The United States Constitution is the longest-lasting written national constitution in the world. Its four parchment pages serve as the blueprint for a government under which more than 290 million Americans live. Its brevity and eloquence have inspired many other national constitutions. It is the document that established our three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial). It created our bicameral legislature (the House and Senate), and ensures a balance of power in our government through a careful system of checks and balances. Nearly one million people from around the globe visit the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., annually to see the original, signed Constitution, along with other significant documents including the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The United States Constitution holds great significance for the American people and for others around the world. But, when it was first drafted during the summer of 1787 by 55 delegates from 12 of the 13 states, the document's future, and that of the government it established, was uncertain. (1)
This treasured document was then part of a six-page report that the delegates to the Philadelphia convention submitted to Congress after 87 days of deliberations. In addition to the four-page Constitution that was signed by 39 of the delegates, the report also included a resolution of the convention written on a single parchment page, and a letter of transmittal from George Washington, the president of the convention. (2)
Washington's letter essentially explained to Congress how and why the convention arrived at the final Constitution, rather than simply at a revision of the Articles of Confederation, as had been its original charge. The resolution explained to Congress what the Convention delegates hoped would happen next.
Congress received the report in New York City oil Thursday, September 20, 1787, three days after the delegates had signed it. It was assigned for consideration the following Wednesday. Then, the ratification process began.
1. Following a study of the convention and the resulting Constitution, remind students that the Constitutional Convention was a meeting of delegates from 12 states--that the convention was not the same as Congress. Explain to them that the Constitution was the final product of the convention that the delegates sent to Congress as a report. Tell students that two other documents accompanied the four-page Constitution: a letter of transmittal that explained why and how the delegates arrived at the Constitution and a resolution that explained what delegates hoped would happen next. Ask students to choose either the resolution or the letter and instruct them to draft their own. Invite volunteers to share their documents with the class. (For an overview of the convention see "A More Perfect Union" on the National Archives website at www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/ charters/constitution_history.html.)
2. Provide students with a copy of the resolution and the transcription of Washington's letter. Ask them to compare the documents they drafted in activity 1 with the actual documents.
3. Ask students to conduct research on the events that occurred relative to the Constitution between September 26, 1787, and March 1789. Direct them to annotate the resolution indicating on what dates the proposed events actually occurred. In other words, ask students to find out when each state ratified the Constitution and when elections for president and the Congress were held. Ask students if they find it surprising that the events described in the resolution played out as they did.
4. Direct students' attention to the last line of the resolution, "... the Congress, together with the President, should, without delay, proceed to execute this Constitution." Assign small groups of students to brainstorm the first five issues they think Congress and the president addressed immediately following the Constitution's ratification. …