About the Constitution - ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION OF THE...

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ABOUT THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES The Constitution defines the fundamental law of the United States federal government, setting forth the three principal branches of the federal government, outlining their jurisdictions, and propounding the basic rights of U.S. citizens. It has become the landmark legal document of the Western world, and is the oldest written national constitution currently in effect. The essential principle of the document is that government must be confined to the rule of law. During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, convened in the summer of 1787, 55 delegates met to amend the Articles of Confederation, the first written constitution of the U.S. However, in its final form, the new Constitution of the United States was substantially rewritten. On September 28, 1787, it was submitted to the 13 states for ratification. By June 1788, nine states had ratified the document. March 4, 1789, was set as the day the new Constitution would take effect. Ratification in most states depended upon the adoption of the Bill of Rights -- as the first proposed amendments to the Constitution. Of the 12 amendments proposed in September 1789, 10 were ratified by the states, and their formal adoption occurred on December 15, 1791. The Articles of Confederation as Precursor to the Constitution The Articles of Confederation, written in 1781, had been explicit in guarding the independence of the states and did not provide for a federal chief executive or judicial system. Any amendment to the Articles of Confederation had required unanimous approval of all the states. The early framers of the Articles had been heavily influenced by the constitutions of individual states and the principles underlying the Declaration of Independence , and were particularly concerned with limiting the powers of the federal government over the states and guaranteeing the freedom of each individual citizen. To allay the fear that a monolithic centralized government in which all power was vested would readily lead to tyranny, the principle of separation of power among the executive, legislative and judicial branches was devised. This system of checks and balances would maintain the delicate
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