Ratification and the Bill of Rights
On September 17, 1787, after 16 weeks of deliberation, the
finished Constitution was signed by 39 of the 42 delegates
present. Franklin, pointing to the half-sun painted in brilliant
gold on the back of Washington's chair, said:
I have often in the course of the session
... looked at that [chair] behind the president, without being able to tell
whether it was rising or setting; but now, at length, I have the happiness to
know that it is a rising, and not a setting, sun.
The convention was over; the members "adjourned to the City
Tavern, dined together, and took a cordial leave of each other."
Yet a crucial part of the struggle for a more perfect union
remained to be faced. The consent of popularly elected state
conventions was still required before the document could become
The convention had decided that the Constitution would take
effect upon ratification by conventions in nine of the 13
states. By June 1788 the required nine states had ratified the
Constitution, but the large states of Virginia and New York had
not. Most people felt that without their support the
Constitution would never be honored. To many, the document
seemed full of dangers: Would not the strong central government
that it established tyrannize them, oppress them with heavy
taxes, and drag them into wars?
Differing views on these questions brought into existence two
parties, the Federalists, who favored a strong central
government, and the Antifederalists, who preferred a loose
association of separate states. Impassioned arguments on
both sides were voiced by the press, the legislatures, and the
Questions with answers in bold:
1. When was the finished Constitution signed by 39 of the 42 delegates present?
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Text courtesy of the U.S. State Department, Bureau of International Information Programs, 2005