After the United States won its war for independence, the young nation operated off a document known as the Articles of Confederation. But national and state leaders quickly realized that the Articles weren’t strong enough to manage the nation.
In 1787, the ruling national body, called a Constitutional Convention, gave the delegates of the convention the mandate to draft a new governing document. All 13 states were invited to send delegates and, ultimately, 12 chose to do so, with only Rhode Island abstaining.
The Constitutional Convention met and deliberated from May 1787 through September of that year. On September 17—what is now Constitution Day—the delegates signed off on a completed document. It was the work of extensive debate and difficult compromise. But it was not yet law.
For the new Constitution to go into effect, it needed the approval—called ratification—of two-thirds of the states, which meant it needed the support of at least 9 of the 13 states. After much debate within the states, the Constitution received its ninth ratification on June 21, 1788. Eventually, 11 states ratified it that year.
A new government under the Constitution began in March 1789, with America’s first president taking office in April of the same year. The two states that hadn’t ratified the Constitution—Rhode Island and North Carolina—did so soon after.