Lesson 2 - Writing the Constitution



In May 1787 Congress called for a convention of representatives from each of the 13 states to be held in Philadelphia. Although 73 men were selected to attend only 55 came. This Congress was to change the Articles of Confederation. The men worked for four months to write a new Constitution to present to the states.

The Congress argued over the following issues:

  • if a strong central government was necessary

  • representation of each state in the Congress

  • control of trade and other business interests

  • how to count slaves in the American population



One of the biggest problems was the smaller states thought the bigger states would take over. They wanted an equal number of members from each state. The larger states wanted to have representatives based on the population of the state. This problem was solved by dividing Congress into two houses.


The Compromise ~ Two Houses of Congress

House of Representatives - based on population

The Senate - equal members from each state



The second problem was the control of trade. Many people in the New England and Middle states made a living through the shipping business. The people in these states wanted the government to pass laws to protect their businesses against foreign shippers. The southern states did not want to pay more for shipping their goods to foreign markets. A compromise was worked out in this area.



At this time slaves were not counted as part of the American population. They were considered property of their masters, and not really counted as people. Since the number of representatives in the House of Representatives and taxes paid to the American government were based on the population of the state, the issue of how to count slaves became a heated debate. A compromise was worked out.


The northern states were happy with the three-fifths rule. This rule stated that five slaves would count as three people for deciding on how many representatives and how much tax would be collected in each state. The southern states were happy in that the American government would not keep the southern people from bringing in slaves for twenty years. The government would also charge a tax of no more than $10. for each slave.


Members of the Philadelphia convention signed the new Constitution on September 17, 1787. Nine out of the thirteen states had to approve the Constitution before it could become a law. The Constitution was ratified (approved of) by June 1788, and all states passed the Constitution by May 29, 1790.

Lesson Links


Lesson 1 - Articles of Confederation

Lesson 2 - Writing the Constitution

Lesson 3 - Checks and Balances of the Government

Lesson 4 - The New Government

Lesson 5 - Bill of Rights

The First Political Parties

George Washington

Article I - Legislative Branch

How a Bill Becomes a Law

Article II - Executive Branch

Article III - Judicial Branch