Creating the United States Constitution

Index: All Documents

Report of the Committee of Style, 1787

William Samuel Johnson chaired the Committee of Style, but James Madison (1751–1836), Rufus King (1755–1827), and Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) gave the Constitution its substance. Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816), delegate from Pennsylvania, is credited with providing the preamble phrase "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union"—a dramatic change from the opening of the previous version. This simple phrase anchored the new national government in the consent of the people rather than a confederation of states.

Title: Draft United States Constitution: Report of the Committee of Style
Medium: Printed document with annotations by George Washington and William Jackson
Date: September 8–12, 1787
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Report of the Committe of Style
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Report of the Committee of Detail, 1787

John Rutledge (1739–1800) of South Carolina chaired the five-member Committee of Detail assigned on July 23, 1787, to produce a draft constitution. As the basis for the document, the committee used the nineteen resolutions adopted by the convention; a plan presented by South Carolina delegate Charles Pinckney (1757–1824); and the rejected New Jersey Plan. The Committee of Detail draft boldly refocused the convention. The multiple annotations by William Samuel Johnson (1727–1819) of Connecticut illustrate the hard work remaining for the delegates.

Title: Draft United States Constitution: Report of the Committee of Detail
Medium: Printed document with annotations by William Samuel Johnson
Date: ca. August 6, 1787
Collection: Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Report of the Committee of Detail
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The New Jersey Plan of Government, 1787

The New Jersey delegates to the Constitutional Convention, led by William Paterson (1745–1806), proposed an alternative to the Virginia Plan on June 15, 1787. The New Jersey Plan was designed to protect the security and power of the small states by limiting each state to one vote in Congress, as under the Articles of Confederation. Its acceptance would have doomed plans for a strong national government and minimally altered the Articles of Confederation.

Title: New Jersey Plan of Government
Medium: Manuscript in the hand of George Washington
Date: June 1787
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The New Jersey Plan of Government
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The Virginia Plan of Government, 1787

The Virginia delegates in the Constitutional Convention, led by James Madison (1741–1836) and George Washington (1732–1799), prepared a plan of government that provided for proportional representation in a bicameral (two-house) legislature and a strong national government with veto power over state laws. Virginia's governor, Edmund Randolph (1753–1813), who ultimately refused to sign the Constitution, presented the plan to the convention on May 29, 1787. The plan, designed to protect the interests of the large states in a strong, national republic, became the basis for debate.

Title: Virginia Plan of Government
Medium: Manuscript in the hand of George Washington
Date: May 1787
Collection: George Washington Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

The Virginia Plan of Government
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Articles of Confederation, 1777

After two years of planning and compromise, the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States was ready to go to the states for ratification. No one expected that nearly four years would elapse before they were ratified. The Articles called for a weak executive, no national power of taxation, and each state being limited to one vote. These flaws contributed to the failure of the Articles of Confederation and the need for a constitutional convention to replace them.

Title: Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union Between the States. . . .
City: Williamsburg
Publisher: Alexander Purdie
Date: 1777
Collection: Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Articles of Confederation
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Albany Plan of Union, 1754

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), America's consummate "wise man," was among the first to imagine a national confederation. In 1754 he proposed a union of American provinces at a conference of provincial delegates at Albany, New York, to better battle the French and their Indian allies. The Albany Plan, calling for proportional representation in a national legislature and a president general appointed by the King of Great Britain, served as a model for Franklin's revolutionary Plan of Confederation in 1775.

Author: Benjamin Franklin
Title: Plan of Proposed Union (Albany Plan)
Medium: Manuscript
Date: 1754
Collection: Hazard Papers in the Peter Force Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Albany Plan of Union
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