This virtual exhibit highlights 4 major periods of time and events that created the United States Constitution: the Constitutional Convention, 1787, the States' Ratification process which followed the Convention, 1787-1790, the initiation of the new government, 1789, and the incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the new Constitution, 1789-1792.
Look in the left column to see 2 timelines: the dates of ratification of the Constitution, and dates of ratification of the Bill of Rights.
After the ratification of the Articles of Confederation (1778-1781) the new nation faced several mounting problems: weak federal powers and no way for Congress to enforce the powers it had under the Articles, hints of anarchy and unrest, and general dissatisfaction with the course of affairs with the new, loose federation. Though controversial, a Constitutional Convention was proposed and eventually formed as an attempt to rectify some of the problems. These are accounts of the formation of the convention and the proposals, discussions, and arguments that went into the making of the new Constitution:
Ratification of the proposed Constitution by the original states took from Sept. 1789 to early 1791. "Debate over the Constitution raged in newspapers, taverns, coffeehouses, and over dinner tables as well as in the Confederation Congress, state legislatures, and state ratifying conventions. People who never left their home towns and were little known except to their neighbors studied the document, knew it well, and on some memorable occasion made their views known. What the people and the convention delegates they chose decided had everything to do with making the United States into what George Washington called a 'respectable nation.'" Pauline Maier, Ratification: the people debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2010. p. ix.
The following resources recount the state debates and provide documents of the official discussions.
As soon as 9 states had ratified the Constitution (June 21, 1788) it went into effect. On March 4, 1789 the 1st Congress of the new Constitution was seated, and in early April George Washington was elected as the 1st President. Read more about the early federal government in these resources:
"During the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government.... They demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.
On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights."--The Charters of Freedom; Bill of Rights. National Archives online exhibit
Bill of Rights. Project Gutenberg
These books and electronic resources recount the push for a Bill of Rights to amend the new Constitution:
Bill of Rights. Charters of Freedom online exhibit. National Archives.
Roots of the Bill of Rights. Bernard Schwartz, comp. NY: Chelsea House, 1980. WSU Holland & Terrell Libraries KF 4744 1980 v. 1-5. Sources for Constitutional amendments 1-10.
The Bill of Rights [electronic book]: a bicentennial assessment. Gary C. Bryner and A.D. Sorensen, ed. Provo, UT: Brigham Young Univ., 1993. NetLibrary link through WSU WorldCat.
The Bill of Rights in Modern America. David J. Bodenhamer and James W. Ely, Jr., ed. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2008. WSU Holland & Terrell Libraries KF4550.A2 B49 2008