The Constitution of the United States

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, our nation moved along to self-rule and independence. The colonies became the United States of America. There was now no national government. The members of the Continental Congress appointed a committee to write our nation's first constitution. It was a difficult job for the committee members because each state had its own needs and interests. Each state wanted different rules. Two major problems faced the committee. First there was the fear of a national government with too much power. Second was the fear that some states would have more power in the new government than other states. The committee chose to set up a weak national government with limited power. The states had more power than the national government. The constitution the committee wrote was called the Articles of Confederation.

The most important part of the new government was the legislature. It was called a Congress. Every state, rather large or small, had one vote in Congress. The Articles of Confederation were approved by the states in 1781. This document was our constitution for seven years.

In the Articles of Confederation each state agreed to be friends with all the other states. All the states agreed to work with the central government. But this central government could not raise taxes or make agreements with other countries. It could not print money. Each state was responsible for their own money and their own agreements with other countries.

At first people liked the new rules in the Articles of Confederation. But problems arose and the states began to argue. Things were not going well. So the members of the Continental Congress called a meeting to change the rules.

This meeting took place in May 1787 in Philadelphia. All the states except Rhode Island sent delegates. The men met in Independence Hall. The men elected George Washington president of the meeting. It soon became clear that there were two sides in all the problems discussed. Two groups were naturally formed by the delegates. All summer long the delegates met to talk and to argue about the problems they faced. Slowly they worked out each problem, big and small. Each side gave a little and each side learned to compromise. Finally by September the delegates were ready to write a new plan of government.

A small group of men was elected to write the new set of rules. It would be called the Constitution of the United States. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were elected to the group. Governor Morris of New York wrote the Constitution by hand. Its opening statement called the Preamble explained why the new rules were being written.

The Constitution says that the central government should have three branches; the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. Each of these branches has its own job in running the government. The Legislative branch makes the laws. The Executive branch makes certain that the laws are obeyed. The Judicial branch tells what the laws mean.

The Legislative branch has two parts. One is the Senate. The other is the House of Representatives. Two lawmakers from each state serve in the Senate. Representatives in the House are chosen on the basis of state population. Big states have more, but every state has at least one representative. Together the House of Representatives and the Senate are called the Congress.

The next part of the Constitution gives the rules for the executive branch. It says that the president is the leader of the executive branch. It also says that there must be a vice-president. Each of them serve a four year term and are elected by the citizens.

The next part of the Constitution gives the rules for the judicial branch. The document tells us that this branch will be made up of courts and judges. It tells us that the president chooses the judges, but the Senate must agree with the president's choices. The judges have their jobs for life.

The rest of the constitution allows the states to make their own laws. These state laws must follow the laws of the central government. Then it tells how changes to the constitution may be made. These changes are called amendments.

The delegates talked and argued about the Constitution after it was written. Some of them still didn't agree with things in the constitution. Finally, on September 17, 1787, thirty-nine of the fifty-five delegates in Philadelphia signed the Constitution. Now the delegates had to go back home to their states and convince the citizens to approve the new constitution. Delaware was the first state to approve the Constitution. New Hampshire was the ninth state to sign the Constitution in 1788.

Student Activity

Now that you know about the Constitution of the United States and the laws of our country, your job is to write an "I Am" poem. The directions for this poem can be found in the Student Worksheets Page. You need to think about what it means to live in this land where all the citizens have freedom. You need to think about events that have happened to make us see how important freedom is. If you are from another country, think about and compare freedom in the United States and the country from which you came. then write your poem.