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In spirit, the U.S. Constitution, the document that outlines the principles and purposes of the United States government, was created by all of the fifty-five delegates (representatives) to the meeting of the Continental Congress, the law-making body of the newly formed United States. They convened on May 25, 1787, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When the thirteen states were asked to send representatives to the meeting, twelve responded by selecting their most experienced and most talented leaders. However, Rhode Island, which feared the interference of a strengthened national government in state affairs, sent no one to Philadelphia.

While many delegates had a role in writing the Constitution, New York lawyer Gouverneur Morris (1752–1816) actually drafted the resolutions reached by the convention. Morris relied on records that James Madison (1751–1836) of Virginia had kept as he managed debates among the delegates. Madison also influenced the language of the document because he designed the system of checks and balances among the three branches of the U.S. government: the Congress (legislative, or law-making, branch), the president (executive branch), and the Supreme Court (judicial branch). The system of checks and balances guarantees that no single branch has more power than the other two and is the basis of the laws of the United States. For this reason, Madison is known as the "Father of the Constitution."

The Constitution was ratified (approved) by the required nine states by June 21, 1788. It went into effect the following year, replacing the Articles of Confederation, the document drafted by the original thirteen United States. The original copy of the Constitution, which was drafted by Morris, is preserved in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. While the Constitution has been amended by Congress, the basic principles have remained in place for more than two centuries.

Further Information: Jordan, Terry L. The U.S. Constitution: And Fascinating Facts About It. Naperville, Ill.: Oak Hill Publishing, 1999; National Archives and Records Administration. The Delegates to the Constitutional Congress. [Online] Available http://www.nara.gov./exhall/charters/constitution/cenfath.html, October 26, 2000; "The U.S. Constitution." The U.S. Constitution Online. [Online] Available http://www.usconstitution.net/, October 26, 2000.

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