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Making a Nation

How did the United States Constitution get written? It wasn’t easy!

Men in 18th century clothing sit in a room as George Washington stands near the center holding a piece of paper and a thermometer’s mercury rises. A talk bubble shows one man asking another if they can open a window.
Ian Dagnall/Alamy, © Hakiagena/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In the summer of 1787, leaders from all over the United States met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their goal was to write a Constitution for the United States. 

This was a big deal. America had been ruled by Britain for more than 100 years. Now, it was an independent country, free from British rule. The Constitution would say how the new nation’s government would work. Writing the Constitution took all summer, but on September 17, 1787, it was signed. Getting to that point wasn’t easy, though. Here’s a little more about the meeting in Philadelphia, which was called the Constitutional Convention.

Who was there?

Most states sent leaders (called delegates) to the Constitutional Convention. These leaders included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton.

Where did the delegates meet?

The delegates met at the Pennsylvania State House. They kept all the windows closed so no one outside would hear what they were saying. 

What was it like?

Since it was summer and the windows were closed, the building was very hot. The delegates wore coats, long-sleeved shirts, and breeches (a type of pants that went just past the knee) with stockings. Air conditioning hadn’t been invented yet. In fact, there was no electricity back then, so the delegates couldn’t even get a cool breeze from an electric fan.

What did the delegates talk about?

The delegates talked about how the new government should work. They didn’t agree on everything. Some thought the new national government had to be powerful. A powerful government could do things like make laws to protect the people and collect taxes to pay for important things. But others were worried that a powerful government could take away the people’s freedom. 

How did the delegates work things out?

Even after the Constitution was written, some delegates were still worried about the people’s rights. They felt there should be a list of rights, or freedoms, that the government couldn’t take away. This list was written down just a couple of years after the Constitution. It’s called the Bill of Rights.

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Fun Fact

A handwritten copy of the United States Constitution
National Archives, Washington, D.C.
A handwritten copy of the United States Constitution

There were no computers in 1787. The delegates needed someone to write out the Constitution by hand. A man named Jacob Shallus did the job. When you see the handwritten Constitution, that’s his handwriting.

As Rare As It Gets

Animation showing the Constitution being produced on a printing press
American Imprint Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. ( JK14 1787m), Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Five hundred copies of the Constitution were printed in 1787. Only 13 of these copies are still around. 

Most of these original copies are displayed for the public to see. One of them is at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. 

Two 1787 printings of the Constitution are owned by individuals. They’re worth a lot of money. In 2021, one of those copies was sold for $43.2 million!

What’s In the Constitution?

Four men in 18th century clothing sit at a table outdoors.
Architect of the Capitol

This mural shows delegates meeting in Benjamin Franklin’s garden in Philadelphia at the time of the Constitutional Convention. The delegates are (left to right) Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, James Madison, and Benjamin Franklin.

The Constitution was written by delegates. What did they write?

Learn more at Britannica School!

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: an official paper that gives information about something or that is used as proof of something

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