September 17 is Constitution Day, an annual homage to the document that created the most innovative government in history. The experts behind, a Web site where experts analyze and comment on history's most important documents, say it's a particularly important commemoration in an election year -- without The Constitution, we might not be voting for a president at all.

That's one of the five things they say every American should know about this landmark document:

1. Without the Constitution we could have been the Divided States of America. Depression, political turmoil, social unrest, and violence -- that was post-Revolution America. Without a common enemy, state alliance was deteriorating. Worried leaders gathered a convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they created The Constitution. Without it, America might have become a monarchy, gone back to the British Empire, or dissolved into multiple regional confederacies.

2. It's tailor-made from the best of what was already there. Nothing in The Constitution was new. The genius of the Founders was in the way they combined elements of the Articles of Confederation, state constitutions and bills of rights, and the Northwest Ordinance to create a new federal republic unlike any other.

3. Compromise built a more perfect union. Large states versus small, South versus North, strong central government versus state power: The Constitution is a series of compromises. By dividing power and separating different branches of the federal government with checks and balances, the Constitution created a uniquely strong and effective government.

4. But ... it wasn't perfect. The Articles of Confederation represented the first attempt to create a government that could hold the states together, and it failed. While The Constitution was a successful second effort, it didn't resolve the North-South dispute over slavery, setting the stage for the Civil War.

5. The Preamble tells it like it is. At only 52 words, the Preamble announced a change in thinking, that "We the People of the United States" were no longer a loose confederation of states but had a contract among all citizens. The new federal government would "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity."

Want more? Visit, where the U.S. Constitution is the Featured Document throughout September. Visitors can read the full text of the document, find essential quotes from the text, and learn about key dates surrounding The Constitution's creation.


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