Constitution Day: Who Is the Father of the Constitution? Facts About James Madison and People Who Signed the Constitution

Although all 39 delegates to the Constitutional Convention played an important role in the birth of the U.S. government, only one man is known as the father of the Constitution: James Madison.

Tuesday marks Constitution Day in the United States, the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution in 1787. Originating in 1940 with a congressional joint resolution, the holiday was first celebrated on the third Sunday in May. Congress later moved the date to September 17 to commemorate the Constitution's signing.

In 2004, it became known as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, honoring both the founding document and everyone who has attained American citizenship.

After the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation left the U.S. federal government weak, without enough ability to manage the federal debt or maintain a national army. Madison was an advocate for a strong federal government, and he presented his founding ideas to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in what was called the "Virginia Plan."

constitution day father of the constitution
View of Independence Hall on December 2, 2017, where the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776 and the Constitution was debated and signed in the city center of Philadelphia. Tuesday, known as Constitution Day, will mark the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the Constitution. ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty

Who Is the Father of the Constitution?

The three-branch "Virginia Plan" became the foundation of the Constitution, Madison played a leading role in the ratification process, and he drafted the Bill of Rights. For these reasons and more, he became known as the father of the Constitution.

However, toward the end of his life, he stated that the Constitution "ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands."

Initially, according to the Constitution Center, Madison was leery about listing individual rights because it could possibly limit rights that weren't listed. However, he penned the Bill of Rights once it was clear it was necessary to get the Constitution ratified.

Madison was born in 1751 in Virginia, and over 30 years later co-authored another important document, the Federalist Papers. Alongside former Secretary of State Alexander Hamilton, Madison penned 29 essays in favor of the Constitution.

Before becoming president, he served as former President Thomas Jefferson's secretary of state. When the Constitutional Congress convened in Philadelphia in 1780, he was the youngest delegate, according to the Constitution Center.

Madison's face appears on the rare $5,000 bill. According to the Constitution Center, these bills are so hard to find that one in very good condition was purchased at an auction in 2010 for more than $100,000.

Who Signed the Constitution?

On September 17, 1787, 39 delegates signed the Constitution, identified as:

  • William Samuel Johnson, Connecticut
  • Roger Sherman, Connecticut
  • Richard Bassett, Delaware
  • Gunning Bedford, Jr., Delaware
  • Jacob Broom, Delaware
  • John Dickinson, Delaware
  • George Read, Delaware
  • William Few, Georgia
  • Abraham Baldwin, Georgia
  • Daniel Carroll, Maryland
  • Daniel Jenifer, Maryland
  • James Mchenry, Maryland
  • Nathaniel Gorham, Massachusetts
  • Rufus King, Massachusetts
  • Nicholas Gilman, New Hampshire
  • John Langdon, New Hampshire
  • Alexander Hamilton, New York
  • David Brearley, New Jersey
  • Jonathan Dayton, New Jersey
  • William Livingston, New Jersey
  • William Paterson, New Jersey
  • William Blount, North Carolina
  • Hugh Williamson, North Carolina
  • Richard Dobbs Spaight, North Carolina
  • George Clymer, Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Fitzsimons, Pennsylvania
  • Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania
  • Jared Ingersoll, Pennsylvania
  • Thomas Mifflin, Pennsylvania
  • Gouverneur Morris, Pennsylvania
  • Robert Morris, Pennsylvania
  • James Wilson, Pennsylvania
  • Pierce Butler, South Carolina
  • Charles Pinckney, South Carolina
  • Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, South Carolina,
  • John Rutledge, South Carolina
  • John Blair, Virginia
  • James Madison, Jr., Virginia
  • George Washington, Virginia

Although signatures were first put on the document in September, it wasn't until June 1788 that it got the nine states necessary for ratification. Noticeably absent from the Constitution's signatories were Jefferson and former President John Adams. At the time, Jefferson was in France serving as an ambassador and Adams was representing America in Great Britain.

George Read, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, George Clymer and James Wilson were the only six men to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.