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Copyright (c) 1990 Iowa University
Iowa Law Review

ESSAY: A Brief History of the Adoption of the United States Constitution +

+ Copyright 1986, 1990 by Robert N. Clinton.

May, 1990

75 Iowa L. Rev. 891


Robert N. Clinton *


The Constitution of the United States emerged as a result of a gradual constitutional evolution that lasted over the thirteen-year period between 1776 and 1789. This period began with the Declaration of Independence and continued through the convening of the first Congress. American ideas of constitutional government were nurtured in the five years of national experience without a formal written constitution from 1776 until 1781. 1 These ideas matured from the time the Articles of Confederation entered into force in 1781 until the Constitutional Convention convened at Philadelphia to draft the present Constitution in 1787, as flaws in the Articles of Confederation surfaced with increased regularity. Therefore, the present Constitution of the United States was the second constitutional document drafted for the new republic.

Because it is a second plan of government the Constitution is best understood as a reaction to the problems of governance that were evident during the earlier period of the confederation. In order to appreciate fully the provisions of the document, one must have an understanding of the underlying governmental concerns during this period and the manner in which the framers at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia sought to resolve such issues.


The economic system established by England during the colonial period treated the North American colonies as a source of important raw materials and a market for goods produced in Great Britain. Thus, prior to the Revolution, the flow of trade primarily involved direct shipments of materials to England and finished goods ...
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