/ September 16, 2008

This Day in Legal History: September 17th

Today marks one of the greatest triumphs in the legal history of the United States.  On September 17th, 1787, after many heated and lengthy debates, delegates in Philadelphia signed the Constitution of the United States.

The Constitution has become a sacred document in the hearts of all Americans, and it was no less so when it was written.  The document saved the fledgling country from imminent crisis and dissolution by replacing the inept and divisive Articles of Confederation.  Negotiated at the close of the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation gave Congress broad powers but deprived the federal government of the enforcement mechanisms needed to levy taxes or raise troops.  To prevent a breakup of the union, all of the states, except Rhode Island, sent delegates to Philadelphia to negotiate a new governing document in May of 1787.
While compromising on the language of the Consitution and the new, stronger federal government was hard enough, the work of the delegates was just beginning on September 17th.  In order for the Constitution to go into effect, nine out of the 13 state legislatures had to vote on ratification.  Some states, such as Massachusetts, refused to ratify unless the document outlined the rights of citizens more specifically, which eventually led to the inclusion of the Bill of Rights.  Others demanded language indicating that all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government would be the province of states.  And Rhode Island, the most stubborn of all, opposed federal control over currency and slavery, and would not ratify until threatened with economic sanctions.  But, in 1790 it finally approved the Constitution, as the last of the 13 colonies to officially do so.  
Happy Birthday Constitution!
Source: The History Channel

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