Answer: The Constitution
This Tuesday—known as Constitution Day—marks the anniversary of the day our United States Constitution was approved. However, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 did not convene with the idea of drafting a new document that would lay the groundwork for a nation. The convention’s delegates were tasked merely with revising the Articles of Confederation, the existing set of laws that had been hastily adopted during the Revolutionary War. Instead, they created the United States Constitution, a document that combined, from the framers’ perspective, the crucial parts of the Articles of Confederation, English law, and Enlightenment principles.
By July 26, after debating for nearly two months, the exhausted delegates decided to take a 10-day break. During the suspension, five delegates were assigned to the Committee of Detail, which would draft the resolutions on which the convention had agreed. John Rutledge was the chairman of the committee, and James Wilson composed the drafts. Wilson wrote mostly on the right side of the page, leaving room to the left for Rutledge’s notes and corrections. On August 6, the Constitutional Convention reconvened, and delegates were given a copy of Wilson’s draft. By September 17, the final version was approved and the Constitutional Convention adjourned. After a national debate, the Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, and the new government began operating on March 4, 1789.
To read a transcript of the second manuscript draft of the U.S. Constitution, penned by James Wilson, visit the website Preserving American Freedom at hsp.org/freedom . This website explores American freedom through 50 historic documents. Starting Constitution Day, visit hsp.org/freedom for a chance to win a trip for two to Philadelphia, including airfare and hotel, and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Follow the Historical Society of Pennsylvania on Facebook and Twitter to receive a daily post about each document featured on the website.