Nov 1, 1786
Troubles Under Articles of Confederation
During the winter of 1786-87, inflation of paper money gets out of hand, riots erupt in Vermont and New Hampshire, and Captain Daniel Shays launches a rebellion of angry farmers in western Massachusetts.
May 14, 1787
Constitutional Convention Begins
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 begins meeting at the State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia—the same building where the Constitutional Congress adopted and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Every state except Rhode Island will eventually be represented, but for the first two weeks of the convention, only two state delegations are present and they have to keep adjourning daily until more delegations arrive to establish quorum.
May 25, 1787
Constitutional Convention Reaches Quorum
Two weeks after schedule, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 reaches its quorum of seven state delegations, finally allowing the Framers to get down to business.
May 29, 1787
Edmund Randolph's Virginia Plan
Edmund Randolph proposes the Virginia Plan, which would provide for a centralized government in which representation would be based on the population of each state.
Jun 4, 1787
Small States vs. Large States
The incendiary question of how to determine each state's representation in Congress emerges during the convention. Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina (the four most populous states besides New York) unsurprisingly favor the big-state-friendly Virginia Plan, which allocates representation proportional to population. But Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland (all small states with no prospect of enlargement through western expansion) object, holding out for equal representation for all states, large and small. Alexander Hamilton of New York favors the Virginia Plan but is rebuffed by his fellow New York delegates, who side with the small states instead.
Jun 15, 1787
New Jersey Plan
William Paterson presents the New Jersey Plan, a small-state alternative to the Virginia Plan. It calls for equal representation in Congress for each state, regardless of population. Southerners also abandon their attempts to get each of their slaves counted as a whole person for the sake of bolstering their congressional representation.
Jun 18, 1787
Hamilton Proposes Executive
Alexander Hamilton presents his plan of constitution. The plan consists of a lifetime term for the president and a very strong executive branch. Most delegates disapprove; having just rebelled against a tyrannical king, they have no interest in creating a new king-like presidency. Hamilton leaves the convention soon afterward.
Jul 5, 1787
After a three-day recess, a committee chaired by Elbridge Gerry votes in favor of the Connecticut Compromise, which has been proposed by Roger Sherman. It combines aspects of the New Jersey and Virginia Plans by allowing for proportional representation in the lower house (which almost everyone wants and expects), but in the upper house—the Senate—every state will have two representatives, regardless of population.
Jul 16, 1787
The Connecticut (or "Great") Compromise is finally (if narrowly) adopted by the full convention. Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia vote against it. Delaware, North Carolina, Maryland, New Jersey, and Connecticut vote for it. The compromise resolves the conflict between large and small states over the basis of representation in the new government. Included in the deal is the now-notorious three-fifths compromise, which determines how slaves will be counted for representation.
Jul 16, 1787
Congressional Veto Rejected
The convention votes down a resolution backed by James Madison to empower Congress with a veto over state laws.
Jul 26, 1787
The presidency is born; on the motion of George Mason of Virginia, the convention resolves that there shall be a national executive consisting of one person, who will be chosen by the national legislature for seven years. There will be no second terms. This blueprint remains in effect until late August, when John Rutledge introduces a motion to elect the president by joint ballot (from the two houses of Congress). Ultimately it is decided that the choice will be given to the House of Representatives alone, so that future presidents will not become mere puppets of the Senate.
Sep 15, 1787
Convention Adopts Constitution
After four months of debate and deliberation, the convention adopts the Constitution.
Sep 17, 1787
Draft Signed by Delegates
The final text of the Constitution is signed by the delegates in Philadelphia. Edmund Randolph, George Mason, and Elbridge Gerry are the only Constitutional Convention of 1787 attendees who refuse to sign because of their objections to the final draft.
Sep 28, 1787
Congress formally submits the Constitution to the states for ratification.
Dec 7, 1787
Delaware Ratifies Constitution
Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the Constitution, by unanimous vote.
Mar 24, 1788
Rhode Island Rejects Constitution
Rhode Island becomes the first state to reject the Constitution. It is the only state that does not hold a ratifying convention. Instead, the vote is submitted to town meetings, which are boycotted by most Federalists.
Jun 21, 1788
New Hampshire Ratification
New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 57-47, with recommended amendments. The Constitution can now be put into effect, but it will mean little without the approval of the largest and most populous states, especially Virginia and New York.
Jun 25, 1788
Virginia Ratifies Against Patrick Henry's Wishes
After a heated internal debate with Patrick Henry leading the antifederalists against ratification, Virginia becomes the tenth state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 89-79, with recommended amendments.
Jul 26, 1788
New York Ratifies
New York becomes the twelfth state to ratify the Constitution, by a vote of 30-27, with recommended amendments.
Apr 1, 1789
The first session of Congress under the new Constitution of the United States begins in New York.
Apr 6, 1789
George Washington Elected
The Senate and the House of Representatives meet in joint session to tally the votes from the first presidential election. George Washington is elected president and John Adams, vice president.
Sep 25, 1789
Bill of Rights Proposed
Congress proposes twelve amendments to the Constitution, including the ten now known as the Bill of Rights, for ratification by state legislatures.
Feb 2, 1790
Supreme Court Begins
The Supreme Court begins its first session, per the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Mar 1, 1792
Bill of Rights Enacted
Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson announces the ratification of the Bill of Rights; the first ten amendments to the Constitution go into effect.