This Day in History: September 17th
1778 - The United States signed its first treaty with a Native American tribe, the Delaware Nation.
1787, members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution.
The Constitution was written during the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by 55 delegates to a Constitutional Convention that were called (ostensibly) to amend the Articles of Confederation (1781–89), the country’s first written constitution. The Constitution was a product of political compromise, signed after long and often rancorous debates over issues such as states’ rights, representation, and slavery.
Two days earlier, when a final vote was called, Edmund Randolph called for another convention to carefully review the Constitution as it stood. This motion, supported by George Mason and Elbridge Gerry, was voted down and the Constitution was adopted.
James Madison, later known as the “Father of our Constitution,” was among the most influential delegates at the Constitutional Convention. His notes form the largest single source of materials for Farrand’s Records, one of several collections in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875.
The authors of the Constitution were heavily influenced by the country’s experience under the Articles of Confederation, which had attempted to retain as much independence and sovereignty for individual states as possible and to assign to the central government only those nationally important functions that the states could not handle alone. But the events of the years 1781 to 1787, including the national government’s inability to act during Shays’s Rebellion (1786–87) in Massachusetts, showed that the Articles were unworkable because they deprived the national government of many essential powers, including direct taxation and the ability to regulate interstate commerce. The delegates hoped that the new Constitution would be able to remedy this problem.
The authors of the Constitution were especially concerned with limiting the power of government and securing the liberty of citizens. The doctrine of legislative, executive, and judicial separation of powers, checks and balances of each branch against the others, and the explicit guarantees of individual liberty were all designed to strike a balance between authority and liberty—the central purpose of American constitutional law.
Although the Constitutional Convention met for the last time on September 17, 1787, public debate over the Constitution was just beginning. The Constitution specified that at least nine states ratify the new form of government, but everyone hoped for nearly unanimous approval. As the states called their own ratifying conventions, arguments for and against the document resurfaced. Writing under the pseudonym Publius, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay defended the proposed plan in a series of newspaper articles, later collected as the Federalist Papers.
The Constitution was officially adopted by the United States when it was ratified by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788, the ninth state to do so. The first Congress under the new Constitution convened in New York City on March 4, 1789, although a quorum was not achieved until early April. On April 30, 1789, President George Washington delivered the first inaugural address, and within his initial term the first ten amendments — known as the Bill of Rights — were adopted, establishing the fundamental rights of U.S. citizens and assuaging many fears associated with the relatively strong central government the Constitution provides.
1796 - U.S. President George Washington's Farewell Address was read before the U.S. Congress.
1862 - The Battle of Antietam took place during the American Civil War. More than 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or missing. The Rebel advance was ended with heavy losses to both armies.
1911 - The first transcontinental airplane flight started. It took C.P. Rogers 82 hours to fly from New York City to Pasadena, CA.
1932 - Sir Malcolm Campbell set a speed record when he reached 276.27 mph over a half mile.
1937 - At Mount Rushmore, Abraham Lincoln's face was dedicated.
1962 - U.S. space officials announced the selection of Neil A. Armstrong and eight others as new astronauts.