The Preamble is the opening of
the Constitution and is one of the most famous and oft quoted passages in history.
We the People of the United States,
in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence, 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.
Note 1: This text of the Constitution
follows the engrossed copy signed by Gen. Washington and the deputies from 12
States. The small superior figures preceding the paragraphs designate Clauses,
and were not in the original and have no reference to footnotes.
The Constitution was adopted by
a convention of the States on September 17, 1787, and was subsequently ratified
by the several States, on the following dates: Delaware, December 7, 1787; Pennsylvania,
December 12, 1787; New Jersey, December 18, 1787; Georgia, January 2, 1788;
Connecticut, January 9, 1788; Massachusetts, February 6, 1788; Maryland, April
28, 1788; South Carolina, May 23, 1788; New Hampshire, June 21, 1788.
Ratification was completed on June 21, 1788.
The Constitution was subsequently
ratified by Virginia, June 25, 1788; New York, July 26, 1788; North Carolina,
November 21, 1789; Rhode Island, May 29, 1790; and Vermont, January 10, 1791.
In May 1785, a committee of Congress
made a report recommending an alteration in the Articles of Confederation, but
no action was taken on it, and it was left to the State Legislatures to proceed
in the matter. In January 1786, the Legislature of Virginia passed a resolution
providing for the appointment of five commissioners, who, or any three of them,
should meet such commissioners as might be appointed in the other States of
the Union, at a time and place to be agreed upon, to take into consideration
the trade of the United States; to consider how far a uniform system in their
commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and their permanent
harmony; and to report to the several States such an act, relative to this great
object, as, when ratified by them, will enable the United States in Congress
effectually to provide for the same. The Virginia commissioners, after some
correspondence, fixed the first Monday in September as the time, and the city
of Annapolis as the place for the meeting, but only four other States were represented,
viz: Delaware, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania; the commissioners appointed
by Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Rhode Island failed to
attend. Under the circumstances of so partial a representation, the commissioners
present agreed upon a report, (drawn by Mr. Hamilton, of New York,) expressing
their unanimous conviction that it might essentially tend to advance the interests
of the Union if the States by which they were respectively delegated would concur,
and use their endeavors to procure the concurrence of the other States, in the
appointment of commissioners to meet at Philadelphia on the Second Monday of
May following, to take into consideration the situation of the United States;
to devise such further provisions as should appear to them necessary to render
the Constitution of the Federal Government adequate to the exigencies of the
Union; and to report such an act for that purpose to the United States in Congress
assembled as, when agreed to by them and afterwards confirmed by the Legislatures
of every State, would effectually provide for the same.
Congress, on the 21st of February,
1787, adopted a resolution in favor of a convention, and the Legislatures of
those States which had not already done so (with the exception of Rhode Island)
promptly appointed delegates. On the 25th of May, seven States having convened,
George Washington, of Virginia, was unanimously elected President, and the consideration
of the proposed constitution was commenced. On the 17th of September, 1787,
the Constitution as engrossed and agreed upon was signed by all the members
present, except Mr. Gerry of Massachusetts, and Messrs. Mason and Randolph,
of Virginia. The president of the convention transmitted it to Congress, with
a resolution stating how the proposed Federal Government should be put in operation,
and an explanatory letter. Congress, on the 28th of September, 1787, directed
the Constitution so framed, with the resolutions and letter concerning the same,
to "be transmitted to the several Legislatures in order to be submitted
to a convention of delegates chosen in each State by the people thereof, in
conformity to the resolves of the convention."
On the 4th of March, 1789, the day
which had been fixed for commencing the operations of Government under the new
Constitution, it had been ratified by the conventions chosen in each State to
consider it, as follows: Delaware, December 7, 1787; Pennsylvania, December
12, 1787; New Jersey, December 18, 1787; Georgia, January 2, 1788; Connecticut,
January 9, 1788; Massachusetts, February 6, 1788; Maryland, April 28, 1788;
South Carolina, May 23, 1788; New Hampshire, June 21, 1788; Virginia, June 25,
1788; and New York, July 26, 1788.
The President informed Congress, on the 28th of January, 1790, that North Carolina
had ratified the Constitution November 21, 1789; and he informed Congress on
the 1st of June, 1790, that Rhode Island had ratified the Constitution May 29,
1790. Vermont, in convention, ratified the Constitution January 10, 1791, and
was, by an act of Congress approved February 18, 1791, "received and admitted
into this Union as a new and entire member of the United States."