In May 1787, 55 men from twelve states met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. At the outset, however, Virginia Governor Edmund Randolph presented a plan prepared by James Madison for the design of an entirely new national government. The proposed plan would lead to a four-month process of argument, debate, compromise, and the development of the Constitution of the United States.
On September 17, 1787, the final draft of the new Constitution was read to the 42 delegates still at the convention. Of the 42 men present, 39 affixed their signatures to the document and notified the Confederation Congress that their work was finished. The Congress, in turn, submitted the document to the states for ratification, where more argument, debate, and compromise would take place. The state of Delaware was the first to ratify the Constitution. On June 21, 1788, just nine months after the state ratification process had begun, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, and the Constitution went into effect.
In the two centuries since its ratification, many changes have been made to the Constitution. However, the basic premises on which the Constitution was framed--the protection of individual rights and liberties, limited government with separation of powers and checks and balances, the federal system, and judicial review--remain at the heart of the "living" document.
To find additional sources in American Memory relating to this general topic, search with such key words as Articles of Confederation, Confederation Congress, Constitution, constitutional convention, federalists, anti-federalists, and ratification.