to the new nation during and after the American Revolution. The Declaration, however, did set forth the ideas of natural rights and the social contract that would help form the foundation of constitutional government.
The era of the Declaration of Independence is sometimes called the "Continental Congress" period. John Adams famously estimated as many as one-third of those resident in the original thirteen colonies were patriots. Scholars such as Gordon Wood describe how Americans were caught up in the Revolutionary fervor and excitement of creating governments, societies, a new nation on the face of the earth by rational choice as Thomas Paine declared in Common Sense.
Republican government and personal liberty for "the people" were to overspread the New World continents and to last forever, a gift to posterity. These goals were influenced by Enlightenment philosophy. The adherents to this cause seized on English Whig political philosophy as described by historian Forrest McDonald as justification for most of their changes to received colonial charters and traditions. It was rooted in opposition to monarchy they saw as venal and corrupting to the "permanent interests of the people."
To these partisans, voting was the only permanent defense of the people. Elected terms for legislature were cut to one year, for Virginia's Governor, one year without re-election. Property requirements for suffrage for men were reduced to taxes on their tools in some states. Free blacks in New York could vote if they owned enough property. New Hampshire was thinking of abolishing all voting requirements for men but residency and religion. New Jersey let women vote. In some states, senators were now elected by the same voters as the larger electorate for the House, and even judges were elected to one-year terms.
These "radical Whigs" were called the people "out-of-doors." They distrusted not only royal authority, but any small, secretive group as being unrepublican. Crowds of men and women massed at the steps of rural Court Houses during market-militia-court days. Shays Rebellion is a famous example. Urban riots began by the out-of-doors rallies on the steps of an oppressive government official with speakers such as members of the Sons of Liberty holding forth in the "people's "committees" until some action was decided upon, including hanging his effigy outside a bedroom window, or looting and burning down the offending tyrant's home.
The government of the First and Second Continental Congress, the period from September 1774 to March 1, 1781 is referred to as the Revolutionary Congress. Beginning in 1777, the substantial powers assumed by Congress "made the league of states as cohesive and strong as any similar sort of republican confederation in history". The process created the United States "by the people in collectivity, rather than by the individual states", because only four had state constitutions at the time of the Declaration of Independence founding the nation, and three of those were provisional. Prior to the Articles of Confederation, and the Articles Congress, the Supreme Court in Ware v. Hylton and again in Penhallow v. Doane's Administrators, perceived Congress as exercising powers derived from the people, expressly conferred through the medium of state conventions or legislatures, and, once exercised, "impliedly ratified by the acquiescence and obedience of the people".
The Articles of Confederation was unanimously adopted in 1781. Over the previous four years, it had been used by Congress as a "working document" to administer the early United States government, win the Revolutionary War and secure the Treaty of Paris (1783) with Great Britain. Lasting successes prior to the Constitutional Convention included the Land Ordinance of 1785 whereby Congress promised settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains full citizenship and eventual statehood. Some historians characterize this period from 1781 to 1789 as weakness, dissension, and turmoil. Other scholars view the evidence as reflecting an underlying stability and prosperity. But returning prosperity in some areas did not slow the growth of domestic and foreign problems. Nationalists saw the confederation's central government as not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, regulate trade, enforce treaties, or go to war when needed.
The Congress was the sole organ of the national government, without a national court to interpret law nor an executive branch to enforce them. Governmental functions, including declarations of war and calls for an army, were supported in some degree for some time, by each state voluntarily, or not. These newly independent states separated from Britain no longer received favored treatment at British ports. The British refused to negotiate a commercial treaty in 1785 because the individual American states would not be bound by it. Congress could not act directly upon the States nor upon individuals. It had no authority to regulate foreign or interstate commerce. Every act of government was left to the individual States. Each state levied taxes and tariffs on other states at will, which invited retaliation. Congress could vote itself mediator and judge in state disputes, but states did not have to accept its decisions.
The weak central government could not back its policies with military strength, embarrassing it in foreign affairs. The British refused to withdraw their troops from the forts and trading posts in the new nation's Northwest Territory, as they had agreed to do in the Treaty of Paris of 1783. British officers on the northern boundaries and Spanish officers to the south supplied arms to Native American tribes, allowing them to attack American settlers. The Spanish refused to allow western American farmers to use their port of New Orleans to ship produce.
Revenues were requisitioned by Congressional petition to each state. None paid what they were asked; sometimes some paid nothing. Congress appealed to the thirteen states for an amendment to the Articles to tax enough to pay the public debt as principal came due. Twelve states agreed, Rhode Island did not, so it failed. The Articles required super majorities. Amendment proposals to states required ratification by all thirteen states, all important legislation needed 70% approval, at least nine states. Repeatedly, one or two states defeated legislative proposals of major importance.
Without taxes the government could not pay its debt. Seven of the thirteen states printed large quantities of its own paper money, backed by gold, land, or nothing, so there was no fair exchange rate among them. State courts required state creditors to accept payments at face value with a fraction of real purchase power. The same legislation that these states used to wipe out the Revolutionary debt to patriots was used to pay off promised veteran pensions. The measures were popular because they helped both small farmers and plantation owners pay off their debts.
The Massachusetts legislature was one of the five against paper money. It imposed a tightly limited currency and high taxes. Without paper money veterans without cash lost their farms for back taxes. This triggered Shays Rebellion to stop tax collectors and close the courts. Troops quickly suppressed the rebellion, but nationalists like George Washington warned, "There are combustibles in every state which a spark might set fire to." 
An important milestone in interstate cooperation outside the framework of the Articles of Confederation occurred in March 1785, when delegates representing Maryland and Virginia met in Virginia, to address navigational rights in the states's common waterways.[a] On March 28, 1785, the group drew up a thirteen-point proposal to govern the two states' rights on the Potomac River, Pocomoke River, and Chesapeake Bay. Known as the Mount Vernon Compact (formally titled the "Compact of 1785"), this agreement not only covered tidewater navigation but also extended to issues such as toll duties, commerce regulations, fishing rights, and debt collection. Ratified by the legislatures of both states, the compact, which is still in force, helped set a precedent for later meetings between states for discussions into areas of mutual concern.[b]
The conference's success encouraged James Madison to introduce a proposal in the Virginia General Assembly for further debate of interstate issues. With Maryland's agreement, on January 21, 1786, Virginia invited all the states to attend another interstate meeting later that year in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the trade barriers between the various states.
The Articles Congress received a report on August 7, 1786 from a twelve-member "Grand Committee", appointed to develop and present "such amendments to the Confederation, and such resolutions as it may be necessary to recommend to the several states, for the purpose of obtaining from them such powers as will render the federal government adequate to" its declared purposes. Seven amendments to the Articles of Confederation were proposed. Under these reforms, Congress would gain "sole and exclusive" power to regulate trade. States could not favor foreigners over citizens. Tax bills would require 70% vote, public debt 85%, not 100%. Congress could charge states a late payment penalty fee. A state withholding troops would be charged for them, plus a penalty. If a state did not pay, Congress could collect directly from its cities and counties. A state payment on another's requisition would earn annual 6%. There would have been a national court of seven. No-shows at Congress would have been banned from any U.S. or state office. These proposals were, however, sent back to committee without a vote and were not taken up again.
The Annapolis Convention, formally titled "A Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government", convened at George Mann's Tavern on September 11, 1786. Delegates from five states gathered to discuss ways to facilitate commerce between the states and establish standard rules and regulations. At the time, each state was largely independent from the others and the national government had no authority in these matters.
Appointed delegates from four states either arrived too late to participate or otherwise decided not attend. Because so few states were present, delegates did not deem "it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission." However, they did adopt a report calling for another convention of the states to discuss possible improvements to the Articles of Confederation. They desired that Constitutional Convention take place in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787.
Legislatures of seven states—Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Georgia—immediately approved and appointed their delegations. New York and others hesitated thinking that only the Continental Congress could propose amendments to the Articles. George Washington was unwilling to attend an irregular convention like failed Annapolis Convention. Congress then called the convention at Philadelphia. The "Federal Constitution" was to be changed to meet the requirements of good government and "the preservation of the Union". Congress would then approve what measures it allowed, then the state legislatures would unanimously confirm whatever changes of those were to take effect.
Twelve state legislatures, Rhode Island being the only exception, sent delegates to convene at Philadelphia in May 1787. While the resolution calling the Convention specified that its purpose was to propose amendments to the Articles, through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that the Convention would propose a Constitution with a fundamentally new design.
The Congress of the Confederation endorsed a plan to revise the Articles of Confederation on February 21, 1787. It called on each state legislature to send delegates to a convention "'for the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation' in ways that, when approved by Congress and the states, would 'render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the Union.'"
To amend the Articles into a workable government, 74 delegates from the twelve states were named by their state legislatures; 55 showed up, and 39 eventually signed. On May 3, eleven days early, James Madison arrived to Philadelphia and met with James Wilson of the Pennsylvania delegation to plan strategy. Madison outlined his plan in letters that (1) State legislatures each send delegates, not the Articles Congress. (2) Convention reaches agreement with signatures from every state. (3) The Articles Congress approves forwarding it to the state legislatures. (4) The state legislatures independently call one-time conventions to ratify, selecting delegates by each state's various rules of suffrage. The Convention was to be "merely advisory" to the people voting in each state.[c]
George Washington arrived on time, Sunday, the day before the scheduled opening.[d] For the entire duration of the Convention, Washington was a guest at the home of Robert Morris, Congress' financier for the American Revolution and a Pennsylvania delegate. Morris entertained the delegates lavishly. William Jackson, in two years to be the president of the Society of the Cincinnati, had been Morris' agent in England for a time; and he won election as a non-delegate to be the convention secretary.
The convention was scheduled to open May 14, but only Pennsylvania and Virginia delegations were present. The Convention was postponed until a quorum of seven states gathered on Friday the 25th.[e] George Washington was elected the Convention president, and Chancellor (judge) George Wythe (Va) was chosen Chair of the Rules Committee. The rules of the Convention were published the following Monday.[f]
Nathaniel Gorham (Ma) was elected Chair of the "Committee of the Whole". These were the same delegates in the same room, but they could use informal rules for the interconnected provisions in the draft articles to be made, remade and reconnected as the order of business proceeded. The Convention officials and adopted procedures were in place before the arrival of nationalist opponents such as John Lansing (NY) and Luther Martin (MD).[g] By the end of May, the stage was set.
The Constitutional Convention voted to keep the debates secret so that the delegates could speak freely, negotiate, bargain, compromise and change. Yet the proposed Constitution as reported from the Convention was an "innovation", the most dismissive epithet a politician could use to condemn any new proposal. It promised a fundamental change from the old confederation into a new, consolidated yet federal government. The accepted secrecy of usual affairs conducted in regular order did not apply. It became a major issue in the very public debates leading up to the crowd-filled ratification conventions.[h]
Despite the public outcry against secrecy among its critics, the delegates continued in positions of public trust. State legislatures chose ten Convention delegates of their 33 total for the Articles Congress that September.
Every few days, new delegates arrived, happily noted in Madison's Journal. But as the Convention went on, individual delegate coming and going meant that a state's vote could change with the change of delegation composition. The volatility added to the inherent difficulties, making for an "ever-present danger that the Convention might dissolve and the entire project be abandoned."
Although twelve states sent delegations, there were never more than eleven represented in the floor debates, often fewer. State delegations absented themselves at votes different times of day. There was no minimum for a state delegation; one would do. Daily sessions would have thirty members present. Members came and went on public and personal business. The Articles Congress was meeting at the same time, so members would absent themselves to New York City on Congressional business for days and weeks at a time.
But the work before them was continuous, even if attendance was not. The Convention resolved itself into a "Committee of the Whole", and could remain so for days. It was informal, votes could be taken and retaken easily, positions could change without prejudice, and importantly, no formal quorum call was required. The nationalists were resolute. As Madison put it, the situation was too serious for despair. They used the same State House, later named Independence Hall, as the Declaration signers. The building setback from the street was still dignified, but the "shaky" steeple was gone. When they adjourned each day, they lived in nearby lodgings, as guests, roomers or renters. They ate supper with one another in town and taverns, "often enough in preparation for tomorrow's meeting."
Delegates reporting to the Convention presented their credentials to the Secretary, Major William Jackson of South Carolina. The state legislatures of the day used these occasions to say why they were sending representatives abroad. New York thus publicly enjoined its members to pursue all possible "alterations and provisions" for good government and "preservation of the Union". New Hampshire called for "timely measures to enlarge the powers of Congress". Virginia stressed the "necessity of extending the revision of the federal system to all its defects".
On the other hand, Delaware categorically forbade any alteration of the Articles one-state, equal vote, one-vote-only provision in the Articles Congress. The Convention would have a great deal of work to do to reconcile the many expectations in the chamber. At the same time, delegates wanted to finish their work by fall harvest and its commerce.
May 29, Edmund Randolph (VA) proposed the Virginia Plan that would serve as the unofficial agenda for the Convention. It was weighted toward the interests of the larger, more populous states. The intent was to meet the purposes set out in the Articles of Confederation, "common defense, security of liberty and general welfare". The Virginia Plan was national, authority flowed from the people. If the people will ratify them, changes for better republican government and national union should be proposed.
Much of the Virginia Plan was adopted.[i] All the powers in the Articles transfer to the new government. Congress has two houses, the 'house' apportioned by population. It can enact laws affecting more than one state and Congress can override a veto. The President can enforce the law. The Supreme Court and inferior courts rule on international, U.S. and state law. The Constitution is the supreme law and all state officers swear to uphold the Constitution. Every state is a republic, and new states can be admitted. The Articles Congress continued until the new system started. Amendments are possible without Congress. The Convention recommendations went to Congress, from them to the states. State legislatures set the election rules for ratification conventions, and the people "expressly" chose representatives to consider and decide about the Constitution.
June 15, William Patterson (NJ) proposed the Convention minority's New Jersey Plan. It was weighted toward the interests of the smaller, less populous states. The intent was to preserve the states from a plan to "destroy or annihilate" them. The New Jersey Plan was purely federal, authority flowed from the states. Gradual change should come from the states. If the Articles could not be amended, then advocates argued that should be the report from the Convention to the states.
Although the New Jersey Plan only survived three days as an alternate proposal, substantial elements of it were adopted.[j] The articles were "revised, corrected and enlarged" for good government and preservation of the Union. The Senate is elected by the states, at first by the state legislatures. Congress passes acts for revenue collected directly in the states, and the rulings of state courts are reviewed by the Supreme Court. State apportionment for taxes failed, but the 'house' is apportioned by the population count of free inhabitants and three-fifths of others originally. States can be added to the Union. Presidents appoint federal judges. Treaties entered into by Congress are the supreme law of the land. All state judiciaries are bound to enforce treaties, state laws notwithstanding. The President can raise an army to enforce treaties in any state. States treat a violation of law in another state as though it happened there.
Current knowledge of drafting the Constitution comes primarily from the Journal left by James Madison, found chronologically incorporated in Max Farrand's "The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787", which included the Convention Journal and sources from other Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
Scholars observe that it is unusual in world history for the minority in a revolution to have the influence that the "old patriot" Anti-Federalists had over the "nationalist" Federalists who had the support of the revolutionary army in the Society of the Cincinnati. Both factions were intent on forging a nation in which both could be full participants in the changes which were sure to come, since that was most likely to allow for their national union, guarantee liberty for their posterity, and promote their mutual long-term material prosperity.
The contentious issue of slavery was too controversial to be resolved during the Convention. But it was at center stage in the Convention three times, June 7 regarding who would vote for Congress, June 11 in debate over how to proportion relative seating in the 'house', and August 22 relating to commerce and the future wealth of the nation.
Once the Convention looked at how to proportion the House representation, tempers among several delegates exploded over slavery. When the Convention progressed beyond the personal attacks, it adopted the existing "federal ratio" for taxing states by three-fifths of slaves held.
On August 6, the Committee of Detail reported its proposed revisions to the Randolph Plan. Again the question of slavery came up, and again the question was met with attacks of outrage. Over the next two weeks, delegates wove a web of mutual compromises relating to commerce and trade, east and west, slave-holding and free. The transfer of power to regulate slave trade from states to central government could happen in 20 years, but only then.[k] Later generations could try out their own answers. The delegates were trying to make a government that might last that long.
Migration of the free or "importation" of indentures and slaves could continue by states, defining slaves as persons, not property. Long-term power would change by population as counted every ten years. Apportionment in the House would not be by wealth, it would be by people, the free citizens and three-fifths the number of other persons meaning propertyless slaves and taxed Indian farming families.[l]
In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson sent a message to the 9th Congress on their constitutional opportunity to remove U.S. citizens from the transatlantic slave trade "[violating] human rights". The 1807 "Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves" took effect the first instant the Constitution allowed, January 1, 1808. The United States joined the British Parliament that year in the first "international humanitarian campaign".
In the 1840-1860 era abolitionists denounced the Fugitive Slave Clause and other protections of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison famously declared the Constitution "a covenant with death and an agreement with Hell."
In ratification conventions, the anti-slavery delegates sometimes began as anti-ratification votes. Still, the Constitution "as written" was an improvement over the Articles from an abolitionist point of view. The Constitution provided for abolition of the slave trade but the Articles did not. The outcome could be determined gradually over time. Sometimes contradictions among opponents were used to try to gain abolitionist converts. In Virginia, Federalist George Nicholas dismissed fears on both sides. Objections to the Constitution were inconsistent, "At the same moment it is opposed for being promotive and destructive of slavery!"  But the contradiction was never resolved peaceably, and the failure to do so contributed to the Civil War.
Roger Sherman (CT), although something of a political broker in Connecticut, was an unlikely leader in the august company of the Convention.[m] But on June 11, he proposed the first version of the Convention's "Great Compromise". It was like the proposal he made in the 1776 Continental Congress. Representation in Congress should be both by states and by population. There, he was voted down by the small states in favor of all states equal, one vote only. Now in 1787 Convention, he wanted to balance all the big-state victories for population apportionment. He proposed that in the second 'senate' branch of the legislature, each state should be equal, one vote and no more.[n] The motion for equal state representation in a 'senate' failed: 6 against, 5 for.
After these defeats, the delegates who called themselves the "old patriots" of 1776 and the "men of original principles" organized a caucus in the Convention. William Paterson (NJ) spoke for them introducing his "New Jersey Plan".[o] Roger Sherman (CT), a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was with them. Supporters explained that it "sustained the sovereignty of the states", while the Edmund Randolph (VA) "Virginia Plan" erased it. The Convention had no authority to propose anything not sent up from state legislatures, and the states were not likely to adopt anything new. The "nationalists" answered, The Convention could not conclude anything, but it could recommend anything.
"Patriots" said if their legislature knew anything about proposals for consolidated government, it would not have sent anyone. "Nationalists" countered, that it would be treason to withhold any proposal for good government when the salvation of the American republic was at stake. Three sessions after its introduction, the New Jersey Plan failed : 7 against, 3 for, 1 divided. For nearly a month there was no progress; small states were seriously thinking of walking out of the Convention.[p]
Then June 25, the "original principles" men finally won a vote. The 'senate' would be chosen by the state legislatures, not the people, passed: 9 for, 2 against. The basis of representation for both the 'house' and the 'senate' re-surfaced. Sherman tried a second time to get his idea for a 'house' on the basis of population and a 'senate' on an equal states basis. The "big states" got their population 'house' win, then his equal state 'senate' motion was dropped without a vote. The majority adjourned "before a determination was taken in the House."  Luther Martin (MD) insisted that he would rather divide the Union into regional governments than submit to a consolidated government under the Randolph Plan.
Sherman's proposal came up again for the third time from Oliver Ellsworth (CT). In the "senate", the states should have equal representation. Advocates said that it could not be agreed to, the union would fall apart somehow. Big states would not be trusted, the small states could confederate with a foreign power showing "more good faith". If delegates could not unite behind this here, one day the states could be united by "some foreign sword". On the question of equal state representation, the Convention adjourned in the same way again, "before a determination was taken in the House.".
On July 2, the Convention for the fourth time considered a "senate" with equal state votes. This time a vote was taken, but it stalled again, tied at 5 yes, 5 no, 1 divided. The Convention elected one delegate out of the delegation of each state onto a Committee to make a proposal; it reported July 5. Nothing changed over five days. July 10, Lansing and Yates (NY) quit the Convention in protest over the big state majorities repeatedly overrunning the small state delegations in vote after vote. No direct vote on the basis of 'senate' representation was pushed on the floor for another week.
But the Convention floor leaders kept moving forward where they could. First the new 'house' seat apportionment was agreed, balancing big and small, north and south. The big states got a decennial census for 'house' apportionment to reflect their future growth. Northerners had insisted on counting only free citizens for the 'house'; southern delegations wanted to add property. Benjamin Franklin's compromise was that there would be no "property" provision to add representatives, but states with large slave populations would get a bonus added to their free persons by counting three-fifths other persons.
On July 16, Sherman's "Great Compromise" prevailed on its fifth try. Every state was to have equal numbers in the United States Senate. Washington ruled it passed on the vote 5 yes, 4 no, 1 divided. It was not that five was a majority of twelve, but to keep the business moving forward, he used precedent established in the Convention earlier. Now some of the big-state delegates talked of walking out, but none did. Debate over the next ten days developed an agreed general outline for the Constitution. Small states readily yielded on many questions. Most remaining delegates, big-state and small, now felt safe enough to chance a new plan.
The Constitution innovated two branches of government that were not a part of the U.S. government during the Articles of Confederation. Previously, a thirteen-member committee had been left behind in Philadelphia when Congress adjourned to carry out the "executive" functions. Suits between states were referred to the Articles Congress, and treated as a private bill to be determined by majority vote of members attending that day.
On June 7, the "national executive" was taken up in Convention. The "chief magistrate", or 'presidency' was of serious concern for a formerly colonial people fearful of concentrated power in one person. But to secure a "vigorous executive", nationalist delegates such as James Wilson (PA), Charles Pinckney (SC), and John Dickenson (DE) favored a single officer. They had someone in mind whom everyone could trust to start off the new system, George Washington.
After introducing the item for discussion, there was a prolonged silence. Benjamin Franklin (Pa) and John Rutledge (SC) had urged everyone to speak their minds freely. When addressing the issue with George Washington in the room, delegates were careful to phrase their objections to potential offenses by officers chosen in the future who would be 'president' "subsequent" to the start-up. Roger Sherman (CT), Edmund Randolph (VA) and Pierce Butler[q] (SC) all objected, preferring two or three persons in the executive, as had the ancient Roman Republic.
Nathaniel Gorham was Chair of the Committee of the Whole, so Washington sat in the Virginia delegation where everyone could see how he voted. The vote for a one-man 'presidency' carried 7-for, 3-against, New York, Delaware and Maryland in the negative. Virginia, along with George Washington, had voted yes. As of that vote for a single 'presidency', George Mason (VA) gravely announced to the floor, that as of that moment, the Confederation's federal government was "in some measure dissolved by the meeting of this Convention."
The Convention was following the Randolph Plan for an agenda, taking each resolve in turn to move proceedings forward. They returned to items when overnight coalitions required adjustment to previous votes to secure a majority on the next item of business. June 19, and it was Randolph's Ninth Resolve next, about the national court system. On the table was the nationalist proposal for the inferior (lower) courts in the national judiciary.
Pure 1776 republicanism had not given much credit to judges, who would set themselves up apart from and sometimes contradicting the state legislature, the voice of the sovereign people. Under the precedent of English Common Law according to William Blackstone, the legislature, following proper procedure, was for all constitutional purposes, "the people." This dismissal of unelected officers sometimes took an unintended turn among the people. One of John Adams clients believed the First Continental Congress in 1775 had assumed the sovereignty of Parliament, and so abolished all previously established courts in Massachusetts.
In the Convention, looking at a national system, Judge Wilson (PA) sought appointments by a single person to avoid legislative payoffs. Judge Rutledge (SC) was against anything but one national court, a Supreme Court to receive appeals from the highest state courts, like the South Carolina court he presided over as Chancellor. Rufus King (MA) thought national district courts in each state would cost less than appeals that otherwise would go to the 'supreme court' in the national capital. National inferior courts passed but making appointments by 'congress' was crossed out and left blank so the delegates could take it up later after "maturer reflection."
The Constitutional Convention created a new, unprecedented form of government by reallocating powers of government. Every previous national authority had been either a centralized government, or a "confederation of sovereign constituent states." The American power-sharing was unique at the time. The sources and changes of power were up to the states. The foundations of government and extent of power came from both national and state sources. But the new government would have a national operation. To meet their goals of cementing the Union and securing citizen rights, Framers allocated power among executive, senate, house and judiciary of the central government. But each state government in their variety continued exercising powers in their own sphere.
The Convention did not start with national powers from scratch, it began with the powers already vested in the Articles Congress with control of the military, international relations and commerce.[r] The Constitution added ten more. Five were minor relative to power sharing, including business and manufacturing protections.[s] One important new power authorized Congress to protect states from the "domestic violence" of riot and civil disorder, but it was conditioned by a state request.
The Constitution increased Congressional power to organize, arm and discipline the state militias, to use them to enforce the laws of Congress, suppress rebellions within the states and repel invasions. But the Second Amendment would ensure that Congressional power could not be used to disarm state militias.
Taxation substantially increased the power of Congress relative to the states. It was limited by restrictions, forbidding taxes on exports, per capita taxes, requiring import duties to be uniform and that taxes be applied to paying U.S. debt. But the states were stripped of their ability to levy taxes on imports, which was at the time, "by far the most bountiful source of tax revenues".
Congress had no further restrictions relating to political economy. It could institute protective tariffs, for instance. Congress overshadowed state power regulating interstate commerce; the United States would be the "largest area of free trade in the world." The most undefined grant of power was the power to "make laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution" the Constitution's enumerated powers.
As of ratification, sovereignty was no longer to be theoretically indivisible. With a wide variety of specific powers among different branches of national governments and thirteen republican state governments, now "each of the portions of powers delegated to the one or to the other ... is ... sovereign with regard to its proper objects". There were some powers that remained beyond the reach of both national powers and state powers,[t] so the logical seat of American "sovereignty" belonged directly with the people-voters of each state.
Besides expanding Congressional power, the Constitution limited states and central government. Six limits on the national government addressed property rights such as slavery and taxes.[u] Six protected liberty such as prohibiting ex post facto laws and no religious tests for national offices in any state, even if they had them for state offices.[v] Five were principles of a republic, as in legislative appropriation.[w] These restrictions lacked systematic organization, but all constitutional prohibitions were practices that the British Parliament had "legitimately taken in the absence of a specific denial of the authority."
The regulation of state power presented a "qualitatively different" undertaking. In the state constitutions, the people did not enumerate powers. They gave their representatives every right and authority not explicitly reserved to themselves. The Constitution extended the limits that the states had previously imposed upon themselves under the Articles of Confederation, forbidding taxes on imports and disallowing treaties among themselves, for example.[x]
In light of the repeated abuses by ex post facto laws passed by the state legislatures, 1783–1787, the Constitution prohibited ex post facto laws and bills of attainder to protect United States citizen property rights and right to a fair trial. Congressional power of the purse was protected by forbidding taxes or restraint on interstate commerce and foreign trade. States could make no law "impairing the obligation of contracts."[y] To check future state abuses the framers searched for a way to review and veto state laws harming the national welfare or citizen rights. They rejected proposals for Congressional veto of state laws and gave the Supreme Court appellate case jurisdiction over state law because the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The United States had such a geographical extent that it could only be safely governed using a combination of republics. Federal judicial districts would follow those state lines.
The British had relied upon a concept of "virtual representation" to give legitimacy to their House of Commons. It was not necessary to elect anyone from a large port city, or the American colonies, because the representatives of "rotten boroughs", the mostly abandoned medieval fair towns with twenty voters, "virtually represented" them. Philadelphia in the colonies was second in population only to London.
They were all Englishmen, supposed to be a single people, with one definable interest. Legitimacy came from membership in Parliament of the sovereign realm, not elections from people. As Blackstone explained, the Member is "not bound ... to consult with, or take the advice, of his constituents." As Constitutional historian Gordon Wood elaborated, "The Commons of England contained all of the people's power and were considered to be the very persons of the people they represented."
While the English "virtual representation" was hardening into a theory of Parliamentary sovereignty, the American theory of representation was moving towards a theory of sovereignty of the people. In their new constitutions written since 1776, Americans required community residency of voters and representatives, expanded suffrage, and equalized populations in voting districts. There was a sense that representation "had to be proportioned to the population." The Convention would apply the new principle of "sovereignty of the people" both to the House of Representatives, and to the United States Senate.
Once the Great Compromise was reached, delegates in Convention then agreed to a decennial census to count the population. The Americans themselves did not allow for universal suffrage for all adults.[z] Their sort of "virtual representation" said that those voting in a community could understand and themselves represent non-voters when they had like interests that were unlike other political communities. There were enough differences among people in different American communities for those differences to have a meaningful social and economic reality. Thus New England colonial legislatures would not tax communities which had not yet elected representatives. When the royal governor of Georgia refused to allow representation to be seated from four new counties, the legislature refused to tax them.
The 1776 Americans had begun to demand expansion of the franchise, and in each step, they found themselves pressing towards a philosophical "actuality of consent." The Convention determined that the power of the people, should be felt in the House of Representatives. For the U.S. Congress, persons alone were counted. Property was not counted.
The Convention found it more difficult to give expression to the will of the people in new states. What state might be "lawfully arising" outside the boundaries of the existing thirteen states? The new government was like the old, to be made up of pre-existing states. Now there was to be admission of new states. Regular order would provide new states by state legislatures for Kentucky, Tennessee and Maine. But the Articles Congress had by its Northwest Ordnance presented the Convention with a new issue. Settlers in the Northwest Territory might one day constitute themselves into "no more than five" states. More difficult still, most delegates anticipated adding alien peoples of Canada, Louisiana and Florida to United States territory. Generally in American history, European citizens of empire were given U.S. citizenship on territorial acquisition. Should they become states?
Some delegates were reluctant to expand into any so "remote wilderness". It would retard the commercial development of the east. They would be easily influenced, "foreign gold" would corrupt them. Western peoples were the least desirable Americans, only good for perpetual provinces. There were so many foreigners moving out west, there was no telling how things would turn out. These were poor people, they could not pay their fair share of taxes. It would be "suicide" for the original states. New states could become a majority in the Senate, they would abuse their power, "enslaving" the original thirteen. If they also loved liberty, and could not tolerate eastern state dominance, they would be justified in civil war. Western trade interests could drag the country into an inevitable war with Spain for the Mississippi River. As time wore on, any war for the Mississippi River was obviated by the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 1812 American victory at New Orleans.
Even if there were to be western states, a House representation of 40,000 might be too small, too easy for the westerners. "States" had been declared out west already. They called themselves republics, and set up their own courts directly from the people without colonial charters. In Transylvania, Westsylvania, Franklin, and Vandalia, "legislatures" met with emissaries from British and Spanish Empires in violation of the Articles of Confederation, just as the sovereign states had done.[aa] In the Constitution as written, no majorities in Congress could break up the larger states without their consent.
"New state" advocates had no fear of western states achieving a majority one day. For example, the British sought to curb American growth. That brought hate, then separation. Follow the same rule, get the same results. Congress has never been able to discover a better rule than majority rule. If they grow, let them rule. As they grow, they must get all their supplies from eastern businesses. Character is not determined by points of a compass. States admitted are equals, they will be made up of our brethren. Commit to right principles, even if the right way, one day, benefits other states. They will be free like ourselves, their pride will not allow anything but equality.
It was at this time in the Convention that Reverend Manasseh Cutler arrived to lobby for western land sales. He brought acres of land grants to parcel out. Their sales would fund most of the U.S. government expenditures for its first few decades. There were allocations for the Ohio Company stockholders at the Convention, and for others delegates too. Good to his word, in December 1787, Cutler led a small band of pioneers into the Ohio Valley.
The provision for admitting new states became relevant at the purchase of Louisiana. It was constitutionally justifiable under the "treaty making" power of the federal government. The agrarian advocates sought to make the purchase of land that had never been administered, conquered, or formally ceded to any of the original thirteen states. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans would divide the Louisiana Purchase into states, speeding land sales to finance the federal government with no new taxes. The new populations of new states would swamp the commercial states in the Senate. They would populate the House with egalitarian Democrat-Republicans to overthrow the Federalists.[ab] Jefferson dropped the proposal of Constitutional amendment to permit the purchase, and with it, his notion of a confederation of sovereign states.
After nearly four months of debate, on September 8, 1787, the final text of the Constitution was set down and revised. Then, an official copy of the document was engrossed by Jacob Shallus. The effort consisted of copying the text (prelude, articles and endorsement) on four sheets of vellum parchment, made from treated animal skin and measuring approximately 28 inches (71 cm) by 23 inches (58 cm), probably with a goose quill. Shallus engrossed the entire document except for the list of states at the end of the document, which are in Alexander Hamilton's handwriting. On September 17, 1787, following a speech given by Benjamin Franklin, 39 delegates endorsed and submitted the Constitution to the Congress of the Confederation.
Massachusetts' Rufus King assessed the Convention as a creature of the states, independent of the Articles Congress, submitting its proposal to Congress only to satisfy forms. Though amendments were debated, they were all defeated. On September 28, 1787, the Articles Congress resolved "unanimously" to transmit the Constitution to state legislatures for submitting to a ratification convention according to the Constitutional procedure. Several states enlarged the numbers qualified just for electing ratification delegates. In doing so, they went beyond the Constitution's provision for the most voters for the state legislature.[ac]
Delaware, on December 7, 1787, became the first State to ratify the new Constitution, with its vote being unanimous. Pennsylvania ratified on December 12, 1787, by a vote of 46 to 23 (66.67%). New Jersey ratified on December 19, 1787, and Georgia on January 2, 1788, both unanimously. The requirement of ratification by nine states, set by Article Seven of the Constitution, was met when New Hampshire voted to ratify, on June 21, 1788.
In New York, fully two thirds of the convention delegates were at first opposed to the Constitution. Hamilton led the Federalist campaign, which included the fast-paced appearance of The Federalist Papers in New York newspapers. An attempt to attach conditions to ratification almost succeeded, but on July 26, 1788, New York ratified, with a recommendation that a bill of rights be appended. The vote was close – yeas 30 (52.6%), nays 27 – due largely to Hamilton's forensic abilities and his reaching a few key compromises with moderate anti-Federalists led by Melancton Smith.[ad]
Following Massachusetts's lead, the Federalist minorities in both Virginia and New York were able to obtain ratification in convention by linking ratification to recommended amendments. A minority of the Constitution's critics continued to oppose the Constitution. Maryland's Luther Martin argued that the federal convention had exceeded its authority; he still called for amending the Articles. Article 13 of the Articles of Confederation stated that the union created under the Articles was "perpetual" and that any alteration must be "agreed to in a Congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every State".
However, the unanimity required under the Articles made all attempts at reform impossible. Martin's allies such as New York's John Lansing, Jr., dropped moves to obstruct the Convention's process. They began to take exception to the Constitution "as it was", seeking amendments. Several conventions saw supporters for "amendments before" shift to a position of "amendments after" for the sake of staying in the Union. New York Anti's "circular letter" was sent to each state legislature proposing a second constitutional convention for "amendments before". It failed in the state legislatures. Ultimately only North Carolina and Rhode Island would wait for amendments from Congress before ratifying.
|The Constitution was ratified by the states|
in the following order:
|1||December 7, 1787||Delaware||30||0|
|2||December 11, 1787||Pennsylvania||46||23|
|3||December 18, 1787||New Jersey||38||0|
|4||January 2, 1788||Georgia||26||0|
|5||January 9, 1788||Connecticut||128||40|
|6||February 6, 1788||Massachusetts||187||168|
|7||April 26, 1788||Maryland||63||11|
|8||May 23, 1788||South Carolina||149||73|
|9||June 21, 1788||New Hampshire||57||47|
|10||June 25, 1788||Virginia||89||79|
|11||July 26, 1788||New York||30||27|
|12||November 21, 1789||North Carolina||194||77|
|13||May 29, 1790||Rhode Island||34||32|
Article VII of the proposed constitution stipulated that only nine of the thirteen states would have to ratify for the new government to go into effect for the participating states. By the end of July 1788, eleven states had ratified the Constitution, and soon thereafter, the process of organizing the new government began. On September 13, 1788, the Articles Congress certified that the new Constitution had been ratified by more than enough states for it to go into effect. Congress fixed the city of New York as the temporary seat of the new government and set the dates for the election of representatives and presidential electors. It also set the date for operations to begin under the new government. This occurred on March 4, 1789, when the First Congress convened.
The membership of the new Congress was decidedly federalist. In the eleven-state (minus North Carolina and Rhode Island) Senate 20 were Federalist and two Anti-federalist (both from Virginia). The House included 48 Federalists and 11 Anti-federalists (from four states: Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia). On April 6 the House and Senate held a joint meeting to count the electoral vote. George Washington was unanimously elected the first president, even receiving the electoral vote of ardent anti-federalist Patrick Henry. John Adams of Massachusetts was elected vice president. Both were sworn into office on April 30, 1789. The business of setting up the new government was completed.
Anti-Federalists' fears of personal oppression by Congress were allayed by amendments passed under the floor leadership of James Madison during the first session of Congress. These first ten Amendments became known as the Bill of Rights. Objections to a potentially remote federal judiciary were reconciled with 13 federal courts (11 states, plus Maine and Kentucky), and three federal riding circuits out of the Supreme Court: Eastern, Middle and South. Suspicion of a powerful federal executive was answered by Washington's cabinet appointments of once-Anti-Federalists Edmund Jennings Randolph as Attorney General and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. What Constitutional historian Pauline Maier termed a national "dialogue between power and liberty" had begun anew.
Since the beginning of federal operations under the Constitution in 1789 through the beginning of 2013, approximately 11,539 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced in the United States Congress. Of these, thirty-three have been approved by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Twenty-seven of these amendments have been ratified and are now part of the Constitution. The first ten amendments were adopted and ratified simultaneously and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Prior to the Twenty-seventh Amendment, which languished for 202 years, 7 months, 12 days before being ratified (submitted for ratification in 1789 as part of the Bill of Rights, but not ratified until 1992), the Twenty-second Amendment held the record for longest time taken to successfully complete the ratification process – 3 years, 11 months, 6 days. The Twenty-sixth Amendment holds the record for shortest time taken – 3 months, 8 days. Six amendments adopted by Congress and sent to the states have not been ratified by the required number of states and are not part of the Constitution. Four of these are still technically open and pending, one is closed and has failed by its own terms, and one is closed and has failed by the terms of the resolution proposing it.
Much of opposition to the proposed Constitution within several states arose, not because the machinery of the new frame of government was considered unworkable or because strengthening the union between the 13 states viewed as undesirable. The debates in the state ratifying conventions centered around the absence of anything equivalent to the bill of rights found in several state constitutions. George Mason, a delegate to the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, refused to sign the document because he felt it did not specifically spell out or protect individual rights sufficiently. He also opposed the constitution when it was brought before the state for ratification. He acquiesced and the convention voted narrowly to give its assent only after it was decided that a list of twenty proposed amendments be sent along with the state's resolution of ratification. Delegates to Massachusetts' convention had many of the same concerns, and along with its notification of approval made a request for nine alterations, the first among them being "that it be explicitly declared that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved to the states to be exercised by them." New York, not to be outdone, appended a list of thirty-two requested amendments plus a lengthy statement of impressions and explanations about the new Constitution to their affirmative vote.
The sharp Anti-Federalist critique of the Constitution did not abate after it became operational, and by the time the First Congress convened in March 1789, there existed widespread sentiment in both the House and Senate in favor of making alterations. That September, Congress adopted twelve amendments and sent to the states for ratification. Ten of these were ratified by the required number of states in December 1791 and became part of the Constitution. These amendments enumerate freedoms not explicitly indicated in the main body of the Constitution, such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, and free assembly; the right to keep and bear arms; freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, security in personal effects, and freedom from warrants issued without probable cause; indictment by a grand jury for a capital or "infamous crime"; guarantee of a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury; and prohibition of double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States.
Amendments to the Constitution subsequent to the Bill of Rights cover a wide range of subjects. Several have added significant content to the original document. One of the most far-reaching is the Fourteenth, ratified in 1868, which establishes a clear and simple definition of citizenship and guarantees equal treatment under the law. Also significant are the Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth, which were enacted to extend the right to vote to persons previously considered ineligible and also to protect their exercise of that right. One Amendment, the Eighteenth, which criminalized the production, transport and sale of alcohol nationwide, was later repealed by another, the Twenty-first. Nine ratified amendments (11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 20, 22, and 25) have explicitly superseded or modified the text of the original Constitution.
|Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3aα||Regarding how the apportionment
of representatives and direct taxes
among the states is determined.
|Superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2|
|Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1||Regarding the senators from each
state being chosen by the
legislature of that state.
|Superseded by the Seventeenth Amendment, Section 1β|
|Article 1, Section 3, Clause 2||Regarding the filling of vacancies
in the senate.
|Superseded by the Seventeenth Amendment, Section 2|
|Article 1, Section 4, Clause 2||Regarding when each year the
Congress must assemble.
|Modified by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 2|
|Article 1, Section 9, Clause 4||Regarding Congress' restricted
|Superseded by the Sixteenth Amendment|
|Article 2, Section 1, Clause 1b||Regarding the length of the
president's and vice president's
term of office.
|Temporarily modifiedγ by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 1|
|Article 2, Section 1, Clause 3||Regarding Electoral College
|Superseded by the Twelfth Amendmentδ|
|Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5||Regarding eligibility for
holding the office of president.
|Modified by the Twenty-second Amendment, Section 1|
|Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6||Regarding presidential powers and
duties if the presidency is vacant
or if the President is unable to
discharge said powers and duties.
|Superseded by the Twenty-fifth Amendment|
|Article 3, Section 2, Clause 1||Regarding the diversity jurisdiction
given to the judiciary to hear cases
between a state and citizens
of another state.
|Modified by the Eleventh Amendment|
|Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3||Regarding persons held (involuntarily)
to service or labor.
|Superseded by the Thirteenth Amendment, Section 1|
|α – In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment rendered the formula prescribed in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3, whereby only three-fifths of all other Persons (slaves) were counted when determining a state's total population for apportionment purposes, moot de jure. Three years later, the entire first sentence of the clause was superseded by the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2. This later amendment however, left Congress' taxation power unchanged, as the replacement clause in it made no mention of apportionment of direct taxes. Even so, Congress' ability to levy taxes was still governed by Article 1 Section 9 Clause 4 of the Constitution.|
|β – Section 1 of the Seventeenth Amendment, regarding the six-year term of office for senators, was shortened for those persons whose term as senator ended on March 4, 1935, 1937, and 1939, by the interval between January 3 and March 4, of that year (61 days) by the Twentieth Amendment, which became part of the Constitution on January 23, 1933 and the changes made by Section 1 took effect on October 15, 1933. This amendment also had a de facto effect on Article 1, Section 2, Clause 1a, for although the election was held as prescribed, the term of office for the persons elected to Congress in November 1932, was in effect shortened by the same interval of days.|
|γ – The term of office for the persons elected President and Vice President (Franklin D. Roosevelt and John Nance Garner respectively) in November 1932, was shortened by the interval between January 20 and March 4, 1937 (44 days), by the Twentieth Amendment.|
|δ – The fourth sentence of the Twelfth Amendment, regarding the Vice President acting as President if the House, when the choice is theirs to make, has not elected a President by March 4, has been superseded by the Twentieth Amendment, Section 3.|
In the early twentieth century Lochner era, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional various state laws that limited labor contracts. The Constitution was criticized as putting the government at the beck and call of big business.
More recent criticism has often been academic and limited to particular features. University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson wonders whether it makes sense for the Connecticut Compromise to give "Wyoming the same number of votes as California, which has roughly seventy times the population". Levinson thinks this imbalance causes a "steady redistribution of resources from large states to small states." Levinson is critical of the Electoral College as it allows the possibility of electing presidents who do not win the majority, or even plurality, of votes. Five times in American history, presidents have been elected despite failing to win a plurality of the popular vote: 1824 (John Quincy Adams), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison), 2000 (George W. Bush) and 2016 (Donald Trump). The current impeachment powers do not give the people a quick way to remove incompetent or ill presidents, in his view. Others have criticized gerrymandering.
Yale professor Robert A. Dahl saw a problem with an American tendency towards worship of the Constitution itself. (See American civil religion) He sees aspects of American governance which are "unusual and potentially undemocratic: the federal system, the bicameral legislature, judicial review, presidentialism, and the electoral college system." Levinson and Labunski and others have called for a Second Constitutional Convention, although professors like Dahl believe there is no real hope this would ever happen. French journalist Jean-Philippe Immarigeon wrote in Harper's that the "nearly 230-year-old constitution stretched past the limits of its usefulness", and suggested key problem points were the inability to call an election when government became gridlocked, a several month period between inauguration of a president and when he or she takes office, and inability of the lower house of Congress to influence serious foreign policy decisions such as ending a war when faced with a veto.
University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato advocates an amendment to organize presidential primaries. Sabato details more objections in his book A More Perfect Constitution.  He opposes life tenure for Federal Court judges, including Supreme Court justices. He also writes that "If the 26 least populated states voted as a bloc, they would control the U.S. Senate with a total of just under 17% of the country's population." Sabato further contends that the Constitution is in need of an overhaul, and argues that only a national constitutional convention can bring the document up to date and settle many of the issues that have arisen over the past two centuries.
In United States history, four periods of widespread Constitutional criticism have been characterized by the idea that specific political powers belong to state governments and not to the federal government—a doctrine commonly known as states rights. At each stage, states' rights advocates failed to develop a preponderance in public opinion or to sustain the democratic political will required to alter the generally held constitutional understanding and political practice in the United States. At its adoption among the people in the state ratification conventions, the "men of original principles" opposed the new national government as violating the Whig philosophy generally accepted among the original thirteen colonies in 1776. According to this view, Congress as a legislature should be only equal to any state legislature, and only the people in each state might be sovereign. They are now referred to as the Anti-Federalists in American historiography. The proponents of "state sovereignty" and "states rights" were outvoted in eleven of thirteen state ratification conventions, then thirteen of thirteen, to "ordain and establish" the Constitution.
During Andrew Jackson's administration, South Carolina objected to U.S. government's "tariff of abominations" collected as federal duties in Charleston Harbor. The Nullification Crisis ensued. Justification for the nullifiers was found in the U.S. Senate speeches and writings of John C. Calhoun. He defended slavery against the Constitutional provisions allowing its statutory regulation or its eventual abolition by Constitutional amendment, most notably in his Disquisition on Government. The crisis was averted when once General Jackson declared he would march a U.S. army into South Carolina and hang the first nullifier he saw from the first tree, and a new negotiated tariff, the Compromise Tariff of 1833, satisfactory to South Carolina was enacted. Despite this, a states-rights-based defense of slavery persisted amongst Southerners until the American Civil War; conversely, Northerners explored nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Abraham Lincoln kept a portrait of Andrew Jackson above his desk at the War Department during efforts to defend the Constitution as understood by a national majority of people and states at that time.
In the mid-19th Century during the administrations of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant, the United States suffered a tragic passage through the Civil War and Reconstruction. An important survey of the philosophical and legal underpinnings of "States Rights" as held by secessionists and Lost Cause advocates afterwards is found in the speeches of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Davis defended secession by appealing to the "original principles" of the Founders' 1776 Revolutionary generation, and by expanding on William Blackstone's doctrine of legislative supremacy. By the elections of 1872, all states which had been admitted to the United States in accordance with the Constitution were fully represented in the U.S. Congress.
Following the Supreme Court 1954 holding in Brown v. Board of Education, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used National Guard and U.S. paratroopers to enforce the rulings of the Federal Courts as they pertained to the Constitution. The "States Rights" doctrine was again appealed to during the mid-20th Century resistance to racial integration in the schools, notably in Arkansas' Little Rock Nine, Alabama's Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, and Virginia's Massive Resistance. Public schools in every state are now racially integrated by law under the authority of the U.S. Constitution.
The tradition is seen in many shorter episodes of limited minority protest against the United States. During the War of 1812, Federalists conducted a Hartford Convention proposing New England secession during wartime to reopen trade with the declared enemy of the United States. It led to accusations of treason and the demise of the Federalist Party as a force in American politics. In 1921, the Maryland Attorney General sued to block woman suffrage. He argued in Leser v. Garnett that state legislatures were Constitutionally the sole determiners of who should vote in what federal or state elections, and that the 19th Amendment was improper. The Supreme Court's judicial review of the state court findings held that the 19th Amendment was Constitutional, and that it applied to the women's right to vote in every state. Women now vote in every state under the authority of the U.S. Constitution.
One exceptional example of "states rights" persuading overwhelming majorities in a democratic and sustained way, and so transforming the nation came in the John Adams administration. Fear had spread that radical democratic sentiment might turn subversive as it had in the French Reign of Terror. But the Federalist-sponsored Alien and Sedition Acts meant to preempt the danger led to suppression of opposition press. The political reaction in the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions sparked public opposition against the Federalist policy and led to twenty-four years of Constitutionally elected Democratic-Republican Party rule through six administrations of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, opponents of federal laws prohibiting the sale and possession of marijuana have based their objections partially on states' rights grounds, as have opponents of federal laws and regulations pertaining to firearms. States' rights under the constitution has also been recently raised as an issue on a number of other occasions, most notably regarding Common Core, the Affordable Care Act, and same-sex marriage.
At first, little interest was shown in the parchment object itself. Madison had custody of it as Secretary of State (1801–1809) but having left Washington, he had lost track of it in the years leading to his death. A publisher had access to it in 1846 for a book on the Constitution. In 1883 historian J. Franklin Jameson found the parchment folded in a small tin box on the floor of a closet at the State, War and Navy Building. In 1894 the State Department sealed the Declaration and Constitution between two glass plates and kept them in a safe.
The two parchment documents were turned over to the Library of Congress by executive order, and in 1924 President Coolidge dedicated the bronze-and-marble shrine for public display of the Constitution in the main building. The parchments were laid over moisture absorbing cellulose paper, vacuum-sealed between double panes of insulated plate glass, and protected from light by a gelatin film. Although building construction of the Archives Building was completed in 1935, in December 1941 they were moved from the Library of Congress until September 1944, and stored at the U.S. Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, Kentucky, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. In 1951 following a study by the National Bureau of Standards to protect from atmosphere, insects, mold and light, the parchments were re-encased with special light filters, inert helium gas and proper humidity. They were transferred to the National Archives in 1952.
Since 1952, the "Charters of Freedom" have been displayed in the Rotunda of the National Archives Building. Visual inspections have been enhanced by electronic imaging. Changes in the cases led to removal from their cases July 2001, preservation treatment by conservators, and installment in new encasements for public display in September 2003.
Elections to the United States House of Representatives for the 1st Congress were held in 1788 and 1789, coinciding with the election of George Washington as first President of the United States. The dates and methods of election were set by the states. Actual political parties did not yet exist, but new members of Congress were informally categorized as either "pro-Administration" (i.e., pro-Washington and pro-Hamilton) or "anti-Administration".
The first session of the first House of Representatives came to order in Federal Hall, New York City on March 4, 1789, with only thirteen members present. The requisite quorum (thirty members out of fifty-nine) was not present until April 1, 1789. The first order of business was the election of a Speaker of the House. On the first ballot, Frederick Muhlenberg was elected Speaker by a majority of votes. The business of the first session was largely devoted to legislative procedure rather than policy.Albany Congress
The Albany Congress (also known as "The Conference of Albany") was a meeting of representatives sent by the legislatures of seven of the thirteen British colonies in British America: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. Northernmost Newfoundland and Nova Scotia were not in attendance. Representatives met daily at the Stadt Huys in Albany, New York, from June 18 to July 11, 1754, to discuss better relations with the American Indian tribes and common defensive measures against the French threat from Canada in the opening stage of the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War between Great Britain and France.
Delegates did not have the goal of creating an American nation; rather, they were colonists with the more limited mission of pursuing a treaty with the Mohawks and other major Iroquois tribes. This was the first time that American colonists had met together, and it provided a model that came into use in setting up the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, as well as the First Continental Congress in 1774, which were preludes to the American Revolution.Austin Scott (Rutgers)
Austin Scott (August 10, 1848 – August 15, 1922) was the tenth President of Rutgers College (now Rutgers University), serving from 1891 to 1906.ConSource
The Constitutional Sources Project (ConSource) is a non-profit organization that provides source documents on the history of the United States Constitution available for research.Constitutional Convention (United States)
The Constitutional Convention (also known as the Philadelphia Convention, the Federal Convention, or the Grand Convention at Philadelphia) took place from May 25 to September 17, 1787, in the old Pennsylvania State House (later known as Independence Hall because of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence there eleven years before) in Philadelphia. Although the Convention was intended to revise the league of states and first system of government under the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison of Virginia and Alexander Hamilton of New York, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington of Virginia, former commanding general of the Continental Army in the late American Revolutionary War (1775–1783) and proponent of a stronger national government, to preside over the Convention. The result of the Convention was the creation of the Constitution of the United States, placing the Convention among the most significant events in American history.
At the time, the convention was not referred to as a "Constitutional" convention, nor did most of the delegates arrive intending to draft a new constitution. Many assumed that the purpose of the convention was to discuss and draft improvements to the existing Articles of Confederation, and would have not agreed to participate otherwise. Once the Convention began, however, most of the delegates – though not all – came to agree in general terms that the goal would be a new system of government, not simply a revised version of the Articles of Confederation.
Several broad outlines were proposed and debated, most notably James Madison's Virginia Plan and William Paterson's New Jersey Plan. The Virginia Plan was selected as the basis for the new government, but several issues delayed further progress and put the success of the Convention in doubt. The most contentious disputes revolved around composition and election of the upper legislative house in the future bicameral Congress, to be known as the Senate, how "proportional representation" was to be defined (whether to include slaves or property), whether to divide the executive power between three persons or invest the power into a single chief executive to be called the President, how to elect the President, how long his term was to be and whether he could run for reelection, what offenses should be impeachable, the nature of a fugitive slave clause, whether to allow the abolition of the slave trade, and whether judges should be chosen by the legislature or executive. Most of the time during the Convention was spent on deciding these issues; the concept of a federal government with three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) and the general role of each branch was not heavily disputed.
Progress was slow until mid-July, when the Connecticut Compromise resolved enough lingering arguments for a draft written by the Committee of Detail to gain acceptance. Though more modifications and compromises were made over the following weeks, most of the rough draft remained in place and can be found in the finished version of the Constitution. After several more issues were resolved, the Committee on Style produced the final version in early September. It was voted on by the delegates, inscribed on parchment with engraving for printing, and signed by thirty-nine of fifty-five delegates on September 17, 1787. The completed proposed Constitution was then released to the public to begin the debate and ratification process.Founding Fathers of the United States
The Founding Fathers of the United States, or simply the Founding Fathers, were a group of philosophers, politicians, and writers who led the American Revolution against the Kingdom of Great Britain. Most were descendants of colonists settled in the Thirteen Colonies in North America.
Historian Richard B. Morris in 1973 identified the following seven figures as the key Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were members of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were authors of The Federalist Papers, advocating ratification of the Constitution. The constitutions drafted by Jay and Adams for their respective states of New York (1777) and Massachusetts (1780) were heavily relied upon when creating language for the U.S. Constitution. Jay, Adams, and Franklin negotiated the Treaty of Paris (1783) that would end the American Revolutionary War. Washington was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and was President of the Constitutional Convention. All held additional important roles in the early government of the United States, with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison serving as President. Jay was the nation's first Chief Justice, Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Franklin was America's most senior diplomat, and later the governmental leader of Pennsylvania.
The term Founding Fathers is sometimes used to refer to the Signers of the embossed version of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Signers should not be confused with the term Framers; the Framers are defined by the National Archives as those 55 individuals who were appointed to be delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention and took part in drafting the proposed Constitution of the United States. Of the 55 Framers, only 39 were signers of the Constitution. Two further groupings of Founding Fathers include: 1) those who signed the Continental Association, a trade ban and one of the colonists' first collective volleys protesting British control and the Intolerable Acts in 1774, or 2) those who signed the Articles of Confederation, the first U.S. constitutional document.The phrase "Founding Fathers" is a 20th-century appellation, coined by Warren G. Harding in 1916. Prior to, and during the 19th century, they were referred to as simply the "Fathers". The term has been used to describe the founders and first settlers of the original royal colonies.George Mason
George Mason IV (December 11, 1725 [O.S. November 30, 1725] – October 7, 1792) was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government (1787) in opposition to ratification, have exercised a significant influence on American political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason principally authored, served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father.
Mason was born in 1725, most likely in what is now Fairfax County, Virginia. His father died when he was young, and his mother managed the family estates until he came of age. He married in 1750, built Gunston Hall, and lived the life of a country squire, supervising his lands, family, and slaves. He briefly served in the House of Burgesses and involved himself in community affairs, sometimes serving with his neighbor George Washington. As tensions grew between Britain and the American colonies, Mason came to support the colonial side, and used his knowledge and experience to help the revolutionary cause, finding ways to work around the Stamp Act of 1765 and serving in the pro-independence Fourth Virginia Convention in 1775 and the Fifth Virginia Convention in 1776.
Mason prepared the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, and his words formed much of the text adopted by the final Revolutionary Virginia Convention. He also wrote a constitution for the state; Thomas Jefferson and others sought to have the convention adopt their ideas, but they found that Mason's version could not be stopped. During the American Revolutionary War, Mason was a member of the powerful House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly but, to the irritation of Washington and others, he refused to serve in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, citing health and family commitments.
Mason was in 1787 named one of his state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention and traveled to Philadelphia, his only lengthy trip outside Virginia. Many clauses in the Constitution bear his stamp, as he was active in the convention for months before deciding that he could not sign it. He cited the lack of a bill of rights most prominently in his Objections, but also wanted an immediate end to the slave trade and a supermajority for navigation acts, which might force exporters of tobacco to use more expensive American ships. He failed to attain these objectives there, and again at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, but his prominent fight for a bill of rights led fellow Virginian James Madison to introduce one during the First Congress in 1789; these amendments were ratified in 1791, a year before Mason died. Obscure after his death, Mason has come to be recognized in the 20th and 21st centuries for his contributions both to the early United States and to Virginia.Hillsborough Convention
The Hillsborough Convention, also historically referred to as the Convention of North-Carolina, was a convention of 270 delegates, representing 7 boroughs and 58 counties in the state and its western territories, who met from July 21 to August 4, 1788 to deliberate and determine whether to ratify the Constitution recommended to the states by the General Convention held in Philadelphia the previous summer. These delegates had won their seats through special elections held in March 1788 as mandated by the North Carolina General Assembly. The convention was held in Hillsborough, North Carolina at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. Governor Samuel Johnston presided over the Convention.Jacob Shallus
Jacob Shallus or Shalus (1750–April 18, 1796) was the engrosser or penman of the original copy of the United States Constitution. The handwritten document that Shallus engrossed is on display at the National Archives Building in Washington.
Shallus was the son of German immigrants, Valentine Schallus and Frederica Catherina. His brother Thomas Shallus was a mapmaker. He was born a year after his father Valentine immigrated to Pennsylvania and was a volunteer in the Revolutionary War. During the war Shallus fought in Canada and became a quartermaster of Pennsylvania's 1st Battalion. Shallus also assisted in the outfitting of a privateering vessel, the Retrieve. At the time of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Shallus served as Assistant Clerk to the Pennsylvania General Assembly, which met at the Pennsylvania State House (today known as Independence Hall). The convention's desire for speedy drafting and Shallus' convenience to the convention's meeting may have influenced his choice as engrosser.Shallus' name appears nowhere on the document itself, but an investigation into the identity of the Penman in 1937 for the 150th anniversary of the Constitution revealed the identity of the transcriber. Shallus was paid $30 for his engrossing work, a sum recorded as for "clerks employed to transcribe & engross." The effort consisted of copying the Constitution on four sheets of parchment made from treated animal skin (either calf, goat, or sheep; in 1987 the supervising conservator at the National Archives said, "We don't know which") and measuring 28 3/4 inches by 23 5/8 inches, probably with a goose quill and with ink made of iron filings in oak gall that was black when applied but that has now turned brownish. Shallus engrossed the entire document except for the list of states at the end of the document, which are in Alexander Hamilton's handwriting.Shallus is also credited as Assistant Secretary in the 1790 re-authoring of the State Constitution of Pennsylvania.
Shallus married Elizabeth Melchor, sister to Col. Isaac Melcher, Barrack-Master-General of the Revolutionary Army. Her obituary from the Democratic Press (Pennsylvania), Aug. 3, 1818, p. 3 notes that she was "one of those patriotic Ladies of Philadelphia who first associated together and supplied the suffering soldiers with shirts, stockings, &c. in that eventful period of the revolution, which tried and apalled [sic] even men's souls."List of amendments to the United States Constitution
Thirty-three amendments to the United States Constitution have been proposed by the United States Congress and sent to the states for ratification since the Constitution was put into operation on March 4, 1789. Twenty-seven of these, having been ratified by the requisite number of states, are part of the Constitution. The first ten amendments were adopted and ratified simultaneously and are known collectively as the Bill of Rights. Six amendments adopted by Congress and sent to the states have not been ratified by the required number of states. Four of these amendments are still technically open and pending, one is closed and has failed by its own terms, and one is closed and has failed by the terms of the resolution proposing it. All 33 amendments are listed and detailed in the tables below.
Article Five of the United States Constitution details the two-step process for amending the nation's frame of government. Amendments must be properly proposed and ratified before becoming operative. This process was designed to strike a balance between the excesses of constant change and inflexibility.
An amendment may be proposed and sent to the states for ratification by either:
The United States Congress, whenever a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives deem it necessary;orA national convention, called by Congress for this purpose, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds (currently 34) of the states..
To become part of the Constitution, an amendment must be ratified by either (as determined by Congress):
The legislatures of three-fourths (currently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period if one is set;orState ratifying conventions in three-fourths (currently 38) of the states, within the stipulated time period if one is set.
When a constitutional amendment is sent to the states for ratification, the Archivist of the United States is charged with responsibility for administering the ratification process under the provisions of 1 U.S.C. § 106b. Then, upon being properly ratified, the archivist issues a certificate proclaiming that an amendment has become an operative part of the Constitution.Approximately 11,770 proposals to amend the Constitution have been introduced in Congress since 1789 (as of January 3, 2019). Collectively, members of the House and Senate typically propose around 200 amendments during each two–year term of Congress. Most, however, never get out of the Congressional committees in which they were proposed, and only a fraction of those that do receive enough support to win Congressional approval to go through the constitutional ratification process.
Beginning in the early 20th century, Congress has usually, but not always, stipulated that an amendment must be ratified by the required number of states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states in order to become part of the Constitution. Congress' authority to set ratification deadline was affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in Coleman v. Miller, 307 U.S. 433 (1939).Outline of United States history
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to the history of the United States.Peter Sagal
Peter Daniel Sagal (born January 31, 1965) is an American humorist, writer, and host of the National Public Radio game show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and the PBS special Constitution USA with Peter Sagal.Signing of the United States Constitution
The Signing of the United States Constitution occurred on September 17, 1787, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, representing 12 states (all but Rhode Island, which declined to send delegates), endorsed the Constitution created during the four-month-long convention. In addition to signatures, this endorsement, the Constitution's eschatocol, included a brief declaration that the delegates' work has been successfully completed and that those whose signatures appear on it subscribe to the final document. Included are, a statement pronouncing the document's adoption by the states present, a formulaic dating of its adoption, along with the signatures of those endorsing it. Additionally, the convention's secretary, William Jackson, signed the document to authenticate the validity of the delegate signatures. He also made a few secretarial notes.
The language of the concluding endorsement, conceived by Gouverneur Morris and presented to the convention by Benjamin Franklin, was made intentionally ambiguous in hopes of winning over the votes of dissenting delegates. Advocates for the new frame of government, realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the consent of the states needed for it to become operational, were anxious to obtain the unanimous support of the delegations from each state. It was feared that many of the delegates would refuse to give their individual assent to the Constitution. Therefore, in order that the action of the Convention would appear to be unanimous, the formula, Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present ... was devised.
The U.S. Constitution lays out the frame of the nation's federal government and delineates how its 3 branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) are to function. Of those who signed it, virtually every one had taken part in the American Revolution; seven had signed the Declaration of Independence, and thirty had served on active military duty. In general, they represented a cross-section of 18th-century American leadership, with individuals having experience in local or colonial and state government. Jonathan Dayton, age 26, was the youngest to sign the Constitution, while Benjamin Franklin, age 81, was the oldest.United States Bill of Rights
The United States Bill of Rights comprises the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Proposed following the often bitter 1787–88 debate over ratification of Constitution, and written to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, the Bill of Rights amendments add to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically granted to the U.S. Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. The concepts codified in these amendments are built upon those found in earlier documents, especially the Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776), as well as the English Bill of Rights (1689) and the Magna Carta (1215).Due largely to the efforts of Representative James Madison, who studied the deficiencies of the constitution pointed out by anti-federalists and then crafted a series of corrective proposals, Congress approved twelve articles of amendment on September 25, 1789, and submitted them to the states for ratification. Contrary to Madison's proposal that the proposed amendments be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution (at the relevant articles and sections of the document), they were proposed as supplemental additions (codicils) to it. Articles Three through Twelve were ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791, and became Amendments One through Ten of the Constitution. Article Two became part of the Constitution on May 5, 1992, as the Twenty-seventh Amendment. Article One is still pending before the states.
Although Madison's proposed amendments included a provision to extend the protection of some of the Bill of Rights to the states, the amendments that were finally submitted for ratification applied only to the federal government. The door for their application upon state governments was opened in the 1860s, following ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since the early 20th century both federal and state courts have used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply portions of the Bill of Rights to state and local governments. The process is known as incorporation.There are several original engrossed copies of the Bill of Rights still in existence. One of these is on permanent public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.United States constitutional law
United States constitutional law is the body of law governing the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution.William Lambert (writer)
William Lambert was the Engrosser or Penman of the United States Bill of Rights whose hand-written copy of the Bill of Rights hangs in the US National Archives.
William Lambert served as a congressional clerk at the time of the drafting of the Bill of Rights.
During the 1820s, Lambert was a member of the prestigious society, Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences, who counted among their members former presidents Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams and many prominent men of the day, including well-known military representatives, government service persons, medical practitioners, and practitioners of other professions.
|Delegates to the Constitutional Convention|
|2||John Langdon||New Hampshire|
|3||Nicholas Gilman||New Hampshire|
|6||William Samuel Johnson||Connecticut|
|8||Alexander Hamilton||New York|
|9||William Livingston||New Jersey|
|10||David Brearley||New Jersey|
|11||William Paterson||New Jersey|
|12||Jonathan Dayton||New Jersey|
|22||Gunning Bedford, Jr.||Delaware|
|27||Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer||Maryland|
|29||John Blair, Jr.||Virginia|
|30||James Madison, Jr.||Virginia|
|31||William Blount||North Carolina|
|32||Richard Dobbs Spaight||North Carolina|
|33||Hugh Williamson||North Carolina|
|34||John Rutledge||South Carolina|
|35||Charles Cotesworth Pinckney||South Carolina|
|36||Charles Pinckney||South Carolina|
|37||Pierce Butler||South Carolina|
|⋈||William Davie||North Carolina|
|⋈||William Houston||New Jersey|
|⋈||John Lansing||New York|
|⋈||Alexander Martin||North Carolina|
|⋈||Robert Yates||New York|
| Signed the Constitution|
Refused to sign the Constitution
Dropped out of the convention
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