Document Outlining The Rights And Duties Of Citizens

The Articles of Confederation created a "firm league of friendship" between the states but vested most power in a Congress of the Confederation, leading to the need for a new document. However, the federal government's authority was strictly limited to the conduct of diplomacy and war, the

The Articles of Confederation created a "firm league of friendship" between the states but vested most power in a Congress of the Confederation, leading to the need for a new document. However, the federal government's authority was strictly limited to the conduct of diplomacy and war, the establishment of standard weights and measures, and the resolution of disputes between the individual states. Most importantly, it lacked the ability to generate revenue on its own and instead relied solely on contributions from individual states in order to function. Congress was made up of representatives from every state, and each state's delegation had anywhere from two to seven members. The government was paralyzed and ineffective because any major decision required unanimity.

In 1787, state legislatures were invited to Philadelphia for a convention to discuss amending the Articles of Confederation. Twelve of the thirteen states met in Philadelphia that May to begin the process of restructuring government, but Rhode Island did not send any representatives. The Constitutional Convention's delegates wasted no time getting to work on a new Constitution for the United States.

A Convention to Draft a Constitution

The Constitution's framers wanted to establish a national government that could get things done without jeopardizing people's basic liberties. This was achieved, in part, by preventing any one part of government from becoming too powerful through the use of checks and balances. The government is now divided into the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. This fretfulness stemmed largely from the delegates' prior interactions with King George III of England and the influential British Parliament. The Constitution specifies the roles and responsibilities of each branch of government, with any unused powers going to the individual states.

The shape of the new legislature was a major topic of the behind-closed-doors discussion that was held to ensure that delegates would be free to express their true opinions. There were two competing plans for the new government: the Virginia Plan, which gave each state a certain number of senators and representatives based on its population, and the New Jersey Plan, which gave every state the same number of votes in Congress regardless of its population. Larger states favored Virginia's plan, while smaller states favored New Jersey's. The final agreement, known as the Great Compromise (or the Connecticut Compromise), stipulated that the House of Representatives would be elected by the people according to population, while the Senate would be elected by the States according to equal population, and the President would be chosen by the Electoral College. A free and impartial court system was another goal of the plan.

The relationship between the states was also a priority for the founders. Each state must accord "full faith and credit" to the validity of all other states' laws, public documents, contracts, and judicial proceedings within their borders. However, Congress has the authority to define the parameters of this provision and establish standards for interstate record-sharing. There can be no discrimination against citizens of other states, and states cannot impose tariffs on one another. Those accused of crimes within a state must be extradited to the appropriate trial state within another state.

The Constitution has been amended 27 times since it was ratified, following a process established by the founders. This onerous process for making amendments is in place to prevent changes that are not warranted. Two-thirds of each House of Congress is needed to propose an amendment, or if two-thirds of the States demand it, a convention can be called to propose changes. Three-fourths of the state legislatures, or conventions called in each state for ratification, must then approve the amendment before it can go into effect. Typically, amendments today will set a deadline by which this must be completed, usually spanning multiple years. Another constitutional guarantee is that no amendment can reduce a state's Senate representation below its current level without the approval of the affected states.

After the Constitution's framework and language were settled upon, the Convention turned its attention to committing those decisions to paper. Gouverneur Morris, a delegate from Pennsylvania, penned it. In his role, he had some say over whether or not certain clauses of the Constitution were punctuated exactly as written. The famous opening words of the Constitution, which are attributed to him and appear at the top of this page, are also his work. Despite widespread support for the new document, only 39 of 55 delegates signed it on September 17, 1787. Many of those who declined to sign cited the lack of a bill of rights as their reason. Slavery and the slave trade were protected by the Constitution, so at least one delegate refused to sign.


Ratification of the Constitution was met with vigorous public discussion across the States as required by its terms. Ratification by nine of the thirteen state legislatures was necessary for the Constitution to go into effect; unanimity was not necessary. During the Constitutional Convention, two opposing groups emerged: the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists.

In what would become known as the Federalist Papers, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay articulated an eloquent defense of the new Constitution. The Federalist Papers are a collection of 85 articles written by various people and published between October 1787 and August 1788 under the pseudonym Publius in the newspapers The Independent Journal and The New York Packet. The most well-known pieces are "No No. 10, which cautions against partisan division and supports a large republic, and No. Section 51, which describes the Constitution's framework, its checks and balances, and how it safeguards individual liberties.

The ratification process then started in the states, with some states debating it more than others. On December 7, 1787, Delaware became the first state to officially ratify. The Confederation Congress set March 9, 1789 as the date to begin operating under the Constitution after New Hampshire ratified on June 22, 1788, making it the ninth state to do so. The last state to ratify was Rhode Island on May 29, 1790, but by this point all but two states had done so.

Human Rights Declaration

The failure to explicitly state certain civil liberties in the Constitution was a major bone of contention between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. As seen in Federalist Paper No. 84, the people did not give up any rights by agreeing to a Constitution However, in a few states, the debate over ratification centered on whether or not to pass a bill of rights. To solve this problem, four states ratified the Constitution while also sending amendment proposals to Congress. This solution became known as the Massachusetts Compromise.

In 1789, James Madison presented the First Congress with a total of 12 amendments. Ten of these would evolve into what is now known as the Bill of Rights. One was never enacted, and the other, which would have reduced the pay of members of Congress, was not ratified until 1992 (becoming the 27th Amendment). Rights that many now consider fundamental to America can be traced back to the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the English Bill of Rights, the writings of the Enlightenment, and the rights defined in the Magna Carta.

According to the First Amendment, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. It safeguards the right to a public forum, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the ability to file a formal complaint with the government.

Americans have the right to keep and bear arms thanks to the Second Amendment.

The Third Amendment was ratified in response to a major grievance raised during the American Revolution: the government's practice of quartering troops in private homes.

Citizens are shielded from any unlawful search or seizure by the Fourth Amendment. Any search conducted by the government must be authorized by a judge and supported by evidence of wrongdoing.

Citizens shall not be criminally prosecuted or punished without due process of law, as guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Each individual has the right to be free from retaliation and the guarantee against being forced to testify against themselves. To guarantee that private property is not taken for public use without fair compensation, the Fifth Amendment also creates the power of eminent domain.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by an impartial jury of one's peers, notice of one's charges, and the opportunity to confront government witnesses. The accused now has the right to legal representation and the ability to compel witnesses to testify.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial in civil cases.

Punishments such as excessive bail, fines, and cruel and unusual punishments are all outlawed by the Eighth Amendment.

The rights guaranteed by the Constitution are not meant to be all-inclusive, and the people still have those rights that aren't specifically mentioned.

All powers not delegated to the federal government or expressly prohibited to the states are returned to the respective state governments or the people under the Tenth Amendment.

Find out more about the Constitution

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