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The first modern written constitution was adopted by the townships of Connecticut in 1639, which served as a model for the other colonies. Numerous state constitutions were written following the end of colonial regimes during the American Revolution.
The first attempt at a national constitution was the Articles of Confederation, offered to the states in 1777 and finally ratified in 1781. The defects of the Articles of Confederation soon became clear, and a movement began to replace them with another document that would create a stronger national government. To this end, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia from May 29 to September 17, 1787, with 55 delegates representing all states except Rhode Island.
The Constitution that was finally agreed upon represented three great compromises: between those favoring a strong national government and those preferring states' rights, between the large states and small states, and between slave states and free. In the struggle for ratification of the Constitution by the states, the great influence was the brilliant series of essays entitled The Federalist, published anonymously in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.
The Constitution comprises a preamble, seven articles, and a number of amendments. The preamble states the the document's purpose. The first three articles deal with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government. Article IV deals with interstate relations and the admission of new states. Article V provides for amendments. Article VI declares the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land and superior to any state constitution, while Article VII provides for the ratification of the document itself.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, were drafted and submitted to the states because there had been widespread criticism of the Constitution for its lack of a bill of rights. Although there are others in the category, these amendments are now universally known as the Bill of Rights. The power to interpret the Constitution was established by the Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison to be the court itself.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes regarding United States Constitution.
By Alexander Hamilton
Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.
Speech in 1788
By James Madison
With respect to the words "general welfare," I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.
Letter written to James Robertson, April 20, 1831
By Henry Clay
The Constitution of the United States was made not merely for the generation that then existed, but for posterity¬unlimited, undefined, endless, perpetual posterity.
Speech in the US Senate, 1850
By Oliver Wendell Holmes
The interpretation of constitutional principles must not be too literal. We must remember that the machinery of government would not work if it were not allowed a little play in its joints.
Writing in the case of Bain Peanut Co. v. Pinson, 1931
By William Lloyd Garrison
The compact which exists between the North and the South is a covenant with death and an agreement with hell.
A resolution adopted by the Anti-Slavery Society on January 27, 1843
By Alexis de Tocqueville
The best laws cannot make a constitution work in spite of morals; morals can turn the worst laws to advantage.
By James K. Polk
By the theory of our Government majorities rule, but this right is not an arbitrary or unlimited one. It is a right to be exercised in subordination to the Constitution and in conformity to it. One great object of the Constitution was to restrain majorities from oppressing minorities or encroaching upon their just rights. Minorities have a right to appeal to the Constitution as a shield against such oppression.
Inaugural Address, 1845
By John Marshall
The people made the Constitution, and the people can unmake it. It is the creature of their own will, and lives only by their will.
Ruling in Cohens v. Virginia, 1821