In May 1787, fifty-five delegates from each of the thirteen states, with the exception of Rhode Island, convened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to revise the Articles of Confederation and create a more centralized form of government for the United States. Two competing plans were presented to the delegates— Edmund Randolph’s Virginia Plan and William Patterson’s New Jersey Plan. The Virginia Plan would create a more powerful central government with three components: an executive, legislative, and judiciary sharing power. The New Jersey Plan would revise and amend the current Articles of Confederation to give Congress control over taxes and trade, but still provide each of the states with basic autonomy at the local level.
Through extensive debate, it soon became clear that amending the Articles of Confederation would not be sufficient and a new form of government would need to be established. The most contentious issues included how much power the central government would have, how the states would be represented in Congress, and how these representatives would be elected. The final document, which was signed on September 17, 1787, combined ideas from both the Virginia and New Jersey Plans, creating a central government with three branches and giving states equal representation in the Senate regardless of state size. Representation in the lower chamber, the House of Representatives, was based on state population.
The Constitution of the United States is the “supreme law of the land” and serves as the basic legal framework for the U.S. system of government. It has lasted longer than any other nation’s constitution. It has been revised, or amended, only twenty-seven times since 1787. James Madison, a Virginia delegate and fourth president of the United States, is known as the “Father of the Constitution.”
The Preamble to the Constitution
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.