"Our Constitution was made for only a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." -John Adams


The Constitution of the United States established the government of the fledgling American nation. It replaced the Articles of Confederation as the supreme legal authority of the United States.

On 25 May 1787, the Constitutional Convention convened to discuss strengthening the national government. The Articles of Confederation were weak; the government was too decentralized to effectively act as a nation. However, the states were divided along lines of size and population. Small states such as Delaware, Connecticut, and New Hampshire were wary of larger states gaining too much power in a larger government. Large states such as New York, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas felt that their size should translate into more power in the government.

Two plans for self-government emerged early in the Convention. The first, the Virginia Plan, outlined a three branch government with an executive, judicial, and legislative wing. The legislature was to be bicameral, with representation based solely on population. The second, called the New Jersey Plan, also called for the same three branches, but the legislature was unicameral and granted each state only one vote.

After weeks of debating, several compromises were drafted to reconcile the various factions that had formed within the Convention.


  • The Great Compromise - Authored by a unified committee under the leadership of Roger Sherman, the Great Compromise resolved the issue of the legislative branch. The bicameral legislature would be retained, with one house's representation decided by population and the other by a constant number of votes.
  • The Three-Fifths Compromise - This allowed greater representation for the Southern states without overwhelming the small states of the north. This compromise allowed 3/5 of the southern slave population to be counted towards representation in the legislature.
  • Other Compromises - Delegates to the Convention also compromised on issues such as foreign trade, interstate commerce, and electoral systems.

The Structure of the Constitution

The Constitution is a short, flexible document that provides a brief outline for the government of the United States. It is divided into several sections. A single sentence is the first section, called the Preamble. The Preamble succinctly states the purpose of the Constitution and serves as an introduction to the rest of the document. The next section is comprised of Articles I-VII, each of which deals with a separate part of government. The 27 Amendments to the Constitution form the third section. Each Amendment is an expansion of the legal authority of the Constitution.

  • The Preamble
  • Article I - The Legislative Branch
  • Article II - The Executive Branch
  • Article III - The Judicial Branch
  • Article IV - Interaction and creation of states.
  • Article V - Process for Amendment
  • Article VI - Supremacy of the Constitution
  • Article VII - Ratification of the Constitution
  • Amendments

13 May 2009


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