Q82a: When was the Constitution written?

A. 1602
B. 1809
C. 1991
D. 1787 

Q82b: What happened at the Constitutional Convention?

A. A war broke out and the U.S. won.
B. Thomas Jefferson was appointed President.
C. The Constitution was written.
D. The Queen of England came to visit. 

Question Background Information


In adopting the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, the American Founding Fathers built on and expanded traditions of liberty they had learned from their experience as English colonists and settlers. The defects of the Articles of Confederation, their first attempt at a post-British government, soon became apparent. It became clear that a new document was necessary—one that would provide a stronger federal government than existed under the Articles, but that would still clearly and carefully limit federal governmental power to avoid the problems that led to the American Revolution.

The assembly of the Founding Fathers, which came to be called the Constitutional Convention, met in Philadelphia and wrote the Constitution in 1787.  The Framers of the Constitution sought to preserve the liberties and limited government ideals of the American Revolution while creating a more effective government.

In particular, it was important that any federal government be able to enforce its own laws, rather than ask the states to do it for them. Thus, the Constitutional Convention that met in 1787, largely preserved the scope of powers of the federal government (though adding a few new ones, such as the power to regulate interstate commerce as a way to stop trade wars between the states). But it radically changed the method of enforcing those powers, creating a new executive branch to execute the laws, along with a separate federal judiciary to resolve disputes under that Constitution.

As James Madison later explained in Federalist 39, the Constitution remained federal insofar as it limited the United States government only to a specific jurisdiction of limited and enumerated powers, as had been the case under the Articles; the states would continue to retain all other powers. But the enforcement of those federal powers was now in the hands of the new United States government. This would, the Founders hoped, keep the liberty-protecting benefits of a federal system while gaining the efficiency of a national one. 

Additional Content

Offline Activity


One could argue that the Constitution could be called the Articles of Confederation 2.0. After all, many of the ideas of the Articles made their way into the Constitution. On the other hand, there are important differences – differences that both supporters and opponents of the Constitution considered to be extremely significant in determining what the ultimate character of the government would be. For this activity, students have the chance to find and chart those similarities and differences, using the texts of the two, with optional readings of letters written by and among the Founders before the Convention.


Provide each group with the necessary materials: 


Print a copy of the Venn Diagram answer sheet for yourself.  

The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key.

Teaching Materials.


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C. 
    • Depending on the class, you may wish to have the students work independently. 
  2. Provide each student or pair with the necessary materials. 
  3. Each group will read the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation and look for both similarities and differences.  
    • Adjust the length of the readings to meet the needs of the class or to meet time constraints.  You might consider assigning the students to read the Articles of Confederation and the Madison and Lee letters the night before.
    • Recommend that they highlight instances where they find similarities and differences.
    • Let them know that they want to look for similar ideas, not identical statements. For example, one similarity is that both documents provided for states being represented in Congress, but how each document provides for representation is different.  
  4. Circulate throughout the room as the students complete the worksheets to check for understanding. 
  5. Once everyone has completed the worksheet, use their answers to springboard into a discussion on how the Constitution built upon and departed from the Articles. 
    You may want to use these prompts: 
    • Why do you think it was necessary to have the federal government enforce its own laws, instead of asking the states to do it for them?
    • Both the Articles and the Constitution limit the powers of the federal government to those listed in their texts, but they have different lists. What are some differences in their powers, and why might they have been changed? 
    • What additional limits were imposed on the states? Why might those limits have been necessary?
    • What might have happened if the United States had been attacked by another nation while the Articles were in effect? Would the United States’ response have been different? How?
    • Why would they want to have a separate court system, instead of just having either Congress or the state courts adjudicate disputes?

Discussion Prompts

Aggressive, overbearing rule by a faraway government, as the colonists experienced under British rule, was the last thing that the Founding Fathers wanted to emulate, so they made sure that the federal government did not have too much power. The initial result was the Articles of Confederation, designed in the midst of the American Revolution. The Articles proved to be less effective than hoped—they had made too weak of a federal government. Not long after the Articles were finally ratified in 1781, the American people began recognizing their shortcomings and looking to make changes. A Constitutional Convention was called, during which the Constitution of the United States was written, one that struck a better balance between the powers of the state and federal governments.

Prompt 1

Fixing the problems of the Articles of Confederation was the delegates’ goal at the Constitutional Convention. What happened at the Constitutional Convention? And when was it held?

Prompt 2

The Constitutional Convention met in secrecy, only releasing their product for popular approval (or disapproval) once they had finished their debates. Why do you think the delegates believed that secrecy was necessary? Do you agree that there are times secrecy is necessary, even in a republic, and if so when? Why or why not? Use current and past events to support your answer.