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On 17 September 1787…

They are words for the ages.

They begin: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”1

And it was presented to the fledgling nation as the defining document of government by the signatures of 38 delegates (George Reed signed twice, once for himself and once for John Dickinson of Delaware)… exactly 234 years ago today, on the 17th of September 1787.2


History teaches us all, The Legal Genealogist included, that the notion that this would actually become that defining document was no sure thing. Nine of 13 states needed to ratify it; only six were governed by those who thought a strong federal government was needed.3 Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay were among the leaders of the federalist movement, writing the essays that came to be known as The Federalist Papers.4

The rolls of the states began to be taken in December 1787. As you might tell from that state’s license plates, Delaware was the first, voting unanimously to ratify on 7 December 1787.5

Pennsylvania followed, by a two-to-one margin, five days later. New Jersey’s vote was unanimous on 18 December. Georgia and Connecticut approved in January. Massachusetts came within a whisker of rejecting the Constitution, voting 187-168 for ratification.6

And in Rhode Island, a popular vote on 24 March 1788 went overwhelming against it — 2708 against to only 237 for ratification.7

The next vote wasn’t even taken for another month, but Maryland ratified on 28 April, bring the total to seven. Then another month went by before South Carolina voted for the Constitution, on 23 May. Eight states.8

Then the logjam broke. New Hampshire ratified on 21 June 1788, bringing the total to nine. Virginia ratified four days later, New York in July, North Carolina in November 1789 and, finally, Rhode Island changed its mind and approved the document in May 1790.9

And it all began with those signatures on that document, 234 years ago today.

Happy Constitution Day.10

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Happy Constitution Day!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 17 Sep 2021).


  1. Preamble, United States Constitution; U.S. National Archives, America’s Founding Documents ( : accessed 17 Sep 2021).
  2. The Constitution: How Did it Happen?,” U.S. National Archives, America’s Founding Documents ( : accessed 17 Sep 2021).
  3. Ibid.
  4. See “The day the Constitution was ratified,” National Constitution Center blog, posted 21 June 2021 ( : accessed 17 Sep 2021).
  5. Dates of Ratification of the Constitution,” The Founding, Teaching American History ( : accessed 17 Sep 2021).
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. See “Celebrating Constitution Day,” National Archives News, U.S. National Archives, ( : accessed 17 Sep 2021).
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