United States Constitution and worldwide influence

The United States Constitution has had influence internationally on later constitutions and legal thinking. Its influence appears in similarities of phrasing and borrowed passages in other constitutions, as well as in the principles of the rule of law, separation of powers and recognition of individual rights. The American experience of amendments and judicial review motivated constitutionalists at times when they were considering the possibilities for their nation's future. Examples include Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, his contemporary and ally Benito Juárez of Mexico, and the second generation of 19th century constitutional nationalists, José Rizal of the Philippines and Sun Yat-sen of China. However, democratizing countries often chose more centralized British or French models of government, particularly the Westminster system.[1] Since the latter half of the 20th century, the influence of the United States Constitution may be waning as other countries have revised their constitutions with new influences.

National constitutions

The historian William H. McNeill argued that the United States saw itself as "one of a family of peoples and nations" making a history apart from the European civilization of their colonization.[2]

The United States Constitution is an expression of Americans diverging from colonial rule, according to this viewpoint. Its effect is reflected in the ideals of limiting the rulers of a state apart and above sitting law-givers in a parliament. The concepts of governance influencing others internationally are not only found among similarities in phrasing and entire passages from the U.S. Constitution. They are in the principles of the rule of law and recognition of individual rights. The American experience of fundamental law with amendments and judicial review has motivated foreign constitutionalists to reconsider possibilities for their own future.[2] This view informed Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War,[lower-alpha 1] his contemporary and ally Benito Juarez of Mexico,[lower-alpha 2] and the second generation of 19th constitutional nationalists, José Rizal of the Philippines[lower-alpha 3] and Sun Yat-sen of China.[lower-alpha 4]

Generally the influence of the Constitution appears in trans-national history of ideas, foreign translations, and exchanges between Americans and their counterparts from the beginning with smuggled translations into Hispanic America until today with conferences among national legislators. Innovations include constitutional conventions, written constitutions, ratification and amendment procedures. There are common provisions for presidential executives, federalism and judicial review.[2]

George Athan Billias, studying the Constitution and related documents, describes six waves of influence:

  1. From 1776–1811, after the American Revolution began, it influenced northwestern Europe and its colonial connections.
  2. 1811–1848, after the decline of Napoleon's reputation, it was referenced by Latin American, Caribbean, and European nationalists.
  3. 1898–1918, after the Spanish–American War, nationalist movements borrowed from the U.S. Constitution in Asia and Latin America.
  4. 1918–1945, after World War I, its influence spread with movements for decolonization of Africa, Mid-east and Asia.
  5. 1945–1974, after World War II, independence movements consulted it.
  6. 1974–1989, after United Nations expansion, once nondemocratic regimes, including European ones, transitioned towards constitutional democracies incorporating elements of the U.S. Constitution.[2]

Over its history, the influence of American constitutionalism has waxed and waned. Democratizing countries often chose the more centralized, consolidated British or French models.[8][9][10] Many countries that were once part of the British Empire favored the British Westminster parliamentary system.[11][12] Internationally it appears that those of Confucian and Islamic cultures do not readily adopt some of its premises. Nevertheless, "the influence of American constitutionalism abroad was profound in the past and remains a remarkable contribution to humankind’s search for freedom under a system of laws."[2]

According to a 2012 study published in the New York University Law Review, however, the influence of the U.S. Constitution may be waning. The study examined more than 700 federal constitutions from nearly 200 countries. "Rather than leading the way for global constitutionalism, the U.S. Constitution appears instead to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere," the researchers write. "The idea of adopting a constitution may still trace its inspiration to the United States, but the manner in which constitutions are written increasingly does not."[13][14]

In particular, the study found that the U.S. Constitution guarantees relatively few rights compared to the constitutions of other countries and contains less than half (26 of 60) of the provisions listed in the average bill of rights. It is also one of the few in the world today that still features the right to bear arms; the only others are the constitutions of Guatemala and Mexico. Overall, the research suggests that the Constitution of Canada, revised in 1982, is now a leading international model rather than that of the United States.[13][14]


The Federal Judicial Center links to translations of the U.S. Constitution in nine languages.[15] The site offers other materials in eighteen languages besides English, such as Dari, Indonesian, Malay, Serb, and Turkish.[16] The Center's statutory mission[17] includes working with judges and court officials of the U.S. and other nations to improve the administration of justice.[18]

The Constitution Finder of the University of Richmond has links to translations into ten different languages.[19] The Historical Society of Pennsylvania lists a translation into Armenian.[20]

Professor James Chen has annotated the Spanish translation prepared by the U.S. State Department. His notes focus on the problems and nuances of this translation.[21] Elizabeth Claire has rewritten the Constitution into simplified English.[22] Some of the many translations of the Constitution are listed below.

The Bill of Rights

The U.S. State Department lists translations of the Bill of Rights into fifty-one languages:[48]

Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Bengali, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Haitian Creole, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Khmer, Korean, Kurdish, Malay, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese-Brazilian, Portuguese-Continental, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Uighur, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Yoruba

A second site[49] links to the following translations: Arabic, Armenian, Chinese (simplified), French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish. The Bill of Rights has been translated into Hawaiian.[50]

Commemorative stamps

In 1937 the U.S. Post Office released a commemorative stamp to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. The engraving shown on this issue is after an 1856 painting by Junius Brutus Stearns of Washington and shows delegates signing the Constitution at the 1787 Convention. George Washington is on dais with an open document in hand; James Madison sits at the table, taking his famous notes on the convention.

One commemorative of the 19th Amendment (permitting women the right to vote) was celebrated in a commemorative in 1950 and again in 1970. The woman is voting in a curtained mechanical voting booth. She chooses levers to punch or mark her votes on a paper roll. The Model T has a male driver with a banner "Votes for women" on the car, women riders and marchers as though in a parade.

The Second Polish Republic issued a commemorative of the U.S. and Polish Constitutions in 1938 under the government of Prime Minister, Major General Składkowski The stamp features George Washington in military regalia, holding a 48-star American flag and a drawn sword. Thomas Paine holds a book on a rod, and Kosciuszko poses with a cross and saber. The next scene shows a line of infantry flying a Polish flag. The right panel shows the Statue of Liberty imposed in front of the New York 1930s skyline.

In 1937 the Second Spanish Republic commemorated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, under the government of Prime Minister Juan Negrín of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE). The Statue of Liberty is the central focus, flanked by flags of Spain and the United States. The Spanish Republic Flag of red, yellow and purple, as battle flag or civil ensign, lacks the coat of arms.


  1. "Secession was indeed unconstitutional...military resistance to secession was not only constitutional but also morally justified.[3] "the primary purpose of the Constitution was … to create ‘a more perfect union’... the Constitution was an exercise in nation building.[4]
  2. Juarez regarded the United States as a model of republican democracy and consistently supported Abraham Lincoln.[5]
  3. The institutions of the two countries which have most influenced constitutional development are Spain and the United States." One of the reforms, "sine quibus non", to use the words of Rizal and Mabini, always insisted upon by the Filipinos, was Philippine representation in the Spanish Cortez, the promulgation in the Islands of the Spanish Constitution, and the complete assimilation equal to that of any in the Spanish provinces on the continent.[6]
  4. In the modern history of China, there were many revolutionaries who tried to seek the truth from the West in order to overthrow the feudal system of the Ching Dynasty. Sun Yat-sen for example was much influenced by American democracy, especially the U.S. Constitution.[7]



  1. Terrill, Richard J. (2015). World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey (revised ed.). Routledge. pp. 20–27. ISBN 1317228820.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Billias 2009, xi–xv.
  3. Farber 2003, p. 3.
  4. Farber 2003, p. 198.
  5. Stacy 2003, p. 436.
  6. Malcolm 1920, p. 109.
  7. Qing Yu 1988, p. 193.
  8. Julian Go (2007). "A Globalizing Constitutionalism?, Views from the Postcolony, 1945–2000". In Arjomand, Saïd Amir. Constitutionalism and political reconstruction. Brill. pp. 92–94. ISBN 9004151745.
  9. Johnston, Douglas M.; Reisman, W. Michael (2008). The Historical Foundations of World Order. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 571. ISBN 9047423933.
  10. Fieldhouse, David; Madden, Frederick (1990). Settler Self-Government, 1840–1900: The Development of Representative and Responsible Government (1. publ. ed.). New York: Greenwood Press. p. xxi. ISBN 978-0-313-27326-1.
  11. Seidle, F. Leslie; Docherty, David C. (2003). Reforming parliamentary democracy. McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9780773525085.
  12. "How the Westminster Parliamentary System was exported around the World". University of Cambridge. December 2, 2013. Retrieved December 16, 2013.
  13. 1 2 "The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution". Journalist's Resource. Harvard Kennedy School of Government Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. April 9, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2012.
  14. 1 2 Law, David S.; Versteeg, Mila (2012). "The Declining Influence of the United States Constitution". New York University Law Review. 87 (3): 762–858.
  15. 1 2 "International Judicial Relations — Translated Material". Fjc.gov. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  16. [United States Code, Title 28, sections 620-629]
  17. The Federal Judicial Center, viewed 07/27/2011.
  18. Constitution Finder, viewed 09/16/2015.
  19. Search Results - united states constitution
  20. "SSRN-The Constitution of the United States in Spanish: A Service for the American People (La Constitucion de los Estados Unidos en Espanol: Un Servicio para el Pueblo Americano) by James Ming Chen". Papers.ssrn.com. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  21. http://elizabethclaire.com/store/media/general/free-download/US-Constitution-in-Simple-English.pdf
  22. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/Arabic-Constitution-2.pdf
  23. "The Constitution of the United States" [美利坚合众国宪法] (PDF) (in Chinese). 1789. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 5, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  24. "Constitution of the United States of America" [美利堅合眾國憲法]. Judicial Yuan (in Chinese). April 30, 1789. Retrieved September 26, 2014.
  25. Theusa.nl (Dutch)
  26. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/French-Constitution-8-19.pdf
  27. http://www.constitutionfacts.com/content/constitution/files/USConstitution_French.pdf
  28. "Verfassung" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  29. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/German-Constitution-8-19.pdf
  30. "U.S. Constitution". Israel.usembassy.gov. Retrieved 2014-11-06.
  31. "Hungarian translation of the U.S. Constitution". Hungarian.hungary.usembassy.gov. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  32. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/Italian-Constitution-8-19.pdf
  33. "Japanese translation of the U.S. Constitution". Aboutusa.japan.usembassy.gov. 2009-03-13. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  34. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/JPN-Constitution.pdf
  35. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/KOR-Constitution.pdf
  36. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/Port-Constitution%208-19.pdf
  37. http://constitutioncenter.org/media/files/RU-Constitution.pdf
  38. http://www.constitutionfacts.com/content/constitution/files/USConstitution_Russian.pdf
  39. "U.S. Constitution (Slovak)" (PDF).
  40. "The Constitution of the United States En Espanol".
  41. "Spanish translation of the U.S. Constitution". Cato.org. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  42. "United States of America: Constitución de 1787 en español". Pdba.georgetown.edu. Retrieved 2009-05-04.
  43. "Constitución de los Estados Unidos de América — The U.S. Constitution Online". USConstitution.net. 2010-01-24. Retrieved 2010-03-17.
  44. http://www.constitutionfacts.com/content/constitution/files/USConstitution_Spanish.pdf
  45. Kyiv.usembassy.gov
  46. http://photos.state.gov/libraries/vietnam/8621/translations/us-constitution.pdf
  47. http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2012/01/20120119130409yeldnahc0.4058039.html#axzz3pzE2P73C
  48. http://media1.jpfo.org/your10rights/bortranslate.html
  49. http://www.jpfo.org/pdf/bor-Hawaiian.pdf

Works cited

  • Billias, George (2009). American Constitutionalism Heard Round the World, 1776-1989: A Global Perspective. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-9107-3. 
  • Farber, Daniel (2003). Lincoln's Constitution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-23793-0. 
  • Malcolm, George A. (1920). "Constitutional History of the Philippines". American Bar Association Journal. 6. 
  • Qing Yu, Li (1988). "Dr. Sun Yat Sen and the U.S. Constitution". In Starr, Joseph Barton. The United States Constitution: Its Birth, Growth, and Influence in Asia. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 978-962-209-201-3. 
  • Stacy, Lee, ed. (2003). Mexico and the United States. vol. 2. London: Marshall Cavendish. ISBN 978-0-7614-7402-9. 
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