By 1787, the federal government under the Articles of Confederation was on the verge of collapse. A Constitutional Convention led by statesmen such as George Washington, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin and others met in Philadelphia during the hot summer of 1787 to create a new government. The convention produced an extraordinary document known as the Constitution of the United States, but first it had to be ratified by at least nine of the 13 states.

Ratifying the Constitution

The Constitutional Convention finished their work on September 17, 1787. Eleven days later, Congress asked for each state to organize a ratification convention in order to approve or disapprove of the new federal government (See Reference 2). Article VII of the Constitution stipulated that nine states must ratify the document in order for it to be established, but it did not specify how each state was to form a convention (See Resource 1). That was left up to the various state governments. By July 1788, nine states had ratified the Constitution in order for it to take effect. On May 29, 1790, the last state, Rhode Island, also ratified and approval became unanimous (See Reference 2).

Ratifying an Amendment

The lack of a Bill of Rights became a major sticking point in getting the states to ratify the Constitution. Many felt that the basic rights of citizens needed to be enumerated in the new government. Madison promised that a Bill of Rights would be added once the Constitution became ratified. The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments, which were added on Dec. 15, 1791. Since 1791, only 17 other amendments have been added to the Constitution, for a total of 27. Article V of the Constitution details how amendments, or constitutional changes, can be ratified. A proposed amendment requires two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate or two-thirds of state constitutional conventions. To date, amendments have only been added by the first method. Once approved, the amendment then must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.