Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Constitutional Law and History Research Guide

This guide covers sources that are useful for researching Constitutional law and Constitutional history.

Proceedings of the Federal Convention of 1787

There is no official record of the proceedings regarding the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  James Madison kept the journal of the proceedings, but it included only procedural information (The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787: Which framed the Constitution of the United States of America / reported by James Madison). The Library has several editions of the journal (e.g., KF 4510 .U54 & KF 4510 .U6)

A modern source to consult is Max Farrand's The Records of the Federal Constitution of 1787 (KF 4510 .F37 and KF4510 .U547 1987 Supp). Published in 1911, the documentary records of the Constitutional Convention were compiled into three volumes containing the notes by major participants and the texts of various alternative plans presented. In 1937, Farrand published a revised edition, which included a fourth volume. In 1987, a supplement to Farrand‰s Records was compiled and edited by James Hutson.

Full text access to the 1911 edition is available online by the Library of Congress' Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1873.

Arguments For Ratification of the Constitution

The arguments made for ratification of the Constitution were published in collected form as The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution (1788), which is available from the following sources:

Another very useful free online source is:

Arguments Against Ratification of the Constitution

The cases against ratification were made by the Anti-Federalist. The collection of these arguments is The Complete Anti-Federalist (KF4515 .C65 1981).

The Founders' Constitution online and in print at KF4502 .F68 1987.  Arranged by constitutional provision, it provides excerpts from the debates and articles as well as court decisions and commentaries. A joint project of the University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund.

The Debates in the Several States Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, also known as Elliot's DebatesKF4510 .E46 1907 (1836 reprint of 2d ed.); KF 4510 .E46 (1968 reprint of 2d ed.); KF 4510.E45 1987r (1987 reprint of 2d ed.)
Also available online at the Library of Congress.

The authoritativeness of Elliot's Debates has been questioned by some. Therefore, also consult The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, originally edited by Merrill Jensen and now by John P. Kaminski et al; KF4502 .D63. This source is regarded as being more accurate and authoritative. It contains debates, commentaries and other documents on the ratification process and covers ratification debates in eight states and extensive commentaries in the contemporary press.

Amendment History

Since ratification in 1788, thousands of amendments have been proposed, though the Constitution has been amended only twenty-seven times. As outlined in Article V, amendments to the Constitution are proposed by Congress and presented to the states for ratification. These amendments are discussed in length in the following source, which provides references to additional sources:

Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1789-2010 by John R. Vile, KF4557. V555
This third edition provides a comprehensive analysis of the United States' constitutional amendments. With over 400 short articles, this handy encyclopedia tells the whole story of constitutional amendments: the rigorous ratification process; the significance of the 27 amendments; and the thousands that didn't pass.

Use the following subject headings to browse the library catalog for books and other sources about the Constitution and its amendments. A subject headings search may also be done on prominent figures such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Constitutional law -- United States -- Amendments
Constitutional law -- United States -- Amendments -- Ratification
United States. Constitution - 1st-10th Amendments
United States. Constitution 1st-10th Amendments -- History
Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804
Jay, John, 1745-1829
Madison, James, 1751-1836

To browse the catalog for additional subject headings regarding the constitution amendments, use United States. Constitution or Constitutional law -- United States.

Use ProQuest Congressional to research constitutional amendments for legislative history.

To search for congressional materials and legislative histories related to a particular constitutional amendment, type the index term "Constitutional amendments" in the search box to narrow your focus. You may use the Index Terms feature to find additional subject terms. Next, add any combination of search terms to the second search box to fit your topic or specific amendment and select a date or congress session.

As for researching the history of the Bill of Rights and other related amendments, the following sources will serve as a good starting point:

The Founders' Constitution online and Call Number: KF4502 .F68 1987
Covers the first twelve amendments as well as the original seven articles.

Roots of the Bill of Rights: An Illustrated Documentary History ( KF4744 1980)
Provides the texts of major documents relating to the Bill of Rights in chronological order as well as texts of proposals in Congress and from the state conventions.

The Complete Bill of Rights: The Drafts, Debates, Sources, and Origins (KF4744 1997)
This source provides excerpts from source documents arranged by amendment as well as texts of proposals in Congress and from the state conventions, and discussion of the amendments in Congress, conventions, newspapers and letters.

The Reconstruction Amendments' Debates: The Legislative History and Contemporary Debates in Congress on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments  (KF4756.A29 A9 1967)
The Reconstruction amendments such as the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses were proposed by Congress and the deliberations of the House and Senate debates for these amendments were reprinted in this source. It also contains guide explaining the context of each document.