flames kindled on the Fourth of July, 1776, have spread
over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble
engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these
engines and all who work them.
Jefferson to John Adams, 1821
U.S. Constitution has the oldest written national framework of
government in the world. At the end of the 20th century, there
were about 159 other national constitutions in the world, and
101 had been adopted since 1970. While the United States has been
governed by a single framework of government for over two centuries,
France, in contrast, has had 10 separate and distinct constitutional
orders (including five republics, two empires, a monarchy, and
two dictatorships). The country of El Salvador has had 36 constitutions
all of the national constitutions now in use bear the marks of
the 55 men who met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787 to create
the framework of the United States government. Like the U.S. constitution,
they are written constitution. They also spell out human and civil
rights similar to those contained in the U.S. document. A bill
of Rights is particularly common. The principles of American constitutionalism--the
separation of powers, the bill of rights, a bicameral legislature,
and a presidential form of government--were followed by many nations.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 created a governmental framework
that has not only lasted two centuries but has served as a model
for freedom-loving people all over the world.
Scene at the Signing of the Constitution, oil painting (reproduction)
by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940
almost every way imaginable, the United States has been radically
transformed over the past two centuries. Its population has soared
from just 4 million to nearly 300 million. The federal budget
has risen from $4 million in 1790 to over $1 trillion today. Yet
the basic framework of government has remained unchanged.
the end of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington said,
"I do not expect the Constitution to last for more than 20
years." Today, the United States has oldest written constitution
in the world. Why has the Constitution survived?
framers of the Constitution established the broad structure of
government but also left the system flexible enough to adapt to
changing conditions. A document of less than 6,000 words, the
Constitution is not overly detailed. Over the years, Congresses,
presidents, and the courts have reinterpreted to document to meet
the needs of the moment.