"We the People:" Signing the Constitution

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America

Cristy painting: signing of ConstitutionIt wasn't easy for the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention to agree on the document these now famous words introduce. They spent the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia arguing, strategizing, and eventually compromising until they produced the final version of the Constitution of the United States of America on September 17, 1787. This landmark document provides the fundamental law of the nation and is the oldest written national constitution in operation.

Today we marvel at the durability of this document, but when the Convention finally approved the Constitution in September 1787, many people felt its future was uncertain and few thought it represented the "ideal" form of government. Several EDSITEment lesson plans, among them Balancing Three Branches at Once: Our System of Checks and Balances (grades 3-5) and The Constitutional Convention: What the Founding Fathers Said (grades 6-8), cover the struggle between those delegates who favored a strong central government and those who wanted to see the individual states retain most governmental powers. This struggle persisted throughout the period of the Convention, and it took the Great Compromise to finally get delegates to agree on the design of the federal government. Even then, ratification was no sure thing. Finally, after almost a year of state-by-state reviews and the addition of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution was officially proclaimed the law of the land (for a summary of EDSITEment resources specifically related to the Bill of Rights, see This Month's Feature for July 2002).

A number of existing and newly-created EDSITEment lesson plans offer teachers and students substantive and focused learning activities for studying the historical origins and core values of the American Republic. In The Constitutional Convention: Four Founding Fathers You May Never Have Met (grades 6-8), for example, students learn about the important contributions of four relatively unknown contributors to the U.S. Constitutional Convention: Oliver Ellsworth, Alexander Hamilton, William Paterson, and Edmund Randolph. Two other EDSITEment lessons for grades 6-8 present the ideas and contributions to the Constitution of two more familiar figures: Jefferson and Franklin: Renaissance Men and Jefferson and Franklin: Revolutionary Philosophers introduce students to some of important precursor documents of the Constitution, such as Franklin's Albany Plan of 1754, available from the EDSITEment-reviewed Avalon Project of the Yale Law School.

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Signing of Constitution, by Howard C. Cristy
Courtesy of American Memory Collection