“Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” by Howard Chandler Christy (Architect of the Capitol)
230 years ago today, many of the nation’s leading minds met in a sweltering room in the middle of a Philadelphia heat wave to revise a document called The Articles of Confederation. The Articles had been a big problem. They left too much power to the states. Congress, the only branch of the federal government in the Articles, had almost no power over the states. And as the country fought for independence from Great Britain, that had been disastrous, as the Continental Army struggled to supply itself through a government with no ability to raise funds.
To many delegates — including George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton — revising the Articles didn’t go far enough. They needed to be scrapped entirely so that something better could take its place, something that created a strong, central government — one with clear, enumerated (but still limited) powers over the states. So that’s just what they did. Working in secret over the next three months, the Founders of our country labored over the four pages of parchment that would create the United States Federal Government and underly all of American law from that point forward, the Constitution of the United States.
Learn more about the drafting of this revolutionary document in our film Creating a Constitution.
Check out the latest film in the Constitution Project Series, Freedom of the Press: New York Times v. United States. Freedom of the Press has been guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years. It’s right there in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. But almost as soon as the ink was dry on the First Amendment, people in power started to challenge its protections — and they haven’t stopped throughout its 200 year history.
Click to learn more about our film Magna Carta and the Constitution, featuring Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer. Produced in commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, this film explains the link between this document, considered the foundation of rule of law, due process and modern democracy, and our own American Constitution. We also look at how the Supreme Court has affirmed rule of law and due process in landmark cases, including the 1932 Scottsboro Boys decision, and the case that led to the resignation of President Nixon, United States v. Nixon.
Habeas Corpus: The Guantanamo Cases, our film on the fundamental right of habeas corpus and the four landmark Guantanamo cases that affirmed our commitment to the right, is now available online. The film features Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, and explains how the right of habeas corpus has been challenged, and upheld, in times of national crisis, from the Civil War to the War on Terror.
Celebrate National Bill of Rights Day with us by learning all about the document that changed America and inspired the world. Watch our film, The Bill of Rights to learn about the fight behind this landmark founding document, and the rights it’s intended to protect.