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
Text P: The September 17 Parchment

The famous parchment engrossed by Jacob Shallus and signed by the delegates. This is the Constitution as most Americans know it, the version referenced in court opinions and official government documents.

This site's transcription of the parchment differs from that of the National Archives in a small number of places. These changes are deliberate, and have been checked against the parchment:

  • In art. I, § 6, cl. 2, <Authority of the United States>, not <Authority of the United States,>.
  • In art. I, § 9, cl. 4, <Enumeration>, not <enumeration>
  • In art. III, § 2, cl. 1, <between two or more States–;>, not <between two or more States—;>.
  • In ibid., <Citizens of another State;>, not <Citizens of another State,>.
  • In art. IV, § 4, <(when the Legislature cannot be convened)> is not followed by a comma.
  • In art. V, <it’s equal Suffrage> rather than <its equal Suffrage>.
  • In the Attestation Clause, <Witness> rather than <witness>.
Text F: The September 18 Print

The version printed by John Dunlap and David C. Claypoole at the Philadelphia Convention's behest. This is the first printed version of the text, and it formed the basis for the earliest newspaper printings of the Constitution.

Text C: The September 28 Print

The printed version of the text forwarded by the Confederation Congress to the states. Denys Myers and Akhil Amar have separately argued that this, rather than P, should be regarded as the definitive form of the Constitution's text. If they are right, this site's transcription of it is at the moment the only machine-readable text of the "true Constitution" on the internet.

Text CS: The Childs-Swaine Session Laws Text

The form of the text Francis Childs and John Swaine, official "Printers to the United States," 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 — where it 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." This "correct Copy" closely follows C.

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