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Primary Documents in American History

United States Constitution

The foundation of American government
The Foundation of American Government / Hy. Hintermeister.
Reproduction of painting of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and others signing the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
1 photomechanical print: color.
Newark, New Jersey:
Osborn Co., c1925.
Prints & Photographs Division.
Reproduction Number:

The members of the Constitutional Convention signed the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Constitutional Convention convened in response to dissatisfaction with the Articles of Confederation and the need for a strong centralized government. After four months of secret debate and many compromises, the proposed Constitution was submitted to the states for approval. Although the vote was close in some states, the Constitution was eventually ratified and the new Federal government came into existence in 1789. The Constitution established the U.S. government as it exists today.

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

This collection contains congressional publications from 1774 to 1875, including debates, bills, laws, and journals.

  • Elliot's Debates is a five-volume collection compiled by Jonathan Elliot in the mid-nineteenth century. The volumes remain the best source for materials about the national government's transitional period between the closing of the Constitutional Convention in September 1787 and the opening of the First Federal Congress in March 1789.
  • Farrand's Records gathered the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention into four volumes, three of which are included in this online collection, containing the materials necessary to study the workings of the Constitutional Convention. The notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, form the largest single block of material other than the official proceedings. The three volumes also include notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention such as the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan.
  • The Making of the U.S. Constitution is a special presentation that provides a brief history of the making of the Constitution followed by the text of the Constitution as originally adopted.

Alexander Hamilton Papers

The papers of Alexander Hamilton (ca. 1757-1804), first treasury secretary of the United States, consist of his personal and public correspondence, drafts of his writings and correspondence among members of the Hamilton and Schuyler families.

Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774 to 1789

This collection contains 277 documents relating to the work of Congress and the drafting and ratification of the Constitution. Items include extracts of the journals of Congress, resolutions, proclamations, committee reports, treaties, and early printed versions of the United States Constitution.

The Constitutional Convention Broadside Collection (21 titles) dates from 1786 to 1789 and includes documents relating to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, extracts of proceedings of state assemblies and conventions relating to the ratification of the Constitution, and several essays on ratification. Most of the items in the collections are composed of a single sheet, meeting the classic definition of a broadside. Some items, however, range in length to twenty-eight pages. Search on the word "Constitution" to find these broadsides.

This collection also contains an essay titled To Form a More Perfect Union that examines American history from 1774 to 1789, including the work of the Constitutional Convention.

George Washington Papers

The complete George Washington Papers collection from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 65,000 documents.

Search this collection using the words Constitution or Constitutional Convention to find additional documents.

James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859

The James Madison Papers consists of approximately 12,000 items that document the life of the man who came to be known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Includes an essay on Madison's role in the Constitutional Convention.

Search this collection to locate additional documents related to the Constitution.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

The Printed Ephemera collection comprises 28,000 primary-source items dating from the seventeenth century to the present and encompasses key events and eras in American history. Search this collection to locate additional printed ephemera related to the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

The complete Thomas Jefferson Papers from the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress consists of approximately 27,000 documents.

Search this collection using the words "Constitution" or "Constitutional Convention" to find additional documents on this topic.

Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years

In honor of the Manuscript Division's centennial, its staff has selected for online display approximately ninety representative documents spanning from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

America's Library

Jump Back in Time: The New United States of America Adopted the Bill of Rights
December 15, 1791

Meet Amazing Americans: James Madison's Contribution to the Constitution

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation

The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated) contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law. This regularly updated resource is especially useful when researching the constitutional implications of a specific issue or topic.


American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Report of the Committee of Detail

On July 24, 1787, the Federal Convention appointed a five-man Committee of Detail, chaired by John Rutledge of South Carolina, to prepare a draft constitution that encompassed the results of deliberations up to that point.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Report of the Committee of Style

During the Constitutional Convention, the Committee of Style was appointed "to revise the style of, and arrange, the articles which have been agreed to by the House." On September 12, 1787, the Convention ordered copies printed and distributed to the delegates. This copy belonged to James Madison.

Creating the United States

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition contains a section on creating the United States Constitution.

Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor

This exhibition commemorates the 800th anniversary of the creation of Magna Carta, the charter of liberties that England’s King John granted to his barons in 1215 in order to halt their rebellion and restore their allegiance to his throne. The exhibition contains a section on the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution.

The Teachers Page

American Memory Timeline: The United States Constitution

Discusses the Constitutional Convention and links to related documents.

Constitution Day Teacher Resources

In celebration of Constitution Day, the Library of Congress has compiled a variety of materials from across its collections related to the U.S. Constitution.

Primary Source Set: The Constitution

This Primary Source Set includes images, documents, maps, sound files and analysis tools to help teach about the United States Constitution.

Today in History

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

October 27, 1787

Known as the Federalist Papers, the first in a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

December 12, 1787

On December 12, 1787, delegates to the Pennsylvania ratifying convention meeting at the Pennsylvania State House voted to ratify the Constitution.

December 18, 1787

The New Jersey ratifying caucus approved the Constitution on December 18, 1787.

January 9, 1788

On January 9, 1788, Connecticut ratified the Constitution, becoming the fifth state in the Union.

July 26, 1788

On July 26, 1788, the Convention of the State of New York, meeting in Poughkeepsie, voted to ratify the Constitution.

December 15, 1791

The new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens on December 15, 1791.


Award-winning author and journalist Linda R. Monk discussed her book, The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution (Hyperion, 2003), at the Library of Congress on April 14, 2003.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

The American Constitution - A Documentary Record, The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

America's Founding Documents: Constitution of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration

Documentary Resources, Center for the Study of the American Constitution

Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, Government Printing Office

The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund

Interactive Constitution, National Constitution Center

Our Documents, Constitution of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Amar, Akhil Reed. America’s Constitution: A Biography. New York: Random House, 2005. [Catalog Record]

Bowen, Catherine Drinker. Miracle at Philadelphia: The Story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September, 1787. Boston: Little, Brown, 1986. [Catalog Record]

Collier, Christopher, and James Lincoln Collier. Decision in Philadelphia: The Constitutional Convention of 1787. New York: Random House, 1986. [Catalog Record]

Maddex, Robert L., The U.S. Constitution A to Z. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2008. [Catalog Record]

Maier, Pauline. Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. [Catalog Record]

Monk, Linda R. The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution. New York: Hyperion, 2003. [Catalog Record]

Rakove, Jack N. Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1996. [Catalog Record]

Stewart, David O. The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. [Catalog Record]

Vile, John R. The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America's Founding. 2 vols. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2005. [Catalog Record]

-----. The Men Who Made the Constitution: Lives of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2013. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Banks, Joan. The U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Bjornlund, Lydia D. The Constitution and the Founding of America. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books, 2000. [Catalog Record]

Collier, Christopher, and James Lincoln Collier. Creating the Constitution, 1787. New York: Benchmark Books, 1999. [Catalog Record]

Faber, Doris, and Harold Faber. We the People: The Story of the United States Constitution Since 1787. New York: Scribner's, 1987. [Catalog Record]

Fritz, Jean. Shh! We're Writing the Constitution. New York: Putnam, 1987. [Catalog Record]

Orr, Tamra. The Story of the Constitution. Hockessin, Del.: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2012. [Catalog Record]

Shea, Therese. The United States Constitution. New York: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2014. [Catalog Record]

Sonneborn, Liz. The United States Constitution. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2013. [Catalog Record]

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  February 28, 2018
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