A More Perfect Union | The Constitution of the United States
|The Constitution of the United States|
|CCSTD History Grade 11 11.3.|
The U.S. Constitution is a remarkable document that has served our country extremely well. It is the world's oldest written constitution still in use. For over 200 years, it has guided the growth and progress of governmental institutions. The Constitution has provided the basis for political stability, individual freedom, economic growth, and social progress. It has stood the test of time with very few changes. The Constitution has been an example to many other nations as they have designed their own national document of law and custom. The Constitution owes its effectiveness to its simplicity and flexibility. It was originally designed to provide a framework for governing 4 million people in 13 dissimilar colonies. The Constitution’s basic ground rules were so thoroughly fashioned that it has had only 26 amendments. It now serves the needs of more than 280 million people in 50 even more diversely populated states.
The U.S. Constitution
It took over 11 years to create this enlightened and successful document; 6 of those years were spent fighting the British and experimenting with an earlier federal union and a document known as the "Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union," which loosely tied the colonies together as a nation.
The time between the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and the drafting of the new Constitution in 1787 was one of weakness, dissension and turmoil. Under the Articles of Confederation, no provisions were made for a national executive branch to enforce the laws, or for a national court system to interpret them. Control of currency and taxation were left to the states. The result was disorder and confusion. Without the power to collect taxes, the federal government went into debt. Seven of the 13 states printed large quantities of paper money, but its real buying power was very low, especially in other states. This not only interfered with trade and commerce among the states, but between other nations as well.
Domestic and foreign problems continued to grow. It became increasingly clear that the Confederation's central government was not strong enough to establish a sound financial system, to regulate trade, to enforce treaties, or when needed, to exert military force against foreign enemies. Internal divisions between states grew more relentless.
On May 25, 1787, the Constitutional Convention began its deliberations to find a solution. The delegates were convinced that an effective government based on the philosophy of federalism, with a wide range of enforceable powers, must replace the ineffective system established by the Articles of Confederation. Federalism is the theory or promotion of a federal political order, where final authority is divided between sub-units around a central authority. Early in the proceedings the delegates agreed that the new government would be composed of three separate branches: legislative, judicial and executive; each with distinct powers to check and balance those of the other two branches. It was also agreed that the legislative branch, or Congress, should consist of two houses. This is known as a bicameral system.
The Great Compromise occurred when larger states argued in favor of each state having voting power in proportion to its population. The smaller states, fearing domination by the larger ones, insisted on equal representation for all states. The issue was settled by the "Great Compromise," giving every state equal representation in one house of Congress, and proportional representation in the other. In the Senate, every state would have two seats; in the House of Representatives, the number of seats would depend on population.
Another segment of the debates settled on the issues of limiting the new federal government’s powers. Many of the citizens had fled Europe and fought the British to escape a dominating central government, and they did not want to see a return to a system that threatened the self-governing ideals they so strongly believed in. They were afraid of the federal governments power over the states AND the individual. In September of 1789, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were added to soothe individual fears. These amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.
The 10 amendments contained in the Bill of Rights limited government
power by specifically guaranteeing some certain individual
rights, and broadly guaranteeing others; an example of the flexibility
of the Constitution. The amendment process was established, and would be
used in the future in order to meet the changing needs of an evolving