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How 55 men in 1787 changed the world .... It's the biggest US export: 200 years after the Constitution was drafted, nearly all of the world's constitutions reflect it.

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Although America is awash with Japanese cars and Taiwanese toys, it still holds the lead in one export: its Constitution. Nearly all of the 160 national constitutions now in use - from Canada to Mali - show some trademarks of the 55 men who met in a sweltering Philadelphia room in the summer of 1787 to piece together the framework of United States government.

Constitutional scholar and Rutgers University professor Albert Blaustein has called the US Constitution the nation's ``most important export.'' Dr. Blaustein, who has written extensively on constitutions around the world, says other nations have studied and learned from the American document, even if they opted for a parliamentary system rather than the presidential model.

Oldest written constitution

Walter Berns, Georgetown University professor and a scholar with the conservative American Enterpise Institute think tank, insists that the biggest impact of the American framers' achievement was the ``written Constitution itself.''

``It was the first national [written] Constitution prior to World War II. And it served as a model to others,' explains Professor Berns.

The 1787 US document - to which ten original amendments known as the ``Bill of Rights'' were added in 1791 - served as a model for early rewrites of the national documents of France and Poland.

But more than half of the constitutions now in use have been written, or rewritten, within the last two decades. Less than a score predate World War II. Among the oldest of these belong to Argentina, Australia, Austria, Colombia, Finland, Ireland, Lebanon, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Mexico, and Switzerland.

Even the six nations that have no single written document have been influenced by America's version of the so-called supreme law of the land. Among them are Britain, Israel, and New Zealand - which rely on custom and various legal documents - and Libya, Oman, and Saudi Arabia - which look to the Koran, the sacred book of the world's Muslims, for their law-related guidance.


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