Gouverneur Morris put the finishing touches on the final draft of the new Constitution, trying to make it, he explained, “as clear as our language would permit.” For the original preamble, which began, “We the people of the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts,” etc., he substituted the far more powerful, “We the people of the United States.” He added a statement of the Constitution’s purposes, including to “establish justice,” promote “the general welfare,” and “secure the blessings of liberty—things the Articles of Confederation, in the eyes of most of the delegates, had failed to accomplish.

The last session of the Constitutional Convention took place on September 17, 1787. Benjamin Franklin urged the delegates to put aside individual objections and approve the document, whatever its imperfections. “The older I grow,” he remarked, “the more apt I am to ... pay more respect to the judgment of others.” Of the forty-five delegates who remained in Philadelphia, thirty-nine signed the Constitution. It was then sent to the states for ratification.

This satirical engraving by Amos Doolittle (who created the image of the Battle of Concord in Chapter 5) depicts some of the issues in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution. The wagon in the center is carrying Connecticut and sinking into the mud under the weight of debts and paper money as “Federāls” and “Antifederals” try to pull it out. Federals call for the state to “comply with Congress” (that is, to pay money requisitioned by the national government); the Antifederals reply “tax luxury” and “success to Shays,” a reference to Shays’s Rebellion. The Connecticut shoreline and the buildings of Manhattan are on the right. Underneath the three merchant ships is a phrase criticizing the tariffs that states were imposing on imports from one another (which the Constitution prohibited). At the bottom is the biblical motto, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” later made famous by Abraham Lincoln.

The Constitution created a new framework for American development. By assigning to Congress power over tariffs, interstate commerce, the coining of money, patents, rules for bankruptcy, and weights and measures, and by prohibiting states from interfering with property rights, it made possible a national economic market. It created national political institutions, reduced the powers of the states, and sought to place limits on popular democracy. “The same enthusiasm, now pervades all classes in favor of government,” observed Benjamin Rush, “that actuated us in favor of liberty in the years 1774 and 1775.” Whether “all classes” truly agreed may be doubted, for the ratification process unleashed a nationwide debate over the best means of preserving American freedom.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!