Variorum Constitution
The punctuation and orthography the first Americans saw

Virtually every copy of the Constitution published within living memory is a copy of the parchment Constitution signed by the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention. Until the mid-nineteenth century, however, few had ever seen the text in that form. It was two printed versions of the text that were reprinted during the ratification campaign, and it was one of those printed versions that served as the basis for the "correct Copy" of the Constitution included in the session laws of 1789 by order of Congress. This site reproduces those neglected forms of the text alongside the more famous parchment with which constitutionally literate Americans are now so familiar:

  1. The parchment signed by the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention
  2. The Dunlap and Claypoole print authorized by the Philadelphia Convention and sent with the parchment to the Confederation Congress
  3. The printed version of the text forwarded by the Confederation Congress to the states
  4. The "correct Copy" included by Francis Childs and John Swaine, official "Printers to the United States," in their 1789 session-laws volume

This site is a companion to my paper "How Different Are the Early Versions of the United States Constitution? An Examination," which appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of the Green Bag (20 Green Bag 2d 163). See the paper for a discussion of the variants, and the textual notes below for more information on these transcriptions. For historical information on the four texts, see the classic essays of Denys P. Myers (11 Green Bag 2d 217) and Akhil Reed Amar (97 Yale Law Journal 281). Myers and Amar both argue that C rather than P should be regarded as the canonical text of the Constitution. For the reasons given in my essay, I am not convinced that any text has a uniquely good claim to be the true form of the Constitution, but their arguments are well worth hearing.

PS. Although my purpose in creating this site was to resurrect the early printed forms of the text, I know that most people will continue to be interested chiefly in the parchment and the amendments. You can cite them and help call attention to the existence of the other texts by linking to this site's transcriptions of P and A.

Philip Huff

The Parchment Signed by the Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention
The September 18 Print Authorized by the Philadelphia Convention
The September 28 Print Sent by Congress to the States
The Childs-Swaine Session Laws Text
Amendments to the Constitution of the United States
The Constitution of the United States: A Variorum
About the Texts

Text P, the parchment Constitution, has become the canonical form of the text.

Text F, the September 18 print, was printed by John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole at the Philadelphia Convention's behest. It is the earliest printed text of the completed Constitution, and it formed the basis for the earliest newspaper printings of the document.

Text C, the September 28 print, is itself an imperfect copy of F. This is the form of the text that was forwarded by the Confederation Congress to the states; and Denys Myers and Akhil Amar have separately argued that it, rather than P, should be regarded as the definitive form of the Constitution's text.

Text CS is the form of the text that Francis Childs and John Swaine included in their 1789 session laws volume, Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America, Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the Year 1789. Childs and Swaine were official "Printers to the United States," and their copy of the Constitution is prefaced by a resolution of Congress that "there be prefixed to the Publication of the Acts of the present Session of Congress, a correct Copy of the Constitution of the United States." It is therefore interesting to observe that CS was clearly copied from C.

As one would expect, the differences between the four texts are subtle. For a discussion of the texts and the variants between them, see my paper on the subject (to which this site is a companion). See also my interlinear edition of the Constitution, which allows for easy comparison of the four texts.

Philip Huff

The text of the Constitution of the United States is in the public domain
All original features of this site are © 2017