Constitution Day: Constitution 101

September 17th is Constitution Day. The Constitution is one of the most important documents in American history, and it provides the foundation for the country’s legal system. However, the Constitution itself is frequently misunderstood.

In honor of Constitution Day, our Birmingham personal injury lawyers at Hare Wynn are sharing a short introduction to the history of the Constitution and addressing some common myths and questions.

History of the Constitution

When creating a new government, the Founding Fathers needed to define how laws would be made, interpreted, and upheld.

Signed on September 17, 1787, the Constitution established the structure of the government and legal system. It assigned Congress the responsibility for making laws and established the Judicial Branch with the U.S. Supreme Court as the federal court system’s highest court.

Courts have the responsibility to interpret the Constitution’s meaning, as well as the meaning of any laws passed by Congress.

Alexander Hamilton wrote that the federal courts “were designed to be an intermediate body between the people and their legislature.” The judicial branch is responsible for ensuring that Congress doesn’t go beyond the authority given by the constitution.

The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, codify fundamental civil rights and liberties of American citizens. These include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and the right to due process under the law.

There have been 27 amendments to the United States Constitution, including the Bill of Rights. Here are some of the most significant amendments passed after the Bill of Rights.

  • The 13th Amendment was ratified in 1865, this amendment abolishes slavery and involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime.
  • The 14th Amendment was adopted in 1870 and prohibits denying the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Southern states still disenfranchise Black voters after reconstruction.
  • The 19th Amendment was added in 1920 and prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on sex.

Common Myths About the Constitution

In a 2020 article, the National Constitution Center debunked some of the most common Constitution myths about the people and events involved in the document’s creation.

The most common misconception that staff at the National Constitution Center hear is that Thomas Jefferson signed the Constitution. In 1787, Jefferson was in Paris as the United States’ envoy, and he missed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. However, Jefferson’s support was important in passing the Bill of Rights.

Many people also mistakenly believe that John Adams signed the Constitution. Adams was in London at the time as the United States Minister to Great Britain.

While some believe that the Constitution was quickly accepted by the entire country, this is untrue. After the delegates signed the Constitution on September 17, 1787, five states immediately ratified it.

However, the anti-federalists opposed the ratification. They demanded a Bill of Rights because they were afraid that a strong central government would become oppressive. The Constitution didn’t go into effect until June 21, 1788, when New Hampshire became the ninth state to approve ratification.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Constitution

The National Archives website answers a host of common questions about the Constitution.

Q. Who presided over the Constitutional Convention?

A. George Washington, chosen unanimously.

Q. How long did it take to frame the Constitution?

A. It was drafted in fewer than one hundred working days.

Q. What was the Connecticut Compromise?

A. This was the first great compromise of the Constitutional Convention. It was agreed that each State should have two members in the Senate and that the number of members in the House of Representatives was to be based upon population. Thus the rights of the small States were safeguarded, and the majority of the population was to be fairly represented.

Q. Why has our Constitution been classed as “rigid”?

A. The term “rigid” is used in opposition to “flexible” because the provisions are in a written document that cannot be legally changed with the same ease and in the same manner as ordinary laws. The British Constitution, which is unwritten, can, on the other hand, be changed overnight by an act of Parliament.

About Hare Wynn

For more than 130 years, Hare, Wynn, Newell & Newton has been helping individuals and families fight for their rights after someone else’s negligence caused harm and losses. Our trial lawyers have handled a wide range of cases, including complex litigation involving powerful pharmaceutical companies and agricultural giants. We have recovered over two billion dollars on behalf of our clients.

If you were hurt because of someone’s careless or reckless behavior, we can help. Contact our Birmingham personal injury lawyers for a free case evaluation by calling 800-568-5330 or using our online contact form.

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