For several years after the American Revolution, the states tried different ways to join together in a central government, but this government was too weak. So representatives from each of the states gathered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1787 to develop a new, stronger central government. This meeting was the Constitutional Convention. After much debate, leaders from the states drafted a document describing this new government. This document is the U.S. Constitution, one of the most important documents in American history. The Constitution described how the new government would be organized, how government officials would be chosen, and what rights the new central government would guarantee to citizens.
The members of the Constitutional Convention approved the Constitution on September 17, 1787. Next, all 13 states had to approve it. Some people felt that the Constitution did not do enough to protect the rights of individual people. The states agreed to approve the Constitution if a list of individual rights were added to it. The states approved the Constitution in 1789. This list of individual rights, called the Bill of Rights, was added to the Constitution in 1791. Changes to the Constitution are called "amendments." The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights.
The United States is a nation governed by laws. Government officials make decisions based on those laws. The Constitution is known as the "supreme law of the land" because every citizen, including all government officials, and every law that is created must uphold the principles of the Constitution. Laws apply equally to everyone. The federal government has limited powers. Powers not given directly to the federal government by the Constitution are held by the states.
The United States flag has changed over our history. Now it has 13 stripes to represent the original 13 American colonies. It has 50 stars, one for each state. The American national anthem was written about the flag and is called "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The flag is also called the "Stars and Stripes," and a favorite American song is called "Stars and Stripes Forever."
"We the People" are the first three words of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution begins by explaining why it was written and what it was intended to accomplish. This section is called the "preamble." Here is the preamble to the Constitution:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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."
Citation: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Office of Citizenship, Welcome to the United States: A guide for New Immigrants, Washington, DC, 2007, Revised Edition.