Sure, many of us have read or been told about essential documents in the world. Some might disagree about which of these rank at the highest level of importance, but disagreement sparks debate.
In turn, a debate can spark a revolution. One thing is for sure, though, few documents in the world have been more revolutionary than the Constitution of the United States.
If you loved learning the untold facts about the Declaration of Independence, stick around for a bit. You might walk away smiling after discovering these little-known facts about the Constitution.
13 Facts About the Constitution
From its original length to some odd and abstract amendments, the US Constitution is rife with exciting facts and findings. The best bit? You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate this guide to astonishing facts about the Constitution.
1. The Constitution Is the Oldest (and Shortest) in the World
Drafted in 1787, the US Constitution is, to this day, still the world’s oldest written national constitution that is still in use. Drafted and signed on the 17th of September 1787, it didn’t immediately apply to the rule of the land.
It was in 1788 that all nine states ratified the document allowing it to take effect. One thing that rings true for the Constitution is that quantity isn’t necessarily better than quality. Only containing 4,400 words, the US Constitution is the shortest of any central government worldwide.
Even with amendments that have been added since its inception, the US Constitution sits at 7,762 words.
2. It Wasn’t Intended to Be a New Constitution
However strange that might seem, when the nine states’ delegates came to Philadelphia, they had no intention of drafting a new constitution. Each arrived at Independence Hall to tweak and change the Articles of Confederation instead.
When deliberations began, the attendees realized the articles were a mess. They decided rather scrap them and draft a new document to replace them. Their biggest motivation? Money and debt. At the time, the central government was drowning in debt but couldn’t request money from the states, while the federal government could.
A new constitution could change this; thus, the national debt could be settled from money taxed by member states.
3. It’s Extremely Difficult to Amend the Constitution
If you thought understanding the Constitution was difficult, amending it is a genuine test of mental capacity and endurance. Considering that it has been in operation since 1787, it has only been amended 27 times out of a whopping 11,770 amendment proposals.
Why? Well, simply because amending the Constitution is a highly laborious process. This process is often broken down into two steps. The first is that the proposal must win 2/3s of the vote of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. This can take years and often results in a National Convention needing to be called.
After that, 3/4s of all states must ratify the amendments for it to be added to the Constitution. Many consider this to be why it has been mostly static since it was written.
4. The Constitution Almost Missed a Very Important Signature
Widely considered by many as the “first American”, at the time of signing the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was already 81 years old. When the Constitutional Convention took place in 1787, he was too old and weak even to walk.
He was the eldest of all the delegates present, and many feared he wouldn’t make it to the signing. His role during the convention was critical, mainly during heated debates, so his signature was crucial.
However, he didn’t miss a single day nor the signing, even though he needed to be carried to the convention in a sedan chair.
5. The Constitution Did Miss Out on Three Signatures Nonetheless
As important as it was that certain delegates sign the Constitution, such as Benjamin Franklin, three of the founding fathers were not present. However, these three didn’t miss out on purpose.
During the convention, John Adams was the US ambassador to the United Kingdom and couldn’t attend. Thomas Jefferson was assigned diplomatic duties in France, and James Monroe had to participate in state governance issues at the time.
6. Democracy Isn’t a Part of the Constitution
It might seem very odd and unsettling, but the Constitution doesn’t mention the word “democracy” once. Only considering America as a federal republic, the idea of a democratic country was never included.
The reason behind this is that the founding fathers feared that should the US become a democratic nation, it could fall to mob rule. Obviously, mob rule is the wrong way to govern a national government. This fear consequently resulted in the US being a republic where its people in various states appoint representatives.
7. The Constitution at First Didn’t Include the Bill of Rights
When it was signed into operation in 1787, the Constitution didn’t include the Bill of Rights. Initially, a motion to include it was rejected, but in June of 1789, James Madison proposed that the Constitution be amended.
Madison proposed it to be included because it would protect the rights of citizens and, at the same time, limit the federal government’s power. This led many to call it “Anti-Federalist”; for it to be accepted, Madison had to trim various rights.
Leaving only the essential ones for consideration by Congress, it was eventually added and enacted in 1791.
Read more: Keen to learn more about the Revolution? Check out this list of facts about the American Revolution.
8. The Great Compromise
An often overlooked aspect of the Constitutional Convention was the rise of critical debates, such as the Great Compromise. In plain terms, the Great Compromise is the name given to the solution for how various states would be represented in Congress.
Less populated states, such as New Jersey, argued that there should be only one legislature, with every state having one representative. In contrast, states with a higher population, such as Virginia, felt that they should have more seats in Congress because of their size.
Then came the idea for the Great Compromise, whereby the legislature was divided into two bodies. One is the Senate, and the other is the House of Representatives. Each state has the same number of seats in the Senate, while in the House of Representatives, seats are allocated according to state size.
9. The Constitution Draws Its Power From the People
Many might be surprised by how much impact the preamble phrase “We the People” has on the Constitution. Although a simple term, it is critical to the nation’s sovereignty. And as necessary as it is, it was just added as an afterthought.
You see, the term “We the People” entrenches the notion that all power of the federal government, constitution, and central government comes directly from the people. This also served to get rid of the mixed constitutional regime of the British Empire by assigning sovereignty to the citizens.
10. The Constitution Almost Limited the Size of the Army
When the Constitution was drafted, a few delegates began to question the recommended size of the US Army. More specifically, Elbridge Gerry questioned the size during times of peace.
He argued that during periods of peace, the standing army of the US is limited to a specific size of a few thousand. Sarcastically, George Washington agreed as long as invading armies were limited to three thousand troops.
This amendment was denied, and no limitation was set on the size of the US Army.
Read more: If you’re interested in even more historical facts, read this list of more than 300 facts about history.
11. The Constitution and Thanksgiving Day
Initially, President George Washington proclaimed Thanksgiving Day in 1787 as a day to thank God for allowing a peaceful form of government. Observed for the first time on the 26th of November 1789, the holiday then meant something far different to its use today.
Expressly, Washington indicated that on this day, the citizens of the US remember and be thankful for the safety and peace that came with the Constitution.
12. Not Every State Supported the Constitution
As with any revolutionary act, only some people agree. The same happened when the state of Rhode Island became the last state needed to ratify the Constitution. And even when it did, there was a lot of tension because of it.
In fact, it was so intense that after signing, when a group of Rhode Island Federalists planned a celebratory ox roast in December of 1788, 1,000 armed men came to protest. This protest almost sparked a civil war within the state.
13. The Constitution Allows You to Become a Pirate
Finally, per Article I, Section 8, you could become a state-sanctioned pirate. This is done by allowing the government to grant letters of marque, which permits particular persons to become pirates.
This license would allow you to capture, steal, or spy on the ships of “America’s foreign enemies”. However, this section of the Constitution has less application in modern times than was intended when it was included.
And although rumors are rife that the Goodyear Blimp was granted this permission to hunt Japanese submarines during WWII, it isn’t true.