It is not at all certain that complex historical events really have beginnings, but it is absolutely certain that all essays must. And so we begin with my favorite living Frenchman, Jean-Francois Revel, commenting on the revolution in eighteenth-century America: "That revolution was, in any case, the only revolution ever to keep more promises than it broke." What made that possible in America was the Constitution of the United States, written eleven years after the Declaration of Independence and six years after our defeat of the British at Yorktown. On 17 September 1987, that document was two hundred years old; and it is to that birthday—and to all of us—that this essay is fondly dedicated.
My intent here is threefold: to recall how one American government (the Articles of Confederation) was overthrown; to tell the story of the Philadelphia Convention in the summer of 1787; and to assess the truly critical features of the Constitutional Convention and the Constitution.