Learn about the United States' most important document:
Question: Who wrote the United States Constitution?
Answer: No one person can claim to have written the document although James Madison is considered the “Father of the U.S. Constitution.” The Constitutional Convention consisted of 55 delegates (74 had been elected by individual states and 42 stayed until it was approved), many of which had taken part in writing state constitutions, and all had been keen observers of political institutions and studiers of political philosophies. Jacob Shallus, a Pennsylvania Assembly Clerk, penned the Constitution as dictated to him by the delegates, ironic considering Pennsylvania is spelled wrong above the signers' names on the original.
Question: When was the Constitution written?
Answer: The Constitutional Convention opened on May 25, 1787 in Philadelphia. Delegates from seven of the thirteen states were present. Delegates from 12 of the 13 states approved the Constitution on or before September 17, 1787.
Question: How many delegates signed the Constitution?
Answer: 39 of the 42 remaining delegates signed it, formally adjourning the Constitutional Convention.
Question: How many amendments are there to the Constitution?
Answer: There are currently 27 amendments to the United States Constitution. The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights and were added to ensure the document’s ratification.
Question: Which future presidents signed the Constitution?
Answer: The only two future presidents to sign the Constitution are George Washington and James Madison. Neither John Adams, serving as ambassador to England nor Thomas Jefferson, ambassador to France, was present. Other prominent signers include Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.
Question: When was the Constitution adopted?
Answer: On June 21, 1788, the Constitution became effective for the nine states who had ratified it. The Constitution became effective for the remaining states upon individual state ratification.
Question: What document did the Constitution replace?
Answer: The United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation was the result of a Congress hesitant to grant centralized power. Its weaknesses included the inability to raise money for national defense, the inability to regulate interstate trade, a unicameral legislature, and a requirement of unanimity to pass laws.
Question: How long is the Constitution?
Answer: The Constitution is 4400 words, making it the shortest written constitution in the world (not to mention the oldest). It should come as no surprise that the delegates, who believed in limited government and government transparency, used limited words to create a limited government. To give you a better idea of just how amazing the document is, most Congressional bills are two or three times the size of the Constitution (the most egregious being the more than 2,000-page health care monstrosity in 2009).
Question: Where is the original Constitution located?
Answer: Since 1952, the original has been on display in the National Archives Building in Washington D.C. For those of you who are considering stealing it, don’t bother. It’s encased behind protective glass framed by titanium.
Question: What does the Constitution have to do with Thanksgiving?
Answer: George Washington declared November 26, 1789 a National Day of Thanksgiving in order to give thanks for the Constitution.
This post is part of the series: Background to the United States Constitution
Get the background on our nation’s most important document.