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Constitutional FAQ Answer #142

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Q142. "What was the first constitution of the United States?"

A. Some teachers, thinking they can be tricky with their students, will ask this question. Don't get me wrong, it is a good one, but you have to be careful how you answer.

If the question says "What was the first Constitution of the United States?" (note the capital C), then the answer is that there has been one and only one Constitution of the United States, and it is the same one currently in effect.

If, however, the question is posed as above, with "constitution" spelled with a lowercase C, then the answer is more tricky. The Articles of Confederation would qualify as the first constitution of the United States, where a constitution is defined as the most basic document of the law. But the trick is that the Articles were never called a constitution, at least not in the document itself, so you have to know enough about the Constitution to know that it replaced something, and that that "something" could be considered a constitution.

Finally, if the question is "What was the first constitution in the United States?" (note the word "in" instead of "of"), then the answer has to be New Hampshire's first constitution, which was written by a congress that opened in December 1775, and which completed its work on January 5, 1776.

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