The Constitution and the Bill of Rights

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line

1787 May 25 Constitutional Convention is convened
  September 17 Constitution is signed
  October Federalist Papers
  December 7 Delaware ratifies the Constitution
1788 June 21 Constitution becomes law
1789 April 30 George Washington inaugurated
1791   Bill of Rights


The Constitution and the Bill of Rights

The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1788, after months of closed debate among the framers of the document, followed by months of argument in the public sphere once it was printed and circulated. When the U.S. Congress convened in 1789, its members immediately began to debate a series of amendments to the document. These amendments, passed in 1791, are known as the Bill of Rights.

The framers of the Constitution had many interests to try to balance. First, small and large states must to be fairly represented. Second, state and national governments must fairly share their governing powers. Third, individual rights must be protected. Fourth, issues such as slavery, the American-Indian population, and territorial expansion must be addressed. In every area, compromise was the only solution; each state had to give up something it wanted so that the final product would be reasonably fair to all.

Congress designed a federal government with a balance of powers among its three branches. The executive branch would have a president elected for a four- year term. The legislative branch would be a bicameral Congress; one house would represent the states according to population, while the other would represent all equally. The judicial branch would consist of a Supreme Court. Each branch would have certain powers over the other two.

Many Americans were dismayed by the fact that the Constitution ignored the subject of individual rights; however, the required nine states did ratify the document. After the first national elections, Congress drafted a Bill of Rights that set forth many important freedoms and privileges of ordinary citizens. These ten amendments were ratified in the year 1791.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights Practice Test

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