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United States Constitution

This article is a narrative of the document. Click here for the actual text. Click here for information about the warship.

The first modern written constitution was adopted by the townships of Connecticut in 1639, which served as a model for the other colonies. Numerous state constitutions were written following the end of colonial regimes during the American Revolution.

The first attempt at a national constitution was the Articles of Confederation, offered to the states in 1777 and finally ratified in 1781. The defects of the Articles of Confederation soon became clear, and a movement began to replace them with another document that would create a stronger national government. To this end, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia from May 29 to September 17, 1787, with 55 delegates representing all states except Rhode Island.

The Constitution that was finally agreed upon represented three great compromises: between those favoring a strong national government and those preferring states' rights, between the large states and small states, and between slave states and free. In the struggle for ratification of the Constitution by the states, the great influence was the brilliant series of essays entitled The Federalist, published anonymously in 1787 and 1788 by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

The Constitution comprises a preamble, seven articles, and a number of amendments. The preamble states the the document's purpose. The first three articles deal with the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the federal government. Article IV deals with interstate relations and the admission of new states. Article V provides for amendments. Article VI declares the Constitution to be the supreme law of the land and superior to any state constitution, while Article VII provides for the ratification of the document itself.

The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, were drafted and submitted to the states because there had been widespread criticism of the Constitution for its lack of a bill of rights. Although there are others in the category, these amendments are now universally known as the Bill of Rights. The power to interpret the Constitution was established by the Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison to be the court itself.