Ten Things You Didn’t Know About the United States Constitution

constitutionThe United States Constitution is the oldest and longest surviving national constitution in the world.

By Zachariah B. Parry, attorney at Pickard Parry Pfau.

Today marks the 227th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. On July 5, 1989, the Nevada legislature established September 17 as Constitution Day “to commemorate the historical contributions that the United States Constitution has made to citizens and its significance in preserving the individual freedoms, liberties and common welfare of the people who live in the United States of America.” In accordance with this declaration, codified at NRS 236.035,  the legislature gave the Nevada governor authority to “[c]all upon the news media … to bring to the attention of the citizens of this State the importance of the United States Constitution in shaping and articulating the basic values that underlie the unique character of American civilization and culture, based on the belief that sovereignty emanates from the people who comprise a society and that governmental authority is based upon the consent of the governed.” In the spirit of adherence to the legislature’s wishes, here are ten things you probably did not know about the United States Constitution:

1. Ratified in 1789, it is the oldest and longest surviving national constitution in the world. Although written laws were nothing new at the time, constitutions were. A constitution, distinguished from statutes, is a collection of laws that “sets fundamental norms about the structure of government and its relationships with citizens.”

2. It is one of the United States’ most important exports. After over 225 years, almost every nation in the world has a constitution, and most of them are modeled after the U.S. Constitution.

3. There were 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention. Their average age was 44. Jonathon Dayton from New Jersey was the youngest delegate at age 26, and Benjamin Franklin, known as the “Sage of the Constitutional Convention,” was the oldest, at 81.

4. Even though there were 70 delegates appointed to the Constitutional Convention, only 55 attended, and there are only 39 signatures on the Constitution. Thirteen men had already left to return home without making arrangements for a proxy signature, and three were not happy with the final product and refused to sign.

5. The man who handwrote the constitution, Jacob Shallus, was not a delegate, but an assistant clerk of the Pennsylvania State Assembly. He was paid $30 for penning the four-page, 4,400-word document. The convention adjourned on late Saturday, September 15. Mr. Shallus spent the following Sunday and part of Monday transcribing the Constitution to be ready for signing on Monday, September 17, 1789.

6. Given the speed with which the Constitution was written, there were a number of errors. On the fourth page, to the left of the signatures, there is a paragraph explaining all the errors, along with their corrections. Also on the signature page, the word “Pennsylvania” was misspelled “Pensylvania.”

7. Even though John Dickinson’s name appears on the Constitution, he did not sign it. He left the convention early due to illness, and George Read signed on his behalf. Both Dickinson and Read were delegates from Delaware.

7. After the Constitution was ratified in 1789, George Washington set aside November 26, a Tuesday, as “… a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.” We now celebrate this day not on a Tuesday, but a Thursday, and it is more associated with pilgrims than the Constitution.

8. James Madison was the only delegate who attended every meeting. He took copious notes of the debates and discussions. Although most of the notes from the convention were destroyed, President Madison kept his journal secret his entire life. Madison was the last living constitutional delegate, and he died in 1836. His journal was discovered after his death, and the U.S. government purchased it in 1837 for $30,000.

9. Rhode Island refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. After the Constitution was written, it voted against ratification with a vote of 2,945 to 237. It was the last state to ratify the Constitution and did so by a narrow margin in 1790.

10. At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia was the largest country in North America. It had a population of about 40,000, which approximates the current population of Pahrump, Nevada.

Zachariah B. ParryZachariah B. Parry is a founding partner of the civil litigation law firm, Pickard Parry Pfau. He regularly litigates against parties with deep pockets like labor unions, racketeering enterprises and insurance companies. He has experienced success on both sides of the table, including multiple multi-million dollar judgments on behalf of plaintiffs in fraud cases and zero-dollar defense verdicts for his clients who were unjustly sued. In addition to litigating, Zach also teaches torts, contracts and Nevada practice and procedure at UNLV’s paralegal program.

Zach can be reached at zach@pickardparry.com, 702-910-4300, or through his firm’s website at www.pickardparry.com.


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