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Framing of the United States Constitution: A Beginner’s Guide

Online Resources

Fortunately, many of the resources available regarding the framing of the United States Constitution have been digitized and made freely available on Library of Congress websites. On this page you will find a summary of the documents of interest, broken down by time period, and details regarding where they can be found online, grouped into the following areas:

Researchers will likely want to begin their research with The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, colloquially named Farrand’s Records, after its initial editor, Max Farrand. Farrand’s Records is a four-volume set of documentary records of the Constitutional Convention, containing “notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, [ . . . ] notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention.” Researchers can find the first three volumes of Farrand’s Records, along with the general index (which takes up most of the fourth volume), digitized at the Library of Congress’s A Century of Lawmaking for A New Nation website, which has previously been discussed on the In Custodia Legis blog. Researchers will also want to consult the Journals of the Continental Congress, the records of the daily proceedings of the Congress as kept by the office of its secretary.

Resources Referenced

For information on the ratification of the Constitution, researchers will likely want to turn to The Federalist, commonly known as the Federalist Papers, which can be found on, the official website for U.S. legislative information. The Federalist Papers consist of a series of essays, written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, that were published under a pseudonym in newspapers throughout New York state. These essays were written to advocate for the ratification of the Federal Constitution (at that time, proposed), by outlining and promoting the features of a stronger federal government and providing discussion of the problems with the Articles of Confederation.

For additional information about the Federalist Papers, you may want to review the “About the Federalist Papers” website on, or the “Primary Documents in American History: The Federalist Papers” web guide on the Library of Congress website.

In order to be operative, nine of the thirteen states had to adopt the new Federal Constitution. The collection titled The Debates in the Several State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, otherwise known as Elliot’s Debates, named for its initial editor, Jonathan Elliot, provide insight into the debates of the state conventions created to consider this question.  All five volumes of Elliot’s Debates can be found on the A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation website.

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More information about the formation of the United States Constitution, as well as historical changes and subsequent amendments to the U.S. Constitution, can be found in Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, commonly known as the Constitution Annotated. Authored by “[c]onstitutional law experts from the Congressional Research Service,” the Constitution Annotated “contains legal analysis and interpretation of the United States Constitution, based primarily on Supreme Court case law.” This helpful resource, along with a Library of Congress study guide about the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, can be found in the “Founding Documents” section on

Resources Referenced