“We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand.”
-Thomas Paine, February 14, 1776
- Declaration of Independence
Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty. The statement was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire.
- Articles of Confederation
By 1777 members of Congress realized that they should have some clearly written rules for how they were organized. After considerable debate and alteration, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15, 1777. This first national “constitution” for the United States was not particularly innovative, and mostly put into written form how the Congress had operated since 1775. The Articles of Confederation was unanimously adopted in 1781 once Maryland agreed. This document served as the United States’ first constitution, and was in force from March 1, 1781, until 1789 when the present day Constitution went into effect.
“In Witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands in Congress. Done at Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania the ninth day of July in the Year of our Lord one Thousand seven Hundred and Seventy-eight, and in the third year of the independence of America.”
- Constitution of the United States of America
The Constitution was written in 1787 during the Philadelphia Convention in order to replace the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution was adopted by a convention of the States on September 17, 1787, and was subsequently ratified by the several States, on the following dates: Delaware, December 7, 1787; Pennsylvania, December 12, 1787; New Jersey, December 18, 1787; Georgia, January 2, 1788; Connecticut, January 9, 1788; Massachusetts, February 6, 1788; Maryland, April 28, 1788; South Carolina, May 23, 1788; New Hampshire, June 21, 1788.Ratification was completed on June 21, 1788. The Constitution was subsequently ratified by Virginia, June 25, 1788; New York, July 26, 1788; North Carolina, November 21, 1789; Rhode Island, May 29, 1790; and Vermont, January 10, 1791.
- Bill of Rights – The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution
The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution as the first ten amendments on December 15, 1791.
On June 8, 1789, Representative James Madison of Virginia introduced to the First Federal Congress a series of proposed amendments to the newly ratified U.S. Constitution. Madison’s original proposal had the amendments interwoven into the text of the Constitution. That summer the House of Representatives debated the issue, and on August 24 the House passed seventeen amendments to be added to the end of the Constitution. The Senate then took up the matter—they altered and consolidated the House amendments into twelve. This document reflects the Senate’s changes to the House-passed articles of amendments. Twelve articles of amendment were then sent to the states—three through twelve were ratified and became the Bill of Rights in 1791.