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, what government is, and from what source it derives its powers:
Eleven years later, after the war for independence had been won, our Founders assembled once again to draw up a plan for governing the new nation. That plan would be ratified two years later as the Constitution of the United States of America.
The U.S. Constitution established America’s national government and fundamental laws and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, presided over by George Washington. Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches–executive, legislative, and judicial–along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power. The Bill of Rights–10 amendments guaranteeing basic individual protections such as freedom of speech and religion–became part of the Constitution in 1791. To date, there have been a total of 27 constitutional amendments.
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On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States proposed 12 amendments to the Constitution. The 1789 Joint Resolution of Congress proposing the amendments is on display in the Rotunda in the National Archives Museum. Ten of the proposed 12 amendments were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures on December 15, 1791. The ratified Articles (Articles 3–12) constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution or the U.S. Bill of Rights. In 1992, 203 years after it was proposed, Article 2 was ratified as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution. Article 1 was never ratified.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
"The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government lest it come to dominate our lives and interests”
- Patrick Henry