Variorum Constitution
Four early texts of the Constitution of the United States

Virtually every copy of the United States Constitution published within living memory is a copy of the parchment Constitution—the document signed by the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention on September 17, 1787. It was not always so. Until the mid-nineteenth century, official government printings of the Constitution tended to derive (however imperfectly) from the printed version of the text forwarded to the states by the Confederation Congress some days later, in the move that got the ratification process underway. This site reproduces that "forgotten" Constitution alongside the more famous parchment with which constitutionally literate Americans are now so familiar.

Also transcribed here are the September 18 print authorized by the Philadelphia Convention and the "correct Copy" of the Constitution printed by Childs and Swaine in their first edition of the acts of the First Congress.

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P
The Parchment Signed by the Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention
F
The September 18 Print Authorized by the Philadelphia Convention
C
The September 28 Print Sent by Congress to the States
CS
The Childs-Swaine Session Laws Text
A
Amendments to the Constitution of the United States
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 edition 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 printed in their first edition of the acts of the First Congress. 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
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