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Chapter 3: The Constitution

Chapter Overviews

By early 1787, it was clear that the national government had to be strengthened. The fifty-five men who met in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention quickly decided to write a completely new plan of government. Disagreements arose over representation in Congress, taxation, how to calculate population, trade, and other important matters. Through a series of compromises the delegates were able to agree on the important points of the new plan. After its approval by the convention, the Constitution still had to be ratified by the states. The promise to add a Bill of Rights helped convince Anti-Federalists to approve the new government. In June 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document and the Constitution took effect.

The Constitution has three main parts: a Preamble, seven articles, and twenty-seven amendments. While the Preamble describes the purposes of the government, the seven articles explain the structure of that government. The powers and responsibilities of government were divided into three branches. The legislative branch, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate, was given all of the lawmaking authority. An executive branch, headed by a president, provides the law-enforcing authority. Finally, a judicial branch made up of a Supreme Court and lesser courts interprets the laws. The Framers also put in place a process for amending the Constitution. This process allows the Constitution to change in response to the needs and demands of a growing nation. Since 1787 it has been amended twenty-seven times. As the delegates crafted this new plan of government they incorporated five fundamental principles: popular sovereignty, the rule of law, separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism. Their work at the convention was so carefully and thoughtfully done, that the Constitution still works for us today.

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