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Ratifying the Constitution
By September 1787, the convention's five-member Committee of Style (Hamilton, Madison, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Gouverneur Morris of New York, Rufus King of Massachusetts) had drafted the final text of the Constitution, which consisted of some 4,200 words. On September 17, George Washington was the first to sign the document. Of the 55 delegates, a total of 39 signed; some had already left Philadelphia, and three--George Mason (1725-92) and Edmund Randolph (1753-1813) of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry (1744-1813) of Massachusetts--refused to approve the document. In order for the Constitution to become law, it then had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states.
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, with assistance from John Jay, wrote a series of essays to persuade people to ratify the Constitution. The 85 essays, known collectively as "The Federalist" (or "The Federalist Papers"), detailed how the new government would work, and were published under the pseudonym Publius (Latin for "public") in newspapers across the states starting in the fall of 1787. (People who supported the Constitution became known as Federalists, while those opposed it because they thought it gave too much power to the national government were called Anti-Federalists.)
Beginning on December 7, 1787, five states--Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut--ratified the Constitution in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve undelegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. George Washington was inaugurated as America's first president on April 30, 1789. In June of that same year, Virginia ratified the Constitution, and New York followed in July. On February 2, 1790, the U.S. Supreme Court held its first session, marking the date when the government was fully operative.
Rhode Island, the last holdout of the original 13 states, finally ratified the Constitution on May 29, 1790.
The Bill of Rights
In 1789, Madison, then a member of the newly established U.S. House of Representatives, introduced 19 amendments to the Constitution. On September 25, 1789, Congress adopted 12 of the amendments and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, were ratified and became part of the Constitution on December 10, 1791. The Bill of Rights guarantees individuals certain basic protections as citizens, including freedom of speech, religion and the press; the right to bear and keep arms; the right to peaceably assemble; protection from unreasonable search and seizure; and the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. For his contributions to the drafting of the Constitution, as well as its ratification, Madison became known as "Father of the Constitution."
To date, there have been thousands of proposed amendments to the Constitution. However, only 17 amendments have been ratified in addition to the Bill of Rights because the process isn't easy--after a proposed amendment makes it through Congress, it must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The most recent amendment to the Constitution, Article XXVII, which deals with congressional pay raises, was proposed in 1789 and ratified in 1992.
The Constitution Today
In the more than 200 years since the Constitution was created, America has stretched across an entire continent and its population and economy have expanded more than the document's framers likely ever could have envisioned. Through all the changes, the Constitution has endured and adapted.
The framers knew it wasn't a perfect document. However, as Benjamin Franklin said on the closing day of the convention in 1787: "I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such, because I think a central government is necessary for us… I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain may be able to make a better Constitution."
Today, the original Constitution is on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
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