As we celebrate Constitution and Citizenship day on September 17th, here are some fascinating facts about the US Constitution you might not know.
Constitution Day commemorates the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. Beginning with the iconic phrase “We the People,” the signing of the US Constitution set in motion an example of representative government to be copied the world over.
Aboard the USS Constitution
September 17th is also Citizenship Day, which recognizes “all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.”
As a salute to both the Constitution and citizenship, today marks an important day for our fellow foreign-born members of the United States Military. Over the last century, military service has provided a pathway to citizenship for over 760,000 of our fellow troops.
U.S. sailors take the oath of allegiance during a naturalization ceremony aboard the USS Essex in Subic Bay, Philippines
At 4,543 words, it is the oldest written constitution of any major government on the planet. Amended over the years, it serves as a living document that unifies our 50 states under a united republic. And if you ask us, we think it’s the best constitution around.
On this day, we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defending the US Constitution and our great country.
So in the spirit of this momentous day, here are some tantalizing facts about the parchment that started it all!
The 1787 Constitutional Convention was originally just planned to revise the Articles of Confederation
Significantly, the Articles of Confederation named our new nation “The United States of America” for the first time.
The Articles of Confederation had been written out of necessity. After all, the United States needed recognition as a country with a functioning government in the world stage, but the Articles were only a temporary solution.
What the 13-star United States flag looked like at the time of the Constitution’s creation.
Before the Constitution, the States under the articles of Confederation acted more like individual countries, rather than united members of a Federal government.
Although Congress had the power to maintain armed forces, forge treaties, and coin money, the central government had very limited power in regulating interstate commerce, levying taxes, or repaying Revolutionary War debts.
James Madison is known as the “Father of the US Constitution”
James Madison was the type of guy who always showed up for duty ahead of schedule–he was one of the first people to show up to the Constitutional Convention in May that day, and he came prepared with a plan of action: Instead of rewriting the Articles of Confederation, they would frame a new constitution based on the newly-written Virginia constitution.
James Madison, Father of the Constitution, 4th President of the United States, and Colonel of the Virginia Orange County Militia in the Revolutionary War.
It was Madison who proposed the creation of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of government to enforce a separation of powers. His Virginia plan also proposed the two-house legislature (House and Senate), which we know today.
Thanks to his meticulous note-taking, historians were able to run a play-by-play of exactly how the Constitutional Convention went down. It’s no wonder that Madison would go on to be the 4th President of the United States.
You history buffs out there should check out The Madison Papers at the Library of Congress, a series of over 12,000 digitized notes and letters between Madison and Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, and more.
There were only 4 million people living in the United States when the Constitution was created
It might be hard to believe, but you read that right, there were only 4 million people living in the United States when the Constitution was drafted–about the same population as present-day Los Angeles (4.08 million).
Howard Chandler Christy’s 1939 painting of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.
At the time the Constitution was framed, Philadelphia was the largest city in the nation with only 40,000 inhabitants. Could you imagine if there were only that many Eagles fans?
Today, the United States is home to over 328.2 million people. My, how we’ve grown!
There was a proposal at the Constitutional Convention to limit the national military to only 5,000 soldiers.
Having just finished commanding an understaffed, unprepared, short-supplied army to victory during the Revolutionary War, George Washington was no stranger to the importance of a strong military to defend our nation. When a Constitutional delegate proposed limiting the standing army to just 5,000 men, Washington had a clever comeback.
He agreed, sarcastically, on the basis that a stipulation was added that “no invading army could number more than 3,000 troops.”
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, 1851. Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Today, there are over 1.38 million active personnel in the United States Armed Forces.
The Constitution did not originally include the Bill of Rights
In its 233 years of existence, the US Constitution has only been changed 27 times since 1791.
The most prominent change to the United States Constitution was that of the first 10 amendments which were added on December 15, 1791, over four years after the original constitution was officially framed and signed.
The original copy of the Bill of Rights. Image via National Archives
Most of the signers of the Constitution fought in the Revolutionary War
There were 39 signers of the Constitution in all. At least 29 of the signers had served in the Continental Army, predominantly in positions of command.
As the first person to sign the document, Washington famously penned his name at the foot of the document in the upper-right corner. Representatives from each state each signed the document beneath Washington’s signature in order of geographical location, from North to South.
By the time it was Delaware’s turn to sign the document, there was no more room on the right-hand side, so an overflow column had to be created on the left-hand side.
George Washington and his soldiers threw a huge party to celebrate
As the US Constitution manuscript was finalized on September 15th, 1787, two days before its signing, George Washington and his soldiers threw a party for the ages.
Washington and his soldiers really knew how to throw down. Source: Bill of Rights Institute
Partygoers in attendance consumed 76 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 59 bottles of Madeira, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of porter, 8 bottles of cider, 12 bottles of beer, 14 bowls of punch, and $4,000 worth of olives.
The total bill came out to £89 pounds, or about $18,250.69 in today’s dollars, for the roughly 56 partygoers in attendance.
Do you think your platoon could keep up with our founding fathers? You can find the whole bar tab in the First Troop Cavalry Archives.
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