In May, 1787, over 50 leaders of the new United States came together at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Their purpose was to write a constitution. They agreed that the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution they created, was not strong enough. The delegates wanted to form "a more perfect union", but it took time before the delegates agreed on what powers to give central government, and what powers to reserve for the states. Many wanted the new federal constitution to include the following powers:
- The power to collect taxes
- Regulate trade
- Make treaties with foreign nations
- Declare war
- Provide a national army and navy
- Coin money
- Make all laws necessary to do the above
The delegates to the convention wanted the states to be in charge of family life, elections, and business.
To accomplish this, the delegrates agreed that central government needed three branches. Each branch would have a job to do. The branches would work together, but they would also act as a check and balance to the other branches. After much discussion, they decided they needed a president and a vice-president to make up the executive branch. The legislative branch would be the Congress, made up of elected representatives from the states. The Congress was to work to make federal laws that were fair to all the states. The third branch was the judicial branch, the supreme court.
The delegates realized that they needed a way to change the laws in the Constitution as the nation developed. They devised a system of amendments. It was a good thing they did too, because the people in the states would not vote to pass the constitution until their treasured liberties were restored. Ten amendments were added to the constitution to do that. The first amendment guaranteed that Congress would not interfere with the freedom of the people in religion, speech, news, and meetings. Other amendments promised fair court trials. These 10 first amendments are called the Bill of Rights. To read them, go here: Bill of Rights
After the amendments were added, in May, 1790, all 13 states ratified the Constitution.