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The Heat Was On

Nervous delegates, arguments, and a heat wave. These were just a few of the things the Founders dealt with as they wrote the United States Constitution.

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.

The United States wouldn’t be the United States without the Constitution. For 235 years, the U.S. Constitution has been the foundation for the nation’s government and laws. Getting such a significant document written was a tall order—and it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

Here are a few little-known facts about the writing of the Constitution.

The delegates didn’t agree on everything.

The Constitution was written at the Constitutional Convention, a meeting that took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Twelve states sent delegates, or representatives, to the convention. The delegates argued over issues such as how powerful the national government should be, how many representatives each state should have in Congress, and whether slavery should be legal. 

The Constitution made some people nervous.

Plenty of Americans were worried that the Constitution would create a federal (national) government that was too powerful. (Remember, they had just fought a war to rid themselves of a powerful king.) The government of Rhode Island opposed the idea of the Constitution so strongly that it refused to send a delegate to the convention. Later, the Bill of Rights was written in order to prevent the federal government from violating Americans’ liberties.

It was summer, and it was hot.

The convention took place during a hot and humid Philadelphia summer at a time before air conditioning or even electric fans existed. There was no fresh air wafting through the Pennsylvania State House—the delegates kept the windows closed so passersby wouldn’t hear their debates. In their long-sleeved shirts, suits that were often made of wool, and stockings, the delegates must have been miserable. It’s fair to say that the building probably didn’t smell that great! 

The Constitution cost $30 to write.

The delegates needed someone with great handwriting to put the words of the Constitution on paper. They paid a clerk named Jacob Shallus $30 ($955 in today’s money) to do the job. It took Shallus about 40 hours to complete the document.

Some of the words are spelled wrong.

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, there was no standard way to spell words in English. Because of this, some of the words in the Constitution aren’t spelled the way we’d spell them. For example, choose is spelled chuse, while Pennsylvania is spelled Pensylvania.

Did You Know?

Prints and Photographs Division/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-USZ62-45482), © Michael Flippo/; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc

Gouverneur Morris, shown here, wrote the phrase, “We the People.”

The U.S. Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States.” These words signify the importance of the people to the creation and survival of the nation’s government. They were written by New York delegate Gouverneur Morris. If you’ve never heard of Morris, you’re not alone. Morris isn’t as well-known as some of the other convention delegates, like George Washington and James Madison.  Still, he played a key role in crafting the structure of the national government.

Before the Constitution

Photo illustration showing the Articles of Confederation overlaid with the first 13 U.S. states
Prints and Photographs Division/Library of Congress, Washington D.C. (LC-USZ62-59464), Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The Constitution on which our government is based wasn’t the first founding document of the United States. The original constitution was called the Articles of Confederation. 

Adopted in 1777, the Articles of Confederation established a “league of friendship” among the 13 states. Under the articles, the state governments were very powerful while the central, or national, government had little power. There were several reasons for this. For one thing, many Americans were loyal to their states, but they didn’t have much of a sense of unity with the other states. 

But it wasn’t just about state pride. The delegates, or state representatives, who put the articles together wanted to keep the national government as weak as possible. They believed that Britain’s powerful king and Parliament hadn’t allowed Americans to exercise their rights. This was why America had fought a war to be free and independent from Britain. It’s not surprising that the idea of creating another strong national government made them nervous.

But the weak national government didn’t work. The central government couldn’t regulate commerce between the states. It couldn’t tax the people, which meant it couldn’t raise money for a military or other needs. The American economy was a mess. By 1787, it had become clear that the Articles of Confederation needed to be revised. 

That’s why, from May 14 to September 17 of that year, delegates met to draft the U.S. Constitution.

What’s In the Constitution?

Creating a government is no easy task.

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.

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: to make (a treaty, agreement, etc.) official by signing it or voting for it

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