The Historical USConstitution.net – The U.S. Constitution Online – USConstitution.net

The Historical USConstitution.net


I started the U.S. Constitution online site in 1995, as part of my
effort to learn HTML and to discover more about the World Wide Web and what it
could offer, and what I could offer. As a political science major in college,
the Constitution itself has always interested me; when I was finished with my
obligatory personal pages to test the waters, I found a digital copy of the
Constitution and transferred the whole thing into a text file.

The next step was to determine how I wanted the Constitution to look online,
and set up the HTML for each article and section to match that standard. It was
a daunting task. The Constitution, while rather short as far as constitutions
go, is still long for an HTML document. In those early days of the Web, my
primary source for information about HTML was online documentation at NCSA. I
preferred to run Mosaic on my machine, but at this point, I was a member of
Prodigy and had to use their browser.

The copy of the Constitution at Prodigy stayed online for a few months, and
garnered a few hits. These were the days before search engines were really
big, and my main method for getting the word out was word of mouth. I told a
few friends and relatives about the site, and they would visit from time to
time to find out what this Web thing was all about. At this time, I also went
through the Constitution and added links within the document itself, first with
a table of contents, then with links to and from related sections, phrases, and

In 1996, I signed up with Sovernet, a local ISP, and transferred the
Constitution from my Prodigy pages to my ISP. Search engines were just starting
up, and I got my site listed whenever possible. Soon, the site was getting
more and more hits, and I started to get questions from people about the
history and content of the Constitution. Some of the questions asked about
obsolete or obscure words, or asked for interpretation about certain
amendments, clauses, or sections. My first step in addressing these questions
was to create two new pages. The first was a glossary, dictionary entries really, to define words
like “suffrage” and “pro tempore.” The second was a notes page, where I offered my views on certain
topics, like gun control, or where a term or concept could be better explained,
such as treason.

Still the questions kept coming, and from all walks of life. I got
questions from non-Americans curious about the Constitution; I got questions
for from school children asking for help with homework; I got mail from adults
arguing and agreeing with my commentaries. Though I usually decline to help
directly with homework, I did find myself referring people to other sites quite
a bit, showing them where they could find their own answers. This list of
commonly referred sites became my Other Resources
, which includes links to copies of other constitutions throughout the
world and the US.

In April 1997, I purchased my own little spot on the Web, Tatooine.com, hosted by pair Networks. The first priority on Tatooine
was to get the Constitution pages up and running. At the same time, I decided
it was time to put the Vermont Constitution online. There was no other copy
online that I could find, and the one the state had was presented in the form
of WordPerfect documents, about 120 of them. I took this information and
converted it into a single file, and did to it what
I had done to the U.S. Constitution.

I continued to get mail about the Constitution on a regular basis. I also
noticed that I was getting several posts per month to my guest book asking
questions about the Constitution. That led to the decision to put a BBS-style messaging system on my server to host a
discussion about the Constitution in August 1997. Though slow to start up, the
discussion board now has nearly 300 messages, though nearly half are from me to
answer questions. As a part of the messaging, I promised to take the best
questions and put them on a FAQ page of sorts, where
people could see what questions others had had about the Constitution;
everything from cleared up misconceptions to great debates about the
constitutionality of certain laws and agencies.

The Spring and Summer of 1998 were busy times for the site. In April,
1998, the Constitution pages were transferred to its own domain name,
USConstitution.net. By establishing itself in its own domain, the site has
graduated to the upper echelon of Web sites, instantly gaining the prestige and
high visibility that a root-level domain affords a site. The Constitution page itself hit 30,000 hits. In May, the
site became associated with Amazon.com, offering
a list of books for sale on their site that relate
to the Constitution. The site was listed with Yahoo!, and voted a Hot Site by Starting Point users, and the hit count jumped
as a result of both of these listings. Also in May, pages for the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, to provide context to the
Constitution, were added to the site. And the FAQ page outgrew itself, and was
split into several different pages: one for questions and several for answers
(and the questions page was cloned into two additional pages, listing questions
by subject and by section of the Constitution). In July, a printed
version of this page appeared in WebBound magazine in a featured My Site

In September, with school and colleges returning to class, the site
was listed on several “educational links” sites and syllabus sites,
helping to increase the hit count to over 40,000. Other links on sites
such as FindLaw and on the
CourtTV site, and a mention on a
CNN site helped raise the site’s
prestige even further. Also in September, I added a simple, home-grown
search engine to help users locate messages
and pages.

Through the fourth quarter of 1998, popularity of the site exploded, with
75,000 hits on the Constitution page alone. The Webmaster was interviewed for
Savoy Magazine and more links to the site
popped up. The impeachment hearings in the House led to the highest daily hit
count the site had ever seen. Several new sections were developed, such as the
Current Events Page and the Constitutional Topics Page. The number of messages in
the message board began to have an effect on performance and a full 1000
messages were archived. The search engine was
improved and the look of the site was redone (though since the basic thrust of
the site has always been content and never flash, the changes were minimal
despite the outward look).

In the first quarter of 1999, the site surpassed 100,000 hits on the
Constitution page, and logged some of its busiest times ever as the impeachment
of President Clinton went to the Senate trial. The trial also prompted another
1000 messages to be archived. The Topics page expanded even further, with a
massive effort going into the Constitutional
Convention Page
. Because of popular demand, a page
with images
of the Constitution was added, and in honor of Martin Luther
King day, a copy of the I Have a Dream Speech was
added to the site. In conjunction with the Convention page, several precursor
documents were added to the site, along with some Civil War era documents. All
of these were finally collected on the Historical
Documents Page
. Some minor changes to the search engine and a new header
graphic with an image map, for easier navigation, polished off the quarter.

There were not many changes to the site in the second quarter of 1999. The
hit count continues to rise nicely, though there was a definitive slow-down in
the number of hits and the number of messages on the message board after the
conclusion of the impeachment proceedings. Because of the impending
presidential race, it was appropriate to add a topic page concerning the Presidential Campaigns. A mention by radio
talk-show host Rush Limbaugh brought a ten-fold increase in hits in just one
day, with a jump from about 2500 hits to 25000. The hit count quickly
subsided, though, leaving a curious bump in the stats for a couple of weeks.
There were a few changes to the search page, and I added MacroCode to the
messaging system.

The last half of 1999 saw an increase in the number of pages on the site, as
I tried to accommodate the needs of the users. By examining the logs from the
search engine, I was able to refine the existing pages to make common search
topics find information that was already here, and I added new pages to allow
other search topics to actually find something. A List
of the Presidents
was added; Notes on the
and the Ratification History of the
were added; the number of Constitutional
grew to an even dozen; and a Quick
was added. Experimentation with Cascading Style Sheets started,
and a major effort to make the bulk of the site’s pages be 100% accessible to
non-visual browsers was undertaken.

The year 2000 was an intense one, and the USConstitution.net site hit
several new milestones. The first was a full quarter-million hits on the page
on which the Constitution itself is published, followed by rather quickly by
300,000 hits and 350,000 hits. By the beginning of 2001, it was pushing up
against 400,000. The reason? A doubling or even tripling of normal
school-year hits in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. Messages
posted and hits generated jumped even higher than they had during the Clinton
impeachment, with the Electoral College page becoming the second most popular
page for a time. A page detailing the 2000
in hindsight quickly shot to the top of the hit list, as did a new
page detailing historical electoral college votes.
I also added HTML versions of the ratification documents of the original 13
states and Vermont to the Other Historical Documents
. The site enjoyed high rankings in many major search engines, as well
as an ever-increasing number of listings in syllabi and government resource

In 2001, several major changes happened at the site, though a lot of
them were transparent to the casual user. The first was the splitting of the
message board into the Q&A Board and the Debate Board. This change was
requested by several regular users, and hopefully helps the casual user ask
questions in a more structured setting. At about the same time, to protect
regular users, User Profiles were added. Hits for
the site continue to grow, averaging about 10,000 per day, with visitors being
sent from Google, Ask Jeeves, Excite, MSN, and Yahoo. The range of topics on
the site continued to grow, particularly with the Students Rights and Military Justice topics. Because of its size,
the 2nd Amendment information was moved from
the Notes Page to its own topic page.

2002 was another banner year for the site. The Webmaster appeared by phone on a C-SPAN program devoted to
Constitution websites, which brought some nice publicity to the site. In
addition, the average hits per day on a typical school day reached over 12,000.
Many more pages were added, bringing the site total to over 150. Among the new
topics added were Constitutional Rights and
and Official Language.
The Declaration of Sentiments was added, along
with several FAQ items. It was possible, with the increase in traffic, that the
Constitution Page would reach a significant milestone:
1 million hits. But it looks like the final 12,000 hits will come in the first
quarter of 2003 instead. We look forward to sharing that milestone with the
Internet community.

January 13, 2003: The Constitution Page hit 1 million page views
today, marking a milestone for the site.

In 2003, the site remained relatively stable, though more messages
continued to be added to the message boards and a few more pages were added to
the site. The most significant change, perhaps, was the implementation of
printer-based style sheets for those browsers that supported them. When
viewing the site on screen, users saw several ads, a banner graphic, a list of
links, and validation links on every page. With the printer style sheet, these
extraneous elements were removed when the page is printed, and the font is
changed for a more print-friendly result. A first attempt at something similar
led to a “Printer Friendly” link on each message display page. The latest
pages created included a Checks and Balances Topic
, a page devoted to Various Types of
, an expansion of the Presidential
Campaigns Page
, and FAQ Answer Page 7. For Message Board users, the Posting Tips Page was a welcome addition.

By the end of 2003, some of the rough edges on the site’s original message
posting system were starting to show through. Kicking and screaming, I finally
decided that it was time to bring things up to date – in the final quarter of
2003, the original WWB software was replaced with YaBB. Messages in the old
system will always be available from the Message
Boards Page
, while the new software can be accessed from the YaBB Home Page.

2004, being an election year, brought a lot of debate – and the new
YaBB-based message boards helped move that debate along. The pursuit of the
Presidency by Governor Howard Dean afforded the opportunity to track the ins
and outs of a real campaign on the Presidential
Campaigns Topic Page
. Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention
was moving and prompted a transcript of the speech to be
to the site. In a contentious year, the speech was a bright light
that is inspirational to all, regardless of party. A major project in 2004 was
the splitting of the Constitution Page into separate one-section-per-file
pages. The Table of Contents Page is the launching
point for each page, and as other pages on the site are edited, current links
within the large Constitution page are changed to the smaller section pages.
Another major change came about as a result of the 2004 elections, too.

The months of October and November brought extremely large numbers of hits
to the site – so many that the site exceeded it monthly bandwidth limits, and
causing the site to incur a large charge for the overage. The situation was presented to the site’s regulars and visitors, and
garnered about a dozen contributors. Additionally, the electoral college
results page was very large and very popular, and to reduce bandwidth use, all
results were split into individual files, one per election year. The Electoral Votes Page went from about 250Kb to about
3Kb, drastically reducing bandwidth usage.

At some point in 2004, the main Constitution page exceeded 2 million hits,
and by the end of the year, it was clear that the 3 millionth would likely come
in the first half of 2005.

Finally, the site good a consistent boost by being posted as a major
resource on the Constitution. The Explore Freedom site was widely
advertised in radio, television, and print ads. Additionally, the site’s Google
performance seems to have been responsible for its linking from dozens of blogs
across the Internet, with blogs starting to rival school and college sites as
common referrers.

In 2004, the Congress declared that September 17 of each year would be known
as Constitution Day (as well as Citizenship Day). It also mandated that every
school receiving any federal funds had to have lessons about the Constitution
on that day. In 2005, Constitution Day was a Saturday, so lessons were
scheduled on the Friday before and the Monday after. In any case, the load on
the site jumped to the same proportions previously reserved for Election Day.
On the 15th and 16th, traffic spiked at almost 5Gb transferred each day. As a
result of the requirement and teacher suggestions, coloring pages were created
and added to the site, accessible from the Images
. Also in late summer 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and
the number of hits on the site jumped as people searched for “martial law” and
were directed here. Additionally, the Not in the Constitution page was heavily linked to
from blogs at the end of the summer, causing spikes of varying degrees at the
end of July and throughout August. At some unknown point in mid-2005, the main
Constitution page did, indeed, reach its 3 millionth hit.

2006 continued to be a good year for the site – the advent of Google
Adwords in particular made the site financially self-sufficient, which was a
large burden off my shoulders. News continued to be the primary driver for new
pages added to the site. The Slavery and Marriage Topic Pages were new as was a 50-state
comparison of the use of the word “God” in state
. Also added were several reference pages, such as the Committee List, the Ratifications List, and the State Ratification Grid. In anticipation of a busy
season for the 2006 Constitution Day, the fine folks at ConstitutionFacts.com sponsored
several pages on the site, further ensuring the site’s financial independence.
A companion site, TKConstitution.TK,
was created to highlight the constitution of Tokelau. By August 2006, the hit
count on the main Constitution page exceeded 4.5 million.

In 2007, many new pages were added to the site, mostly in the Other Documents section. In particular, the
individual parts of the Intolerable Acts were added: The Boston Port Act, The Administration of Justice Act, The Massachusetts Government Act, The Quartering Act, and The Quebec Act. After I was a guest on a radio show
on WDEL, a listener comment prompted me to
add Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, something I’d
long meant to do and had just never gotten around to. Other additions were a site bibliography and a long-needed site map. Fleshing out the ever-important and interesting
documentary history of the Convention, more key documents were added to the
site, including copies of the Virginia Plan, the New Jersey Plan, the Pinckney
, and the British (Hamilton) Plan; as well
as the two major drafts, from August 6 and September 12.

My intent is to continue be a resource to every person on the Web, American
or otherwise, who is curious about the U.S. Constitution. Its only sponsor is
myself. I keep the site up to date for the pure joy of making the document more
accessible to more people, particularly school-aged kids. One of my most
cherished comments I’ve received recently was that my site was going to be
listed on an elementary school’s list of recommended sites. I’m proud that some
of the pages linking to my site include libraries, municipal sites, and online
course outlines. To me, that is the greatest reward I could hope for.