On this day in 1787, the United States Constitution became the official governing document of the country. It has now been around for over two hundred years, making it the oldest document of its kind in existence.
Not only is it the oldest, but it’s also remained largely unchanged since it was ratified all those years ago. This is because it’s extremely hard to change the Constitution. In order to amend the U.S. Constitution, two conditions must be satisfied. The first is that either the proposal must win a two-thirds vote in the Senate and House of Representatives, OR two-thirds of state legislatures must call for a national convention to vote on the amendment. Once one of these events has happened, the amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Sound crazy? These are just the basics when it comes to the U.S. Constitution. In honor of Constitution Day this year, we’ve gathered up 10 of the wackiest facts about the document that’s the foundation of our nation.
1. Rhode Island once boycotted the Constitution.
Before the Constitution was written, the Articles of Confederation set up the framework for the country. The Articles gave more power to the states, and Rhode Island feared that a centralized constitution would make the federal government too powerful.
The result? A boycott of the Constitutional Convention. The state did eventually ratify the Constitution in 1790, but only after 11 ratification conventions!
2. Some of the “Founding Fathers” weren’t actually at the Constitutional Convention.
This one is exactly what it sounds like. There were a number of notable historical figures who weren’t at the Constitutional Convention for one reason or another, including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Monroe, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams.
In the case of Jefferson and John Adams, the men were both ambassadors to European countries at the time, so they weren’t even in the states when the convention was held.
3. The Constitution has a lesser-known extra page.
The original U.S. Constitution was four pages and about 4,400 words long. Currently with all its amendments, it clocks in at 7,762 words.
However, there was actually a fifth page that existed at the time the Constitution was written. This page, called the “Letter of Transmittal,” was written by George Washington in order to explain and pitch the Constitution to the convention.
4. The original Constitution is full of mistakes.
If you’ve ever done poorly on a spelling test, don’t feel bad. The Founding Fathers weren’t all that great at spelling OR grammar. According to National Archives, the original Constitution contains several spelling and grammar mistakes, the most notable being Alexander Hamilton writing “Pensylvania.”
These mistakes were corrected by a man named Jacob Shallus, who wrote the final, formal Constitution following the ratification of the document. As he did this, he kept a log of his changes so no one would think the marks were an attempt to illegally change the Constitution.
5. The President was almost called “His Highness.”
Sounds odd coming from a country that was actively against the English monarchy, but apparently there were a number of regal sounding titles proposed for the office of the president. These titles included “His Elective Majesty,” “His Mightiness,” and even “His Highness, the President of the United States of America and the Protector of their Liberties.”
6. Benjamin Franklin came up with the concept of impeachment.
According the the Smithsonian magazine, the face of the $100 bill was the first to propose adding impeachment to the Constitution, as he believed it would deter presidential assassination attempts if the people felt a president had acted improperly.
Franklin said assassination would leave a president “not only deprived of his life but of the opportunity of vindicating his character.”
7. The Founding Fathers were actually against democracy.
The Constitution does not explicitly state that the U.S. is a democracy. In fact, the Founding Fathers believed that leaving everything up to direct votes from the people would lead to mob rule. This lead them to create the governing system we know today and label the country as a federal republic.
8. The Constitution does not set the size of the House of Representatives.
The document does require two senators from each state, but the size of the U.S. House has only been defined by law since 1912. Setting the size of the House was originally supposed to be part of a constitutional amendment, but it was never ratified by enough states.
And while we’re on the subject of the House, the Speaker of the House is actually not required by the Constitution to be a member of the House. However, a nonmember has never been selected for the position.
9. The original Constitution called for extreme restrictions on the military.
In a first draft, the army size was almost limited to a mere 3,000 troops. (For reference, in 2020 the U.S. Army had almost 500,000 active duty members, and it’s only one of several military branches.)
This concept was thrown out after George Washington (who was evidently quite the comedian back in the day) joked that the size of an attacking army should be limited to 3,000 troops as well.
10. “We the People” was one of the last phrases added to the Constitution.
Today the phrase is known as an iconic part of the preamble that begins the document, but when the Constitution was originally written, this was added as a finishing touch. The addition of “We the People” is meant to serve as a reminder to citizens that the power of the government is granted by the people of the United States.