Howard Chandler Christy/The Indian Reporter

Making America's Rules

In the scorching-hot summer of 1787, American leaders gathered in a cramped room in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Worried that spies might listen in, they closed the windows and doors. The air was stuffy and smelled like sweat.

But the 55 men had bigger things to worry about than the stink. A few years earlier, the United States had won its freedom from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Now it was time to create what would become the nation’s most important document—the U.S. Constitution.

A constitution is a set of rules for how a nation will be run. In 1787, the U.S. was a new country. Coming up with rules to run it wasn’t easy. The men often disagreed on what to include in the Constitution.

Deciding on a Plan

By the fall, they had a plan. They would set up a government with three branches, or parts. The president, the Congress, and the Supreme Court would each lead a branch. Each would have its own jobs to do. But they would share power and work together to run the nation.

Help Is Just Upstairs

After the leaders agreed on the rules, they still faced one challenge. Someone had to write them all down! Luckily, an office worker named Jacob Shallus was upstairs. He had fought in the Revolutionary War. Now he agreed to help his nation again.

Shallus had just 40 hours to take rough drafts and notes from the meeting and copy them into one document. He used a goose feather dipped in ink as a pen. When he made a mistake, he scraped the ink off the parchment with a knife.

A National Treasure

On September 17, 1787, most of the leaders signed the Constitution. Soon the U.S. government was up and running.

Today, you can see the Constitution on display in Washington, D.C. And every September 17, we celebrate this national treasure on Constitution Day.

1. Why did American leaders gather in the summer of 1787?

2. Who was Jacob Shallus? How did he help with the Constitution?

3. How is the Constitution similar to the rules of a board game?

Close-Reading Questions

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