Creating a More Perfect Union

September 2020


Constitution Day Sept. 17, 2020

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."1

Thus begins our national framework of government - the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution created a new form of government, a government that was based on the 1777 Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.

A Nation in Crisis

This first agreement between the states preserved the autonomy of the individual states and established a small central government that was unable to raise money to pay for debts incurred during the Revolutionary War and not able to form an army to defend the new nation. During the mid-1780s individual states put up trade protection barriers against neighboring states and some states violated the 1783 Treaty of Paris by prosecuting Tory loyalists and redistributing their land to soldiers as a way of paying the soldiers for their service during the war.

By the summer of 1786 the state of Connecticut refused to pay assessment (tax) to the Federal Government, residents of Massachusetts were revolting because of the state's debt crisis (Shay's Rebellion) and rumors were flying that the Spanish were providing aid to Creek Indians raids in Georgia and that a group of New York legislators were in communication with the Viceroy of Canada. The Congress of Confederation, the first Congress, was paralyzed and the fate of the new republic was in question.

On February 21, 1787 Congress of Confederation resolved that a convention of state delegates be called for "the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, and reporting to Congress, and the several legislatures, such alterations and provisions as shall render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of government, and the preservation of the Union."2

Federal Constitutional Convention

The Constitutional Convention met during the spring and summer of 1787, with delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island did not send delegates to the convention). Delegates proposed, discussed and compromised each section, each clause of the new Constitution.  Convention attendees received the final draft on September 12. Five days later, September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed by 39 delegates. Delegates who refused to sign the Constitution were concerned about the loss of state's rights and the lack of a Bill of Rights.

Sent to States for Ratification

Once the Constitution was signed and approved by the Congress of Confederation, it headed to the states for ratification. In New York, the Assembly and Senate passed resolutions supporting the Constitution on January 31 and February 1, 1788. It was ratified on July 26, 1788 during The Poughkeepsie Convention despite opposition led by Governor George Clinton who felt that state's rights would be weakened if the national government became stronger and who was concerned that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights. Fear of losing some of the southern New York counties through secession and Alexander Hamilton's persuasive talk on the need for a new federal government helped to change the mind of some of the delegates. While the vote was close, 30 in favor, 27 against, New York did ratify the Constitution and, in so doing, became the 11th state to join the United States.

Constitution Day

Americans have been celebrating Constitution Day since 1911. It became a formal holiday in 2004 when Congress passed Public Law 108-447. Previous New York State Library Constitution Day events have included live programs and the distribution of the Constitution.

Related Books and Resources at the New York State Library

The New York State Library has a variety of Constitution related books and other resources. A sampler of these items includes:

Book title and image of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution exhibit


The Constitution of the United States: an account of its travels since September 17, 1787, Library of Congress

The Living U.S. Constitution book cover, blue bckground with red and white flag stripes


The living U.S. Constitution: story, text, fully indexed guide, portraits of the signers, Saul Kussiel Padover

Framing the Federal Constitution book cover with front facing building facade


The framing of the Federal Constitution, National Park Service

Painting of colonial forefathers signing the Declaration of Independence


A Musical skit for children on the Constitution Convention, Commission on the Bicentennial of the Constitution


Drawing of George Washington and children with American flag in the background


The Constitution's children: a collection of essays by schoolchildren to commemorate the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, 1787-1987, US Education Department

Plain white book cover with title in a circle of stars


Miracle at Philadelphia: the story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787, Catherine Drinker Bowen


Resources

Bowen, Catherine D.; Miracle at Philadelphia, Part I: Divisive Issues that Threatened the Unionexternal link icon, futurecasts.com

Bowen, Catherine D.; Miracle at Philadelphia: the story of the Constitutional Convention, May to September 1787, The American Press, New York, 1986

constitutionfacts.com, Who did not sign the Constitutionexternal link icon

New York Times, "Poughkeepsie Marks Its Role in Ratifying Federal Constitution," July 17, 1988, Section 1, Page 29

Wikipedia, Constitution of the United Statesexternal link icon

1 Constitution for the United States of America, 1787
2 United States Continental Congress, Resolution, 2/21/1787

Last Updated: September 24, 2020