The U.S. Constitution, the blueprint of American democracy, is the oldest national constitution in continuous use. It was signed in September 1787 after four difficult months spent drafting and debating it. But signing wasn’t enough; the new Constitution had to be ratified by nine of the 13 states before it became binding. That happened when New Hampshire ratified it on June 21, 1788 — 224 years ago.
Ratification had been far from a sure thing. The new Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, which had been adopted during the Revolutionary War. Supporters of the Constitution, the Federalists, favored a strong federal government, while opponents, the Anti-Federalists, thought it gave the central government too much power. There were bitter struggles in many of the states, but the Federalists were better organized and they won the day.
In order to obtain ratification in several important states, the Federalists promised to add amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing the basic rights of citizens. The amendments they wrote came into effect in December 1791 and are known as the Bill of Rights.
Above is a painting of the signing of the U.S. Constitution by Howard Chandler Christy.