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Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

5-Minute Guide to the
U.S. Constitution

The Constitution created our government. More than 200 years later, here’s how it affects you.

On September 17, 1787, our nation’s Founders created a document that continues to shape Americans’ lives today. That day, delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, ­Pennsylvania, signed the United States Constitution.


The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It set up our federal (national) government, as well as the government’s relationship with the states and citizens. Amendments—which were added later—spell out important changes, including guarantees of Americans’ rights. Read on for a quick overview of the Constitution and how it works.

CREATING OUR GOVERNMENT

1. American colonists won independence from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). After the war, the 13 original states established a country whose federal government had limited power.

2. Leaders called for a conference to form a stronger government. On May 25, 1787, delegates from most states met in Philadelphia for what would become known as the Constitutional Convention.

3. The delegates debated for nearly four months. Finally, 39 of the 55 delegates signed a newly written Constitution.

116: Total number of days it took to create the Constitution
2: Number of Founders (John Adams and Thomas Jefferson)
who didn’t sign because they were in Europe

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SEPARATION OF POWERS

The U.S. Constitution outlines a system of  "checks and balances" to make sure that no one branch of the federal government has too much power.

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LEGISLATIVE
Congress, which has two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives
Main job: Writes the nation’s laws
Checks: The Senate must confirm the president’s nominees for federal court and Cabinet positions. 

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EXECUTIVE
The president, vice president, and Cabinet
Main job: Enforces the nation’s laws
Checks: The president can sign (approve) or veto (reject) laws passed by Congress and appoints federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.

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JUDICIAL
The federal court system: the U.S. Supreme Court and more than 100 federal courts
Main job: Evaluates the nation’s laws
Checks: The courts can overturn laws and executive orders they find unconstitutional.

WHO SIGNED IT?

Fifty-five delegates attended the Constitutional Convention.
Meet three of them.

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George Washington
The first to sign the Constitution,
he became the nation’s first president less
than two years later, in 1789.

The Granger Collection

 

 

James Madison
He played such a key role that he’s called the Father of the Constitution. He was later the fourth U.S. president.

The Granger Collection

 

 

Alexander Hamilton
He’s famous now because of Hamilton, the hit Broadway musical about his life. In the 1780s, his essays won support for the Constitution.

CORE QUESTION:  Why might our nation’s Founders have created a process for changing the Constitution?

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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