“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Second Amendment
In 1776, America’s Founders came together in Philadelphia to draw up a “Declaration of Independence,” ending political ties to Great Britain. Written by Thomas Jefferson, it is the fundamental statement of people’s rights and what government is and from what source it derives its powers:
WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness–That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.
The Founders were declaring that we are all equal, and that we are defined by rights that we are born with, not given to us by government. Among those rights is the right to pursue happiness–to live our lives as we think best, as long as we respect the right of all other individuals to do the same. The Founders also declared that governments are created by people to secure their rights. Whatever powers government has are not “just” unless they come from us, the people.
The United States Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia in 1787 over the course of a humid summer. The windows of Independence Hall were shut to discourage eavesdroppers, and many delegates, who were mostly from out of town, wore and re-wore the same thick woolen garments day after day.
Benjamin Franklin, at age 81, was the oldest delegate, and had to be helped to sign his name. He was in considerable pain. Instead of walking, he arrived at Independence Hall on at least the first couple of days carried by four prisoners from the Walnut Street jail, who ferried him around the city in a sedan chair.
Thomas Jefferson never signed the Constitution because he was busy serving as the Minister to France in Paris.
John Adams, who was serving as Minister to Great Britain, never signed it either.
On September 17, 1787, only 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document.
A handful of founding fathers, such as George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Edmund Randolph were present for the signing but refused to touch the document.
Others such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Hancock—whose signature was such a standout on the Declaration of Independence—simply did not attend. When Henry was asked why he declined to attend the convention, he supposedly said, “I smelt a rat.”
The original Constitution signed on September 17th and ratified June 21, 1788 is only five pages long.
Three Latin phrases appear in the Constitution: pro tempore, ex post facto, and habeas corpus.
When the Constitution was written, English spellings had not yet been standardized. As a result, the document contains odd spellings, British spellings, and peculiar words that might look odd today but were acceptable at the time.
In the list of signatories, the word Pennsylvania is missing an “n.” In Article 1 Section 10, there’s an errant apostrophe attached to what should be its. There are spellings such as defence or labour and even “chuse” for choose.
James Madison is viewed as the “Father of the Constitution” despite his misgivings towards some of its content.
The Constitutional Convention lasted from May 25, 1787 through September 17, 1787. George Washington served as president of the Constitutional Convention, but did not speak during any of the proceedings until the Convention’s final day.
During the Convention, George Washington sat in a chair that had a representation of half a sun on the top, which Benjamin Franklin regularly gazed at during troublesome moments of the proceedings. Asked why, he said he was unable to decide if the sun was rising or setting. Only when the Constitution was signed did Franklin decide the sun was rising.
John Shallus, a clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, physically wrote the Constitution down on parchment paper. The Convention paid him $30 for his services, which is worth about $800 today.
Rhode Island was the only state that refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention and was the last state to ratify the Constitution (May 29, 1790).
One of the Constitutional Convention’s debates was the title of the nation’s Chief Executive. One possible idea: “His Highness the President of the United States of America and Protector of their Liberties.” Eventually everyone settled on “The President of the United States.”
The U.S. Constitution is the shortest governing document of any nation as of 2020, and contains only 7 articles and 27 amendments. It is also the oldest; Norway’s comes in second and was codified in 1814.