On May 25, 1787, delegates from 12 of the 13 states convened in Philadelphia to address the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and create a new governing document. Over the course of several months, these delegates, including luminaries like George Washington, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin, engaged in intense debates and compromises to create one of the most important documents in history.
On September 17th 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia once again, and signed the United States Constitution. This document established the framework for the federal government, delineating the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as outlining the rights and freedoms of American citizens. Thirty-nine of the 55 delegates present at the Convention signed the document, marking a critical moment in American history.
James Madison, often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution” due to his significant role in the drafting of the Constitution on the desk pictured below, and its ratification, had much to say about the Constitution.
(Photograph taken June 2023 – Montpelier Virginia)
Madison recognized the need for government because people are not inherently perfect and often act in their self-interest. He argued that the Constitution’s system of checks and balances was designed to mitigate these human imperfections. Madison emphasized the importance of separating and balancing the powers of government to prevent tyranny. This principle is a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution.
Madison’s writings often emphasized the protection of individual rights and property as a fundamental purpose of government. These ideas influenced the inclusion of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. Madison recognized that preserving liberty required a careful balance. He understood that unchecked liberty could lead to anarchy, just as unchecked power could lead to tyranny. Madison, in “The Federalist Papers,” explained the division of powers between the federal government and the state governments, highlighting that the federal government’s authority is limited to specific enumerated powers, while state governments retain broader authority.
The Federalist Papers, written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, played a pivotal role in explaining and promoting the Constitution’s merits. Ultimately, the Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve it, thus meeting the requirement for its implementation.
In 1917, the Sons of the American Revolution initiated efforts to create a holiday commemorating the signing of the Constitution. They held events and encouraged schools and organizations to observe the day. Constitution Day is now widely observed across the United States. Educational institutions, government agencies, and organizations hold various events, seminars, and activities to educate people about the Constitution, its significance, and the rights it guarantees to American citizens. These activities aim to foster a greater understanding of the nation’s founding principles and promote active citizenship.
Today, Constitution Day serves as a reminder of the enduring importance of the U.S. Constitution and the rights and responsibilities it confers upon American citizens. It encourages reflection on the principles that have guided the nation for more than two centuries and the ongoing efforts to preserve and protect those principles.
“The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived.” – James Madison
“I agree to this constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general government necessary for us…Thus, I consent, sir, to this constitution, because I expect no better, & because I am not sure that it is not the best.” – Benjamin Franklin
“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.” – George Washington