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Drafting of the U.S. Constitution & Bill of Rights

A guide to the records behind the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Overview of the Guide

There are a range of resources available for researching the drafting of the Constitution. Some attempt to gather documents and/or citations from across the board--Convention, post-Convention, and private papers. Two such resources are listed below under "Comprehensive Resources." Some resources relate to a particular aspect of the drafting, and are listed on the guide's subpages.

To provide additional background, selected terms in this guide are linked to entries in Leonard W. Levy and Kenneth L. Karst's Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. For a discussion about the reliability of the drafting records, see James H. Hutson, The Creation of the Constitution, 65 Tex. L. Rev. 1 (1986).

Comprehensive Resources:

More specific resources: See the subpage of the guide that interests you for further information: the Convention itself, the ratification process (including the Federalist essays), the Bill of Rights, and the founders' private papers. The Reference and Introductory Works subpage contains materials that help throughout a research project as well as providing historical context.

Overview of the Constitution's Drafting

The primary sources behind the U.S. Constitution fall into three general categories--

1) Constitutional Convention:

  • May-September 1787
  • Types of documents produced:
  • In general, documentation becomes poorer toward end of Convention
  • Convention met in secret and records were only made public years later
  • (Continental Congress ongoing)

2) Post-Convention:

3) Private papers throughout.

Text of U.S. Constitution

NARA Constitution

Navigating Tarlton's Collection

Whether seeking print or online materials, here are some tips for using TALLONS, the online catalog:

Helpful call number ranges:

  • E302 - 312 (Early U.S. History)
  • JK8 - 411 (U.S. Political Institutions)
  • KF 4501 - 5130 (Constitutional Law)

Helpful subject headings:

    Related Resources

    Inside the National Archives Vaults