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In drafting the Virginia Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and James Madison expressed key ideas about the balance of power and the structure of government that were later incorporated into the U.S. Constitution. Among them were a bicameral legislature and three branches of government, each with their own functions.

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

Thomas Jefferson’s Drafts and Notes on the Virginia Constitution, June 1776

Creating a National Government

The newly independent states united to establish a national government under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles made progress difficult because the weak central government depended on unanimous consent of the states and lacked the power to regulate taxes and trade. Meeting from May to September 1787, a convention called to amend the Articles instead drew on other documents and plans of governance to create a stronger framework for union: the United States Constitution.