Constitution Day: 10 Interesting Facts About the Constitution and the 1787 Convention
On Tuesday people across the United States will be observing Constitution Day. The important and influential document will be turning 226 years old this year.
The date, Sept. 17, is the anniversary of when 38 of the 41 delegates present at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention signed the document, thus framing it.
Established in 2004 as an amendment to an omnibus spending bill, Constitution Day was created with the primary purpose of educating people about the document.
In keeping with this tradition, what follows are 10 interesting facts about the process that created the U.S. Constitution. They are presented in no particular order.
1. Originally, the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights.
Late in the session, George Mason of Virginia introduced a measure to add a bill of rights to the document. However, for various reasons his proposal was voted down. What would become the Bill of Rights was added later in 1791.
2. Three men refused to sign the Constitution.
Edmund Randolph of Virginia, George Mason of Virginia and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign the Constitution in 1787. Mason himself listed 16 objections to the document on the back of a copy, among them including the lack of a bill of rights and the absence of a measure to immediately abolish the slave trade.
3. Rhode Island was not represented at the Convention.
Of the 13 original states, Rhode Island was the only one that did not have a delegation present for the Philadelphia Convention. The smallest state in the Union boycotted the Convention over its belief that the new central government formed by the proceedings would undermine its own power. In 1788, Rhode Island residents overwhelmingly voted down ratification.
4. The Constitution is a short document.
With only seven articles and 27 amendments, the U.S. Constitution is the shortest constitution of any sovereign nation in the world today. By contrast, the Constitution of India is longest in the world, with 395 articles and 94 amendments.
5. Grammatical mistakes found in the document.
No one is perfect. The original draft of the Constitution had the occasional misspelling and grammar error. Examples include Pennsylvania being rendered "Pensylvania" in the list of signatories and the word "choose" being spelled "chuse" throughout the document. The later added Bill of Rights included the British spelling of defense.
6. Many amendments have been proposed.
Since its ratification, approximately 11,000 amendments have been proposed for being added to the Constitution. This includes about 500 proposed amendments to change the current "indirect" election of the president via the Electoral College.
7. God and democracy are not mentioned.
While two words commonly spoken about by Americans, neither "God" nor "democracy" appear in the text of the Constitution. The closest instance for the former comes with Article VII's listing of the ratification date as being "in the Year of our Lord."
8. Notable people who were absent.
At the Convention, there were notable Founding Fathers absent from the proceedings. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were in Europe. Samuel Adams, John Hancock and Patrick Henry declined to attend, with Henry famously remarking that he "smelt a rat."
9. The eldest statesman to sign the Constitution.
At age 81, Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at the Convention. In poor health, Franklin had to be helped to sign his name to the document. He would die three years later.
10. The oldest Constitution in existence.
At 226 years of age come Tuesday, the U.S. Constitution is widely considered to be the oldest constitution presently in existence. Ratified in 1789, its nearest competitors would be Norway (1814) and Belgium (1831).