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Constitution Day

The Framing of the Constitution

The Constitutional Convention, held in Philadelphia and lasting nearly four months, was fraught with debate, discussion, and compromise. From May 25, 1787 until the signing of the final draft on September 17, 1787, every issue was on the table, every word was scrutinized. One can follow the debate by going to The Constitutional Convention at Teaching American or follow the link to George Washington's annotated draft of the Constitution, digitized as part of the NEH-funded Papers of George Washington Project, to gain a sense of the meticulous care the delegates gave to the drafting process.

In a series of lesson plans on the Constitutional Convention, students can examine the roles key delegates played in drafting the Constitution and the challenges they faced. They will learn why many Americans in the 1780's believed that reforms to the Articles of Confederation were necessary, and about the steps taken to authorize the convention in Philadelphia. They will become familiar with the main issues that divided delegates and how the spirit of compromise was necessary for the convention to fulfill its task of improving the American political system.

Born from the experience of an overly powerful central government in the form of the British monarchy, or an ineffectively weak central government under the Articles of Confederation, the framers of the Constitution designed a national government that clearly assigned power to three branches, while at the same time guaranteeing that the power of any branch could be checked by another. Balancing Three Branches at Once: Our System of Checks and Balances examines this inventive use of power to check and balance power. The balance of power between the federal government and the states was another hotly debated issue throughout the convention and are surveyed in The Federalist Debates: Balancing Power Between State and Federal Governments.