13 Facts About the U.S. Constitution

Surprising details about our nation’s founding document

Signed in 1787, the U.S. Constitution includes a preamble and seven articles that outline how the American government is organized and operates. Let’s take a closer look at its creation.

1) The Constitution was written and signed in the same chamber of the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia — now known as Independence Hall — where the Declaration of Independence was also signed.

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2) The process of creating the Constitution took about three and a half months.

The gathering that is now known as the Constitutional Convention convened on May 25, 1787. Delegates discussed and debated how a government should be formed, and agreed on the final draft on Sept. 17, 1787.  

3) Fifty-five delegates, representing 12 of the 13 states, attended the Constitutional Convention.

Rhode Island sent no delegates to Philadelphia because the legislature thought that the convention would create laws that would give the federal government too much power. See a full list of the delegates here.

4) Much of what historians know about the Constitutional Convention comes from the meticulous notes taken by Virginia delegate James Madison during the meetings.

Madison also drafted ideas for the government’s structure in a document known as the Virginia Plan, which recommended that states be represented based on population and that the government have three distinct branches. Madison is therefore known as the “Father of the Constitution.” Learn more about James Madison’s recordkeeping here and the Virginia Plan here.

5) Early drafts of the Constitution didn’t begin with the familiar phrase “We the People of the United States.”

It started with a long list of all the states: “We the people of the states of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode-Island…” Learn more.

6) New York delegate Gouverneur Morris, who has been called the “Penman of the Constitution,” was the main editor for the document’s text, including the preamble.

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7) Six men signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, which were written 11 years apart: George Clymer, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Read, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson.

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8) Of the signers of the Constitution, two became president: George Washington and James Madison.

Two other Founding Fathers who reached the presidency, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were not delegates to the Constitutional Convention because they were abroad, serving as ambassadors: Jefferson was in France and Adams in Great Britain.

9) Three of the delegates at the convention refused to sign the Constitution.

George Mason, Edmund Randolph, and Elbridge Gerry considered it a flawed document and wanted the Constitution to include a bill of rights to more clearly protect the rights of states and freedoms of individuals. Learn more

10) The Constitution was written and signed in 1787, but it could not go into effect until at least nine states ratified it; the ninth ratification vote came 10 months later, in 1788, from New Hampshire.

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11) The first state to ratify the Constitution was Delaware.

Its nickname is “The First State,” which you see on many Delaware state license plates today. Learn more.

12) Rhode Island was the 13th and last state to ratify the Constitution.

It did so in 1790, more than a year after the Constitution went into effect and George Washington had been sworn in as the first U.S. president. Rhode Island’s legislature agreed to the Constitution on the condition that it include a list of individual rights. 

13) The individual rights that Rhode Island and other states wanted were added in 1791 in the form of 10 amendments to the Constitution that became known as the Bill of Rights.

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Read the entire Constitution online at the National Archives.

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