The Constitution and the Founding of the United States of America



Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 02.17.2018
Historian
Breminate Editor-in-Chief


1 – The First American Government

1.1 – Government in the English Colonies

The way the British government was run in the colonies inspired what the Americans would write in their Constitution.

Parliament: Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808–1879) being introduced in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament, on 26 July 1858.

Under the Kingdom of Great Britain, the American colonies experienced a number of situations which would guide them in creating a constitution. The British Parliament believed that it had the right to impose taxes on the colonists. While it did have virtualrepresentation over the entire empire, the colonists believed Parliament had no such right as the colonists had no direct representation in Parliament. By the 1720s, all but two of the colonies had a locally elected legislature and a British appointed governor. These two branches of government would often clash, with the legislatures imposing “power of the purse” to control the British governor. Thus, Americans viewed their legislative branch as a guardian of liberty, while the executive branches was deemed tyrannical.There were several examples of royal actions that upset the Americans. For example, taxes on the importation of products including lead, paint, tea and spirits were imposed. In addition Parliament required a duty to be paid on court documents and other legal documents, along with playing cards, pamphlets and books. The variety of taxes imposed led to American disdain for the British system of government.

After the Boston Tea Party, Great Britain’s leadership passed acts that outlawed the Massachusetts legislature. The Parliament also provided for special courts in which British judges, rather than American juries, would try colonists. The Quartering Act and the Intolerable Acts required Americans provide room and board for British soldiers. Americans especially feared British actions in Canada, where civil law was once suspended in favor of British military rule.

American distaste for British government would lead to revolution. Americans formed their own institutions with political ideas gleaned from the British radicals of the early 18th century. England had passed beyond those ideas by 1776, with the resulting conflict leading to the first American attempts at a national government.

1.2 – British Taxes and Colonial Grievances

The expenses from the French and Indian War caused the British to impose taxes on the American colonies.

Boston Tea Party: The Boston Tea Party was orchestrated by the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, who fiercely protested the British-imposed taxes.

After the French and Indian War, the British needed to find a way to repay war debt. They imposed new taxes and penalties to increase revenue for the kingdom. In 1764, George Grenville became the British Chancellor of the Exchequer. He allowed customs officers to obtain general writs of assistance, which allowed officers to search random houses for smuggled goods. Grenville thought that if profits from smuggled goods could be directed towards Britain, the money could help pay off debts. Colonists were horrified that they could be searched without warrant at any given moment. With persuasion from Grenville, Parliament also began to impose several new taxes on the colonists in 1764.

The Sugar Act of 1764 reduced the taxes imposed by the Molasses Act, but at the same time strengthened the collection of the tax. It also stipulated that British judges—not juries—would try Sugar Act cases. In 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to provide room and board for British soldiers stationed in North America. The soldiers’ main purpose was to enforce the previous acts passed by Parliament. Following the Quartering Act, Parliament passed one of the most infamous pieces of legislation: the Stamp Act.

Prior to the Stamp Act, Parliament imposed only external taxes on imports. The Stamp Act provided the first internal tax on the colonists, requiring that a tax stamp be applied to books, newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, playing cards, and dice. The legislature of Massachusetts requested to hold a conference concerning the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act Congress met in October 1765, petitioning the King and Parliament to repeal the act before it went into effect at the end of the month. The act faced vehement opposition throughout the colonies. Merchants threatened to boycott British products. Thousands of New Yorkers rioted near the location where the stamps were stored. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty, a group led by radical statesman Samuel Adams, destroyed the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act but passed the Declaratory Act in its wake. The Declaratory Act stated that Great Britain retained the power to tax the colonists without substantive representation.

Believing that the colonists only objected to internal taxes, Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend proposed bills that would later become the Townshend Acts. The Townshend Acts, passed in 1767, taxed imports of tea, glass, paint, lead, and even paper. Again, colonial merchants threatened to boycott taxed products. Boycotts reduced the profits of British merchants, who, in turn, petitioned Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts. Parliament eventually agreed to repeal much of the Townshend legislation, but they refused to remove the tax on tea, maintaining that the British government retained the authority to tax the colonies.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which exempted the British East India Company from the Townshend taxes. Thus, the East India Company gained a great advantage over other companies when selling tea in the colonies. The colonists who resented the advantages given to British companies dumped British tea overboard in the Boston Tea Party in December of 1773.

1.3 – Taxation without Representation

“No Taxation without Representation” was the rallying cry of the colonists who were forced to pay the stamp, sugar, and tea taxes.

1.3.1 – Overview

“No taxation without representation,” a slogan originating during the 1750s and 1760s that summarized a primary grievance of the British Colonists in the 13 colonies, was one of the major causes of the American Revolution. In short, many of these colonists believed that as they were not directly represented in the British Parliament, any laws it passed taxing the colonists (such as the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act) were illegal under the English Bill of Rights of 1689, and were a denial of their rights as Englishmen.

Sons of Liberty Propaganda: The colonists released much propaganda during this time in protest of what they said were unconstitutional policies. Here, Sons of Liberty are tarring and feathering a tax collector.

However, during the time of the American Revolution, only 1 in 20 British citizens had representation in parliament, none of whom resided in the colonies. In recent times, it has been used by several other groups in several different countries over similar disputes, including currently in some parts of the United States (see below). The phrase captures a sentiment central to the cause of the English Civil War, as articulated by John Hampden, who said, “What an English King has no right to demand, an English subject has a right to refuse.” This tax, which was only applied to coastal towns during a time of war, was intended to offset the cost of defending that part of the coast and could be paid in actual ships or the equivalent value. It was one of the causes of the English Civil War, and many British colonists in the 1750s, 1760s, and 1770s felt that it was related to their current situation.

1.3.2 – The First Continental Congress

The first Continental Congress was held between 1774 and 1775 to discuss the future of the American colonies.

Carpenter’s Hall: The first Continental Congress met in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, PA.

The first Continental Congress was influenced by Correspondence Committees. These served an important role in the Revolution by disseminating the colonial interpretation of British actions to the colonies and foreign governments. The Committees of Correspondence rallied opposition on common causes and established plans for collective action. The group of committees was the beginning of what later became a formal political union among the colonies. About seven to eight thousand patriots served on these committees at the colonial and local levels. These patriots comprised most of the leadership in colonial communities while the loyalists were excluded. Committee members became the leaders of the American resistance to the British. When Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local Committees took charge by examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott. The Committees promoted patriotism and home manufacturing by advising Americans to avoid luxuries. The committees gradually extended their influence to many aspects of American public life.

In June 1774, the Virginia and Massachusetts assemblies independently proposed an intercolonial meeting of delegates from the several colonies to restore the union between Great Britain and the American colonies. In September, the first Continental Congress, composed of delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies—all except Georgia—met in Philadelphia The assembly adopted what has become to be known as the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress. The document, addressed to his Majesty and to the people of Great Britain, included a statement of rights and principles, many of which were later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence and Federal Constitution. When the first Congress adjourned, it stipulated another Congress would meet if King George III did not acquiesce to the demands set forth in the Declaration of Resolves.

By the time the second Congress met, the Revolutionary War had already begun, and the issue of independence, rather than a redress of grievances, dominated the debates.

1.4 – The Second Continental Congress

The Second Continental Congress was ushered in at the beginning of the Revolution and eventually decided American independence.

Second Continental Congress: The Congress signing the Declaration of Independence.

When the Second Continental Congress came together on May 10, 1775 it was, in effect, a reconvening of the First Continental Congress. Many of the same 56 delegates who attended the first meeting were in attendance at the second, and the delegates appointed the same president, Peyton Randolph, and secretary, Charles Thomson. Notable new arrivals included Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and John Hancock of Massachusetts. Within two weeks, Randolph was summoned back to Virginia to preside over the House of Burgesses; he was replaced in the Virginia delegation by Thomas Jefferson, who arrived several weeks later. Henry Middleton was elected as president to replace Randolph, but he declined, and Hancock was elected president on May 24.

By the time the Second Continental Congress met, the American Revolutionary War had already started with the battles of Lexington and Concord. The Congress was to take charge of the war effort. For the first few months of the struggle, the Patriots had carried on their struggle in an ad hoc and uncoordinated manner. They had seized arsenals, driven out royal officials, and besieged the British army in the city of Boston. On June 14, 1775, the Congress voted to create the Continental Army out of the militia units around Boston and quickly appointed Congressman George Washington of Virginia as commanding general of the Continental Army. On July 6, 1775, Congress approved a Declaration of Causes outlining the rationale and necessity for taking up arms in the thirteen colonies. On July 8, Congress extended the Olive Branch Petition to the British Crown as a final attempt at reconciliation. However, it was received too late to do any good. Silas Deane was sent to France as a minister (ambassador) of the Congress. American ports were reopened in defiance of the British Navigation Acts. Although it had no explicit legal authority to govern, it assumed all the functions of a national government, such as appointing ambassadors, signing treaties, raising armies, appointing generals, obtaining loans from Europe, issuing paper money (called “Continentals”), and disbursing funds. The Congress had no authority to levy taxes, and was required to request money, supplies, and troops from the states to support the war effort. Individual states frequently ignored these requests.

1.5 – Political Strife and American Independence

The new congress faced many roadblocks in establishing the new nation.

The new Congress faced many issues during the American Revolution, including tensions with home governments, establishing legitimacy overseas, and funding a revolution without the ability to create money or tax citizens. War was also in the backdrop of the new government, and it had to move in the autumn of 1777 because the British invaded Philadelphia.

The Continental Currency: The Continental was a bill issued by Congress to fund the Revolutionary War. Over a very short period of time, the Continental became worthless.

Congress was moving towards declaring independence from the British Empire in 1776, but many delegates lacked the authority from their home governments to take such an action. Advocates of independence in Congress moved to have reluctant colonial governments revise instructions to their delegations, or even replace those governments which would not authorize independence. On May 10, 1776, Congress passed a resolution recommending that any colony lacking a proper (i.e. a revolutionary) government should form such. On May 15, Congress adopted a more radical preamble to this resolution, drafted by John Adams, in which it advised throwing off oaths of allegiance and suppressing the authority of the Crown in any colonial government that still derived its authority from the Crown. That same day the Virginia Convention instructed its delegation in Philadelphia to propose a resolution that called for a declaration of independence, the formation of foreign alliances, and a confederation of the states. The resolution of independence was delayed for several weeks as revolutionaries consolidated support for independence in their home governments.

The records of the Continental Congress confirm that the need for a declaration of independence was intimately linked with the demands of international relations. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee tabled a resolution before the Continental Congress declaring the colonies independent. He also urged Congress to resolve “to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances” and to prepare a plan of confederation for the newly independent states. Lee argued that independence was the only way to ensure a foreign alliance, since no European monarchs would deal with America if they remained Britain’s colonists. American leaders had rejected the divine right of kings in the New World, but recognized the necessity of proving their credibility in the Old World. Congress would formally adopt the resolution of independence, but only after creating three overlapping committees to draft the Declaration, a Model Treaty, and the Articles of Confederation. The Declaration announced the states’ entry into the international system; the model treaty was designed to establish amity and commerce with other states; and the Articles of Confederation established “a firm league” among the thirteen free and independent states. Together these constituted an international agreement to set up central institutions for the conduct of vital domestic and foreign affairs. Congress finally approved the resolution of independence on July 2, 1776. Congress next turned its attention to a formal explanation of this decision, the United States Declaration of Independence, which was approved on July 4 and published soon thereafter. The Continental Congress was forced to flee Philadelphia at the end of September 1777, as British troops occupied the city. The Congress moved to York, Pennsylvania, and continued their work.

1.6 – The Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence was a letter to the king explaining why the colonies were separating from Britain.

Declaration of Independence: The final declaration was drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

The Declaration of Independence was a statement adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American colonies, then at war with Great Britain, regarded themselves as independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. John Adams had put forth a resolution earlier in the year, making a subsequent formal declaration inevitable. A committee was assembled to draft the formal declaration, to be ready when congress voted on independence. Adams persuaded the committee to select Thomas Jefferson to compose the original draft of the document, which congress would edit to produce the final version. The Declaration was ultimately a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. The Independence Day of the United States of America is celebrated on July 4, the day Congress approved the wording of the Declaration.

After ratifying the text on July 4, Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in several forms. It was initially published as a printed broadside that was widely distributed and read to the public. The most famous version of the Declaration, a signed copy that is usually regarded as the Declaration of Independence, is displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Although the wording of the Declaration was approved on July 4, the date of its signing was August 2. The original July 4 United States Declaration of Independence manuscript was lost while all other copies have been derived from this original document.

1.7 – The Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation established a confederacy-type government among the new American states.

Articles of Confederation:These articles outlined the new government of the United States.

The Articles of Confederation were established in 1777 by the Second Continental Congress. The Articles accomplished certain things, but without a good leader, they were bad. First, they expressly provided that the states were sovereign. (A sovereign state is a state that is both self-governing and independent. ) The United States as a Confederation was much like the present-day European Union. Each member was able to make its own laws; the entire Union was merely for the purposes of common defense.The reason for the independence of the colonies is clear–the colonies were afraid of the power of a central government such as the one in the State of Great Britain. The Articles provided that a Congress, consisting of two to seven members per state, would hold legislative power. The states, regardless of the number of Congress members representing them, each had one total vote. The Congress was empowered to settle boundary and other disputes between states. It could also establish courts with jurisdiction overseas. Also, it could tax the states, even though it did not possess the power to require the collection of these taxes by law.

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The Congress, overall, was absolutely ineffectual. The Congress had to rely on the states for its funding. Since it could not forcibly collect taxes, the states could grant or withhold money and force Congress to accept their demands. Because it could not collect taxes, Congress printed paper dollars. This policy, however, absolutely wrecked the economy because of an overabundance of paper dollars, which had lost almost all value. Several states also printed their own currency. This led to much confusion relating to exchange rates and trade; some states accepted the currency of others, while other states refused to honor bills issued by their counterparts. Furthermore, the Articles included certain fallacies. For instance, it suggested that the approval of nine states was required to make certain laws. However, it made no provision for additional states. Thus, it would appear that the number nine would be in effect even if that number would actually be a minority of states. Also, the Articles required the approval of all states for certain important decisions such as making Amendments. As the number of States would grow, securing this approval would become more and more difficult.

1.8 – Powers of the American Government under the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of confederation gave few but important powers of diplomacy to the American government.

The Articles supported the Congressional direction of the Continental Army, and allowed the 13 states to present a unified front when dealing with the European powers. As a tool to build a centralized war-making government, they were largely a failure, but since guerrilla warfare was a correct strategy in a war against the British Empire’s army, this failure succeeded in winning independence.

Congress could make decisions under the articles but had no power to enforce them. There was a requirement for unanimous approval before any modifications could be made to the Articles. Because the majority of lawmaking rested with the states, the central government was also kept limited. Congress was denied the power of taxation: it could only request money from the states. The states did not generally comply with the requests in full, leaving the confederation chronically short of funds.

Love Canal: This 1978 protest at Love Canal was one of the early events in the environmental justice movement.

Congress was also denied the power to regulate commerce, and as a result, the states fought over trade as well. The states and the national congress had both incurred debts during the war, and how to pay the debts became a major issue. Some states paid off their debts; however, the centralizers favored federal assumption of states’ debts. Nevertheless, the Congress of the Confederation did take two actions with lasting impact. The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the general land survey and ownership provisions used throughout later American expansion. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 noted the agreement of the original states to give up western land claims and cleared the way for the entry of new states.

Northwest Ordinance: The Northwest Ordinance was one of the few accomplishments under the Articles of Confederation.

Once the war was won, the Continental Army was largely disbanded. A very small national force was maintained to man frontier forts and protect against Indian attacks. Meanwhile, each of the states had an army (or militia), and 11 of them had navies. The wartime promises of bounties and land grants to be paid for service were not being met. In 1783, Washington defused the Newburgh conspiracy, but riots by unpaid Pennsylvania veterans forced the Congress to temporarily leave Philadelphia.

1.9 – Impact of the Articles of Confederation

The Articles of Confederation, while riddled with problems, did have lasting effects.

The Confederation Congress did take two actions with long-lasting impact. The Land Ordinance of 1785 and Northwest Ordinance created a territorial government, set up protocols for the admission of new states and the division of land into useful units and set aside land in each township for public use. This system represented a sharp break from imperial colonization, as in Europe, and provided the basis for the rest of American continental expansion throughout the nineteenth century.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 established both the general practices of land surveying in the west and northwest and the land ownership provisions used throughout the later westward expansion beyond the Mississippi River. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 noted the agreement of the original states to give up northwestern land claims and organized the Northwest Territory, thereby clearing the way for the entry of five new states and part of a sixth to the Union. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 also made great advances in the abolition of slavery. New states admitted to the Union in said territory would never be slave states.To be specific, these states gave up all of their claims to land north of the Ohio River and west of the (present) western border of Pennsylvania: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. From this land, over several decades, new states were formed: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and the part of Minnesota east of the Mississippi River. By the Land Ordinance of 1785, these were surveyed into the now familiar squares of land called the “township” (36 square miles), the “section” (one square mile), and the “quarter section” (160 acres). This system was carried forward to most of the states west of the Mississippi (excluding areas of Texas and California that had already been surveyed and divided up by the Spanish Empire). Then, when the Homestead Act was enacted in 1867, the quarter section became the basic unit of land that was granted to new settler farmers.

Public interest groups: Public interest groups advocate for issues that impact the general public, such as education.

The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain, languished in Congress for months because state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature. Yet, Congress had no power to enforce attendance. Also, the Confederation faced several difficulties in its early years. Firstly, Congress became extremely dependent on the states for income. Also, states refused to require its citizens to pay debts to British merchants, straining relations with Great Britain. France prohibited Americans from using the important port of New Orleans, crippling American trade down the Mississippi river.

Land Ordinance, 1785: These units were the basis for separating land. By the Land Ordinance of 1785, these were surveyed into the now familiar squares of land called the “township” (36 square miles), the “section” (one square mile), and the “quarter section” (160 acres).

Under the Articles of Confederation, the central government’s power was kept quite limited. The Confederation Congress could make decisions but lacked enforcement powers. Implementation of most decisions, including modifications to the articles, required unanimous approval of all 13 state legislatures. Congress was denied any powers of taxation. It only could request money from the states. The states often failed to meet these requests in full, leaving both Congress and the Continental Army chronically short of money. As more money was printed by Congress, the continental dollars depreciated. In 1779, George Washington wrote to John Jay, who was serving as the president of the Continental Congress, “that a wagon load of money will scarcely purchase a wagon load of provisions. ” Mr. Jay and the Congress responded in May by requesting $45 million from the states. In an appeal to the states to comply, Jay wrote that the taxes were “the price of liberty, the peace, and the safety of yourselves and posterity. ” He argued that Americans should avoid having it said “that America had no sooner become independent than she became insolvent” or that “her infant glories and growing fame were obscured and tarnished by broken contracts and violated faith. ” The states did not respond with any of the money requested from them. Congress also had been denied the power to regulate either foreign trade or interstate commerce and, as a result, all of the states maintained control over their own trade policies. The states and the Confederation Congress both incurred large debts during the Revolutionary War, and how to repay those debts became a major issue of debate following the war. Some states paid off their war debts and others did not.

1.10 – Shay’s Rebellion and the Revision of the Articles of Confederation

Shays’ rebellion prompted the Boston elite and members of the central government to question the strength of the American government.

Daniel Shays: Shays and colleague Job Shattuck

Due to the post-revolution economic woes and agitated by inflation, many worried about social instability. This was especially true for those in Massachusetts. The legislature ‘s response to the shaky economy was to put emphasis on maintaining a sound currency by paying off the state debt through levying massive taxes. The tax burden hit those with moderate incomes dramatically. The average farmer paid a third of their annual income to these taxes from 1780 to 1786. Those who couldn’t pay had their property foreclosed and they were thrown into crowded prisons filled with other debtors.

In the summer of 1786, a Revolutionary War veteran named Daniel Shays began to organize western communities in Massachusetts to forcibly stop foreclosures by prohibiting the courts from holding their proceedings. Later that fall, Shays marched the newly formed “rebellion” into Springfield to stop the state supreme court from gathering. The state responded with troops sent to suppress the rebellion. After a failed attempt by the rebels to attack the Springfield arsenal, and the failure of other small skirmishes, the rebels retreated and then uprising collapsed.

Shays retreated to Vermont by 1787. While Daniel Shays was in hiding, the government condemned him to death on the charge of treason. Shays pleaded for his life in a petition that was finally granted by John Hancock on June 17, 1788. Thomas Jefferson, who was serving as ambassador to France at the time, refused to be alarmed by Shays’ Rebellion. In a letter to a friend, he argued that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. ”

In contrast to Jefferson’s sentiments George Washington, who had been calling for constitutional reform for many years, wrote in a letter to Henry Lee, “You talk, my good sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found, or, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for the disorders. Influence is not government. Let us have a government by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once. ”

At the time of the rebellion, the weaknesses of the federal government as constituted under the Articles of Confederation were apparent to many. A vigorous debate was going on throughout the states on the need for a stronger central government with Federalists arguing for the idea, and anti-Federalists opposing them. Historical opinion is divided on what sort of role the rebellion played in the formation and later ratification of the United States Constitution, although most scholars agree it played some role, at least temporarily drawing some anti-Federalists to the strong government side. By early 1785, many influential merchants and political leaders were already agreed that a stronger central government was needed.

Delegates from five states held a convention in Annapolis, Maryland in September 1786. They concluded that vigorous steps needed to be taken to reform the federal government, but it disbanded because of a lack of full representation. The delegates called for a convention consisting of all the states to be held in Philadelphia in May 1787. Historian Robert Feer notes that several prominent figures had hoped the convention would fail, requiring a larger-scale convention. French diplomat Louis-Guillaume Otto thought the convention was intentionally broken off early to achieve this end.

In early 1787 John Jay wrote that the rural disturbances and the inability of the central government to fund troops in response made “the inefficiency of the Federal government [become] more and more manifest. ” Henry Knox observed that the uprising in Massachusetts clearly influenced local leaders who had previously opposed a strong federal government.

Historian David Szatmary writes that the timing of the rebellion “convinced the elites of sovereign states that the proposed gathering at Philadelphia must take place. ” Some states, Massachusetts among them, delayed choosing delegates to the proposed convention partly because in some ways it resembled the “extra-legal” conventions organized by the protestors before the rebellion became violent.

1.11 – The Annapolis Convention

The Annapolis Convention, led by Alexander Hamilton, was one of two conventions that met to amend the Articles of Confederation.

Long dissatisfied with the weak Articles of Confederation, Alexander Hamilton of New York played a major leadership role in drafting a resolution for a constitutional convention, which was later to be called the Annapolis Convention. Hamilton’s efforts brought his desire to have a more powerful, more financially independent federal government one step closer to reality.

Alexander Hamilton: Hamilton called the Annapolis Convention together and played a prominent role in the Philadelphia Convention the following year.

The defects that the convention was to remedy were those barriers that limited trade or commerce between the largely independent states under the Articles of Confederation. The convention, named A Meeting of Commissioners to Remedy Defects of the Federal Government, met from September 11 to September 14, 1786. “New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and North Carolina had appointed commissioners who failed to arrive in Annapolis in time to attend the meeting, while Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina and Georgia had taken no action at all. Because of the small representation, the Annapolis Convention did not deem “it advisable to proceed on the business of their mission. ” After an exchange of views, the Annapolis delegates unanimously submitted a report to their respective States in which they suggested that a convention of representatives from all the States meet at Philadelphia on the second Monday in May, 1787. The report expressed the hope that more states would be represented and that their delegates or deputies would be authorized to examine areas broader than simply commercial trade. At the resulting Philadelphia Convention of 1787, delegates produced the United States Constitution.

2 – The Constitutional Convention

2.1 – Introduction

The Constitutional Convention was established in 1787 to replace the Articles of Confederation with a national constitution for all states.

2.1.1 – Overview

Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States,” by Howard Chandler Christy (1940).

The Constitutional Convention took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention was held to problems in governing the United States, which had been operating under the Articles of Confederation following independence from Great Britain. Although the convention was intended to revise the Articles of Confederation, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than fix the existing one. The delegates elected George Washington to preside over the convention. The result of the convention was the United States Constitution, placing the convention among the most significant events in the history of the United States.

2.1.2 – The Convention

At the Convention, several plans were introduced. James Madison’s plan, known as the Virginia Plan, was the most important plan. The Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan. In its proposal, both houses of the legislature would be determined proportionately. The lower house would be elected by the people, and the upper house would be elected by the lower house. The executive branch would exist solely to ensure that the will of the legislature was carried out and, therefore, would be selected by the legislature.

Virginia Plan: Visual representation of the structure of James Madison’s Virginia Plan.

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the plan. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had equal representation in Congress, exercising one vote each. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained.

New Jersey Plan: Visual representation of the structure of the New Jersey Plan.

To resolve this stalemate, the Connecticut Compromise, forged by Roger Sherman from Connecticut, was proposed on June 11. In a sense, it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Ultimately, however, its main contribution was in determining the apportionment of the Senate and, thus, retaining a federal character in the constitution. What was ultimately included in the constitution was a modified form of this plan.

2.1.3 – Slavery

Among the most controversial issues confronting the delegates was that of slavery. Slavery was widespread in the states at the time of the Convention. Twenty-five of the Convention’s 55 delegates owned slaves, including all of the delegates from Virginia and South Carolina. Whether slavery was to be regulated under the new Constitution was a matter of such intense conflict between the North and South that several Southern states refused to join the Union if slavery were not to be allowed.

Whether slavery was to be regulated under the new Constitution was a matter of such intense conflict between the North and South that several Southern states refused to join the Union if slavery were not to be allowed. Delegates opposed to slavery were forced to yield in their demands that slavery practiced within the confines of the new nation be completely outlawed. However, they continued to argue that the Constitution should prohibit the states from participating in the international slave trade, including in the importation of new slaves from Africa and the export of slaves to other countries. The Convention postponed making a final decision on the international slave trade until late in the deliberations because of the contentious nature of the issue. Once the Convention had finished amending the first draft from the Committee of Detail, a new set of unresolved questions were sent to several different committees for resolution.

During the Convention’s late July recess, the Committee of Detail had inserted language that would prohibit the federal government from attempting to ban international slave trading, and from imposing taxes on the purchase or sale of slaves. This committee helped work out a compromise: In exchange for this concession, the federal government’s power to regulate foreign commerce would be strengthened by provisions that allowed for taxation of slave trades in the international market and that reduced the requirement for passage of navigation acts from two-thirds majorities of both houses of Congress to simple majority.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise between Southern and Northern states reached during the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 in which three-fifths of the enumerated population of slaves would be counted for representation purposes regarding both the distribution of taxes and the apportionment of the members of the United States House of Representatives. It was proposed by delegates James Wilson and Roger Sherman. This was eventually adopted by the Convention.

2.2 – The Framers of the Constitution

The Framers of the Constitution were delegates to the Constitutional Convention who took part in drafting the proposed U.S. Constitution.

2.2.1 – Introduction

The Founding Fathers of the United States of America were political leaders who participated in the American Revolution. They signed the Declaration of Independence, took part in the Revolutionary War, and established the Constitution. The “Founding Fathers” included two major groups. The Signers of the Declaration of Independence signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. The Framers of the Constitution were delegates to the Constitutional Convention and helped draft the Constitution of the United States.

Framers of the Constitution Stamp (1937): US Postage Stamp depicting delegates at the signing of the US Constitution.

Some historians consider the “Founding Fathers” to be a larger group, which includes not only the Signers and the Framers but also ordinary citizens who took part in winning American independence and creating the United States of America. In 1973, historian Richard B. Morris identified seven figures as the main Founding Fathers: John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

2.2.2 – Delegates to the Constitutional Convention

In 1786–1787, twelve of the thirteen states—all but Rhode Island—chose seventy-four delegates to attend what is now known as the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia (). Nineteen of these delegates chose not to accept election or attend the debates. The states had originally appointed seventy representatives to the Convention, but a number of the appointees did not accept or could not attend, leaving fifty-five delegates to draft the Constitution. Almost all of these delegates had taken part in the Revolution. At least twenty-nine of the delegates served in the Continental forces. Most of the delegates had been members of the Confederation Congress, and many had been members of the Continental Congress.

2.2.3 – Occupations and Experience

The framers of the Constitution had extensive political experience. By 1787, four-fifths of the delegates had been in the Continental Congress. Nearly all of the fifty-five delegates had experience in colonial and state government. Furthermore, the delegates practiced a wide range of high- and middle-status occupations. Many delegates pursued more than one career simultaneously. They did not differ dramatically from the Loyalists, except the delegates were generally younger in their professions.

More than half of the delegates had trained as lawyers, although only about a quarter had practiced law as their principal career. Other professions included merchants, manufacturers, shippers, land speculators, bankers or financiers, three physicians, a minister, and several small farmers. Of the twenty-five who owned slaves, sixteen depended on slave labor to run the plantations or other businesses that formed the mainstay of their income. Most of the delegates were landowners with substantial holdings, and most were comfortably wealthy. George Washington and Governor Morris were among the wealthiest men in the entire country.

The Founding Fathers had strong educational backgrounds at some of the colonial colleges or abroad. Some, like Franklin and Washington, were largely self-taught or learned through apprenticeship. Others had obtained instruction from private tutors or at academies. About half of the men had attended or graduated from college. Some men held medical degrees or advanced training in theology. Most delegates were educated in the colonies, but several were lawyers who had been trained at the Inns of Court in London.

2.2.4 – Notable Absences and Post-Convention Careers

Several notable Founders did not participate in the Constitutional Convention. Thomas Jefferson was abroad, serving as the minister to France. John Adams was in Britain, serving as minister to that country, but he wrote home to encourage the delegates. Patrick Henry refused to participate because he “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, tending toward the monarchy. ” John Hancock and Samuel Adams were also absent. Many of the states’ older and more experienced leaders may have simply been too busy to attend the Convention.

Most were successful in subsequent careers, although seven suffered serious financial reverses that left them in or near bankruptcy. Most of the group continued to render public service, particularly to the new government they had helped to create. The last remaining founders, also called the “Last of the Romans”, lived well into the nineteenth century.

2.3 – Constitutional Issues and Compromises

At the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia, Pinckney, New Jersey, and Hamilton plans gave way to the Connecticut Compromise.

2.3.1 – Introduction

At the Constitutional Convention, several plans were introduced. Debate topics included the composition of the Senate, how “proportional representation ” was to be defined, whether the executive branch would be composed of one person or three, presidential term lengths and method of election, impeachable offenses, a fugitive slave clause, whether to abolish slave trade, and whether judges should be chosen by the legislature or executive.

2.3.2 – The Virginia Plan

  

[LEFT]: The Virginia Plan: The front page of the Virginia Plan document.
[RIGHT]: Portrait of James Madison: Stippling engraving of James Madison, President of the United States, done between 1809 and 1817.

While waiting for the Convention to formally begin, James Madison sketched out his initial draft, which became known as the Virginia Plan. It also reflected his views as a strong nationalist. The Virginia Plan was a proposal by Virginia delegates for a bicameral legislative branch. Prior to the start of the Convention, the Virginian delegates met and, drawing largely from Madison’s suggestions, drafted a plan. The Virginia Plan proposed a legislative branch consisting of two chambers. Rotation in office and recall were two principles applied to the lower house of the national legislature. Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “Quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants.” States with a large population, like Virginia, would thus have more representatives than smaller states.

2.3.4 – The Plan of Charles Pinckney

Pinckney Plan: The Pinckney Plan proposed a bicameral legislature made up of a Senate and a House of Delegates. The House would have one member for every one thousand inhabitants. The House would elect Senators who would serve by rotation for four years and represent one of four regions. Congress would meet in a joint session to elect a President, and would also appoint members of the cabinet. Congress, in joint session, would serve as the court of appeal of last resort in disputes between states.

Immediately after Randolph finished laying out the Virginia Plan, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina presented his own plan to the Convention. As Pinckney did not reduce it to writing, the only evidence we have are Madison’s notes, so the details are somewhat scarce. It was a confederation, or treaty, among the thirteen states. There was to be a bicameral legislature made up of a Senate and a House of Delegates. The House would have one member for every one thousand inhabitants. The House would elect Senators who would serve by rotation for four years and represent one of four regions. Congress would meet in a joint session to elect a President, and it would also appoint members of the cabinet. Congress, in joint session, would serve as the court of appeal of last resort in disputes between states. Pinckney did also provide for a supreme Federal Judicial Court. The Pinckney plan was not debated, but it may have been referred to by the Committee of Detail for early draft.

2.3.5 – New Jersey Plan

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the plan. Under the Articles of Confederation, each state had equal representation in Congress—one vote per state. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities that could enter and leave the United States on their own volition.

2.3.6 – Hamilton’s Plan

Unsatisfied with the New Jersey Plan and the Virginia Plan, Alexander Hamilton proposed his own plan. It also was known as the British Plan, because of its resemblance to the British system of strong centralized government. Hamilton’s plan advocated doing away with much state sovereignty and consolidating the states into a single nation. The plan featured a bicameral legislature, the lower house elected by the people for three years. The upper house would be elected by electors chosen by the people and would serve for life. The plan also gave the Governor, an executive elected by electors for a life-term of service, an absolute veto over bills. State governors would be appointed by the national legislature, and the national legislature had veto power over any state legislation.

Hamilton presented his plan to the Convention on June 18, 1787. The plan was perceived as a well-thought-out plan, but it was not considered because it resembled the British system too closely.

2.3.7 – Connecticut Compromise

To resolve this stalemate, Roger Sherman, a delegate from Connecticut, forged the Connecticut Compromise. In a sense it blended the Virginia (large-state) and New Jersey (small-state) proposals. Ultimately, its main contribution was determining the method for apportionment of the Senate and retaining a federal character in the constitution.

What was ultimately included in the Constitution was a modified form of this plan. In the Committee of Detail, Benjamin Franklin added the requirement that revenue bills originate in the House. As such, the Senate would bring a federal character to the government, not because senators were elected by state legislatures, but because each state was equally represented.

2.4 – The Virginia and New Jersey Plans

In the Constitutional Convention, the Virginia Plan favored large states while the New Jersey Plan favored small states.

2.4.1 – Introduction

The Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation. The Virginia delegation took the initiative to frame the debate by immediately drawing up and presenting a proposal, for which delegate James Madison is given chief credit. It was, however, Edmund Randolph, the Virginia governor at the time, who officially put it before the convention on May 29, 1787 in the form of 15 resolutions.

The scope of the resolutions, going well beyond tinkering with the Articles of Confederation, succeeded in broadening the debate to encompass fundamental revisions to the structure and powers of the national government. The resolutions proposed, for example, a new form of national government having three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. One contentious issue facing the convention was the manner in which large and small states would be represented in the legislature. The contention was whether there would be equal representation for each state regardless of its size and population, or proportionate to population giving larger states more votes than less-populous states.

2.4.2 – Virginia Plan

The Virginia Plan proposed a bicameral legislature, a legislative branch with two chambers. This legislature would contain the dual principles of rotation in office and recall, applied to the lower house of the national legislature. Each of the states would be represented in proportion to their “quotas of contribution, or to the number of free inhabitants.” States with a large population would thus have more representatives than smaller states. Large states supported this plan, while smaller states generally opposed it.

Virginia Plan: Visual representation of the structure of James Madison’s Virginia Plan.

In addition to dealing with legislative representation, the Virginia Plan ed other issues as well, with many provisions that did not make it into the Constitution that emerged. It called for a national government of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The people would elect members for one of the two legislative chambers. Members of that chamber would then elect the second chamber from nominations submitted by state legislatures. The legislative branch would then choose the executive branch.

The terms of office were unspecified, but the executive and members of the popularly elected legislative chamber could not be elected for an undetermined time afterward. The legislative branch would have the power to negate state laws if they were deemed incompatible with the articles of union. The concept of checks and balances was embodied in a provision that a council composed of the executive and selected members of the judicial branch could veto legislative acts. An unspecified legislative majority could override their veto.

2.4.3 – New Jersey Plan

New Jersey Plan: Visual representation of the structure of the New Jersey Plan.

After the Virginia Plan was introduced, New Jersey delegate William Paterson asked for an adjournment to contemplate the Plan. Paterson’s New Jersey Plan was ultimately a rebuttal to the Virginia Plan. The less populous states were adamantly opposed to giving most of the control of the national government to the more populous states, and so proposed an alternative plan that would have kept the one-vote-per-state representation under one legislative body from the Articles of Confederation.

William Paterson: Portrait of William Paterson (1745–1806) when he was a Supreme Court Justice (1793–1806). Paterson was also known as the primary author of the New Jersey Plan during the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Under the New Jersey Plan, the unicameral legislature with one vote per state was inherited from the Articles of Confederation. This position reflected the belief that the states were independent entities, and as they entered the United States of America freely and individually, so they remained. The plan proposed that the Articles of Confederation should be amended as follows:

  1. Congress would gain authority to raise funds using tariffs and other measures;
  2. Congress would elect a federal executive who cannot be re-elected and subject to recall by Congress;
  3. The Articles of Confederation and treaties would be proclaimed as the supreme law of the land.

2.4.4 – Connecticut Compromise

Ultimately, the New Jersey Plan was rejected as a basis for a new constitution. The Virginia Plan was used, but some ideas from the New Jersey Plan were added.

2.5 – Debate over the Presidency and the Judiciary

During the Constitutional Convention, the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition of the Presidency and the Judiciary.

2.5.1 – Introduction

Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: During the Constitutional Convention, some the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition of the Presidency and the Judiciary.

During the Constitutional Convention, the most contentious disputes revolved around the composition and election of the Senate, how “proportional representation” was to be defined, whether to divide the executive power between three people or invest the power into a single president, how to elect the president, how long his term was to be and whether he could stand for reelection, what offenses should be impeachable, the nature of a fugitive slave clause, whether to allow the abolition of the slave trade, and whether judges should be chosen by the legislature or executive. Most of the convention was spent deciding these issues, while the powers of legislature, executive, and judiciary were not heavily disputed.

2.5.2 – James Madison’s Influence

While waiting for the convention to formally begin, James Madison sketched out his initial draft, which became known as the “Virginia Plan” and which reflected his views as a strong nationalist. By the time the rest of the Virginia delegation arrived, most of the Pennsylvania delegation had arrived as well. The delegates agreed with Madison that the executive function had to be independent of the legislature. In their aversion to kingly power, American legislatures had created state governments where the executive was beholden to the legislature and by the late 1780s, this was widely seen as being a source of paralysis. The Confederation government was the ultimate example of this.

Portrait of James Madison: James Madison authored the Virginia Plan, which contained important provisions on the presidency and judiciary.

Madison believed that in the American states, this direct link between state executives and judges was a source of corruption through patronage and thought the link had to be severed between the two, thus creating the “third branch” of the judiciary which had been without any direct precedent before this point. Madison, however, did not believe that the judiciary should be truly independent, but rather be obligated to the legislature not the executive. By insisting on the independence of the judiciary, Madison stepped away from the Articles of Confederation to create something entirely new. At the convention, some sided with Madison that the legislature should choose judges, while others believed the president should choose judges. A compromise was eventually reached that the president should pick judges and the Senate confirm them.

2.5.3 – The Early Debate

Electoral College 1800: The Constitutional Convention agreed that the house would elect the president if no candidate had an Electoral College majority, but that each state delegation would vote as a block, rather than individually.

One of the most pressing issues during the early debate was the election of the president. Few agreed with Madison that the executive should be elected by the legislature. There was widespread concern with direct election, because information diffused so slowly in the late eighteenth century and because of concerns that people would only vote for candidates from their state or region. A vocal minority wanted the national executive to be chosen by the governors of the states.

This was one of the last major issues to be resolved and was done so in the Electoral College. At the time, before the formation of modern political parties, there was widespread concern that candidates would routinely fail to secure a majority of electors in the Electoral College. The method of resolving this problem, therefore, was a contested issue. Most thought that the house should then choose the president, since it most closely reflected the will of the people. To resolve this dispute, the convention agreed that the house would elect the president if no candidate had an Electoral College majority, but that each state delegation would vote as a block, rather than individually.

2.5.4 – Modifications

The Committee of Detail was a committee established by the United States Constitutional Convention on June 23, 1787 to put down a draft text reflecting the agreements made by the convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s 15 resolutions. It was chaired by John Rutledge, and other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham.

The committee shortened the president’s term from seven years to four years, freed the president to seek re-election after an initial term, and moved impeachment trials from the courts to the Senate. It also created the Office of the Vice President whose only roles were to succeed a president unable to complete a term of office and to preside over the Senate. The committee transferred important powers from the Senate to the president who now, for example, would be given the power to make treaties and appoint ambassadors. One controversial issue throughout much of the Convention had been the length of the president’s term and whether the president was to be term limited. The problem had resulted from the understanding that the president would be chosen by Congress; the decision to have the president be chosen instead by an electoral college reduced the chance of the president becoming beholden to Congress, so a shorter term with eligibility for re-election became a viable option.

2.6 – Drafting the Final Document

The report from the Committee on Detail at the Constitutional Convention constituted the first draft of the United States Constitution.

2.6.1 – Introduction

The Constitutional Convention took place in 1787, from May to September, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was convened to problems in governing the United States of America following independence from Great Britain. Before the Constitution was drafted, the nearly four million inhabitants of the thirteen newly-independent states were governed under the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress. However, the chronically underfunded Confederation government, as originally organized, was inadequate for managing the various conflicts that arose among the states. Due to the difficulty of travel in the late 18th century, very few of the selected delegates were present on the designated day of May 14, 1787. It was not until May 25 that a quorum of seven states was secured.

2.6.2 – The Early Debate

During the debates, each state was allowed to cast a single vote in accordance with the majority opinion of the state’s delegates. The first area of major dispute was the manner by which the lower house would be apportioned. A minority wanted all states would have equal weight. Most accepted the desire among the slave states to count slaves as part of the population, although their servile status was raised as a major objection against this. The Three-Fifths Compromise designated that three-fifths of the slave population would be counted as part of a state’s population.

2.6.3 – The First Draft

The Convention adjourned from July 26 to August 6 to await the report of the Committee of Detail. The Committee of Detail drafted agreements made by the Convention up to that point, including the Virginia Plan’s fifteen resolutions. It was chaired by John Rutledge. Other members included Edmund Randolph, Oliver Ellsworth, James Wilson, and Nathaniel Gorham. This report constituted the first draft of the United States Constitution. Much of what was contained in the final document was present in this draft.

John Rutledge: The Constitutional Convention adjourned to await the report of the Committee of Detail, which was to produce a first draft of the Constitution. It was chaired by John Rutledge (nicknamed “Dictator John” as a reflection of the extraordinary power he had assumed as South Carolina’s governor during the early days of the Revolution).

Many details recorded by the Committee had never been discussed during the Convention, but the Committee viewed these details as uncontroversial and unlikely to be challenged. Much of the Committee’s proposal would ultimately be incorporated into the final version of the Constitution without debate. Examples of these details include the Speech and Debate Clause, which grants members of Congress immunity for comments made in their jobs and the rules for organizing the House of Representatives and the Senate.

2.6.4 – Further Modifications

Another month of discussion and minor refinement followed. During this month, few attempts to alter the Rutledge draft were successful. Some delegates wanted to add property qualifications for people to hold office. Others wanted to prevent the national government from issuing paper money. James Madison wanted to push the Constitution back in the direction of his Virginia plan.

2.6.5 – Drafting and Signing

  

[LEFT]: Delegates Voting: Reproduction of secretary’s handwritten records of votes conducted at the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, as published in Farrand’s Records, Volume 1 (1911).
[RIGHT]: George Washington: George Washington; Oil on canvas, 361/2″ x 273/4″ (circa 1787-1790).

Once the final modifications had been made, the Committee of Style and Arrangement was appointed “to revise the style of and arrange the articles which had been agreed to by the house.” Unlike other committees this final committee included no representatives from smaller states. Its members were mostly in favor of a strong national government and unsympathetic to calls for states’ rights.

For three days, the Convention compared this final version with the proceedings of the Convention. The Constitution was ordered engrossed on Saturday, September 15 by Jacob Shallus, and it was submitted for signing on September 17. George Washington signed the document first. Moving by state delegation from north to south, as had been the custom throughout the Convention, the delegates filed to the front of the room to sign their names. As the final delegates were signing the document, Benjamin Franklin commented on the painting of a sun behind Washington’s chair at the front of the room. He said he often looked at the painting, “without being able to tell, whether it was rising or setting. But now at length, I have the happiness to know it is a rising, and not a setting sun. ” The Constitution was then submitted to the states for ratification, as stipulated by Article VII.

3 – The Constitution

3.1 – Introduction

Adopted on September 17, 1787, the Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America.

3.1.1 – Overview

The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States of America. The first three articles of the Constitution establish the rules and separate powers of the three branches of the federal government: a legislature, the bicameral Congress which is an executive branch led by the President, and a federal judiciary headed by the Supreme Court. The last four articles frame the principle of federalism. The 10th Amendment confirms its federal characteristics.

United States Constitution: In the U.S. Constitution, the Taxing and Spending clause gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation.

The Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787 by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was ratified by conventions in 11 states. It went into effect on March 4, 1789. The first 10 constitutional amendments ratified by three-fourths of the states in 1791 are known as the Bill of Rights. The Constitution has been amended 17 additional times – for a total of 27 amendments – and its principles are applied in courts of law by judicial review.

The Constitution guides American society in law and political culture. It is the oldest written national constitution in continuous use. It influenced later international figures establishing national constitutions.

3.1.2 – Historical Influences

Magna Carta: The Magna Carta of 1215 was written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin using standard abbreviations of the period. It was authenticated with the Great Seal of King John. The original wax seal was lost over the centuries. This document is held at the British Library identified as The British Library, Cotton MS. Augustus II.

Several ideas found in the Constitution were new. These were associated with the combination of consolidated government along with federal relationships with constituent states. The due process clause of the Constitution was partially based on common law and on Magna Carta (1215, ), which had become a foundation of English liberty against arbitrary power wielded by a tyrant. Both the influence of Edward Coke and William Blackstone were evident at the Convention. In his Institutes of the Laws of England, Edward Coke interpreted Magna Carta protections and rights to apply not just to nobles, but to all British subjects.

Thomas Hobbes: The English political theorist Thomas Hobbes was very influential to the Founding Fathers when the created the Constitution of the United States.

Following the Glorious Revolution, British political philosopher John Locke was a major influence expanding on the contract theory of government advanced by Thomas Hobbes. Locke advanced the principle of consent of the governed in his Two Treatises of Government. Government’s duty under a social contract among the sovereign people was to serve them by protecting their rights. These basic rights were life, liberty, and property. Montesquieu emphasized the need for balanced forces pushing against each other to prevent tyranny. In The Spirit of the Laws, Montesquieu argues that the separation of state powers should be by its service to the people’s liberty: legislative, executive, and judicial.
Changing the “fundamental law” is a two-part process with three steps: amendments are proposed, then they must be ratified by the states. An amendment can be proposed one of two ways. Both ways have two steps. It can be proposed by Congress and ratified by the states. Or it can be on demand of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Congress could call a constitutional convention to propose an amendment, then it would be ratified by the states. To date, all amendments, whether ratified or not, have been proposed by a two-thirds vote in each house of Congress. Over 10,000 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789. During the last several decades, between 100 and 200 amendments have been offered in a typical congressional year.The Amendments

The Constitution has 27 amendments. The first 10, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified simultaneously by 1791. The next 17 were ratified separately over the next two centuries.

3.1.3 – Civic Religion and Worldwide Influence

There is a viewpoint that some Americans have come to see the documents of the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, as being a cornerstone of a type of civic religion. This is suggested by the prominent display of the Constitution, along with the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. They are kept in massive, bronze-framed, bulletproof, moisture-controlled glass containers vacuum-sealed in a rotunda during the day. At night they are housed in the National Archives Building in multi-ton bomb-proof vaults.

The United States Constitution has had a considerable influence worldwide on later constitutions. International leaders have followed it as a model within their own traditions. These leaders include Benito Juarez of Mexico, Jose Rizal of the Philippines, and Sun Yat-sen of China.

3.2 – The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is a series of limitations on the power of the U.S. government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property.

3.2.1 – Introduction

Bill of Rights: The First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of petition protect lobbying, including grassroots lobbying.

The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments of the United States Constitution. It is a series of limitations on the power of the U.S. federal government, protecting the natural rights of liberty and property including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, a free press, free assembly, and free association, as well as the right to keep and bear arms. In federal criminal cases, the Bill of Rights requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital or “infamous crime”, guarantees a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury composed of members of the state or judicial district in which the crime occurred, and prohibits double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights reserves for the people any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States.

3.2.2 – Articles of Confederation

Articles of Confederation: The Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1781. This was the format for the United States government until the Constitution.

Prior to the acceptance and implementation of the United States Constitution, the original 13 colonies followed the stipulations and agreements set forth in the Articles of Confederation, created by the Second Continental Congress and ratified in 1781. The Articles of Confederation established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution. The national government that operated under the Articles of Confederation was too weak however to adequately regulate the various conflicts that arose between the states. The Philadelphia Convention set out to correct weaknesses inherent in the Articles of Confederation. The newly constituted Federal government included a strong executive branch, a stronger legislative branch and an independent judiciary.

3.2.3 – The Philadelphia Convention

Delegates arrived at the Philadelphia Convention on September 12, 1787, to debate whether to include a Bill of Rights in the body of the U.S. Constitution. An agreement to create the Bill of Rights helped secure ratification of the Constitution itself. Ideological conflict between Federalists and anti-Federalists threatened the final ratification of the new national Constitution. Thus, the Bill addressed the concerns of some of the Constitution’s influential opponents, who argued that the Constitution should not be ratified because it failed to protect the fundamental principles of human liberty.

3.2.4 – Ideas Behind the Bill of Rights

To some degree, the Bill of Rights incorporated the ideas of John Locke, who argued in his 1689 work, Two Treatises of Government,that civil society was created for the protection of property. Locke also advanced the notion that each individual is free and equal in the state of nature. He expounded on the idea of natural rights that are inherent to all individuals.

John Locke: Author of Two Treatises of Government (1689) which argued that civil society was created for the protection of property. This piece was influential in the creation of the Bill of Rights.

Locke’s political theory was founded on social contract theory. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance. Like Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature allowed men to be selfish. Like Hobbes, Locke assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society. However, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day. Locke also advocated governmental separation of powers and believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some circumstances. These ideas would come to have profound influence on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Adoption and Ramification

As the author of the amendments, James Madison submitted his proposal for the ten amendments on June 8, 1789. Madison’s proposal was reworked and adopted as seventeen amendments by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, and forwarded to the Senate on August 24. The House version rejected Madison’s idea to incorporate the amendments into the body of the Constitution and instead submitted its seventeen articles to be attached separately “in addition to, and amendment of, the Constitution. ” The Senate edited the House’s proposed seventeen amendments and adopted a version with twelve amendments. The two versions went to the Joint Committee and the Senate’s version became the one adopted by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, to be forwarded to the states on September 28.

3.2.5 – Legacy of the Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. In 1991, the Bill of Rights toured the country in honor of its bicentennial, visiting the capitals of all fifty states.

3.3 – The Legislative Branch

The legislative branch is represented by Congress, a bicameral chamber consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

3.3.1 – The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution consists of a preamble, seven original articles, twenty-seven amendments, and a paragraph certifying its enactment by the constitutional convention. Article I of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, the legislative branch of the federal government. To establish the powers of and limitations of the Congress, the Article addresses the creation of the House of Representatives, which is composed of Representatives from each state. The number of representatives for each state is dependent upon the size of the population. The Article also establishes that there will be two Senators from each state.

Johnson’s Impeachment: The Senate functioning as the Court of Impeachment for the Trial of Andrew Johnson.

The House and Senate are equal partners in the legislative process—legislation cannot be enacted without the consent of both chambers. However, the Constitution grants each chamber some unique powers. The Senate ratifies treaties and approves presidential appointments, while the House of Representatives initiates revenue-raising bills. The House initiates impeachment cases, while the Senate decides impeachment cases. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required before an impeached person can be forcibly removed from office.

3.3.2 – Powers of Congress

Congress has authority over financial and budgetary policy through the enumerated power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States. Moreover, Congress has an important role in national defense, including the exclusive power to declare war, to raise and maintain the armed forces, and to make rules for the military. Congress can establish post offices and post roads, issue patents and copyrights, fix standards of weights and measures, and establish Courts inferior to the Supreme Court.

One of Congress’ foremost non-legislative functions is the power to investigate and oversee the executive branch. Congressional oversight is usually delegated to committees and is facilitated by Congress’ subpoena power. A good historical example of Congressional Oversight was the investigation of President Richard Nixon and Watergate.

The Executive branch and political parties and major sources of legislation. For example, the President can use his power to hand a member of Congress the content of a major bill to introduce in the house. Another souce of legislation are Courts. Judges and Justies make law everytime they struckdown laws and provide the new precedent for future legislation. The only institutions that are not sources for legislative ideas are government departments and agencies.

3.3.3 – The House of Representatives

The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses in the United States Congress. The major power of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the entire country, although its bills must also be passed by the Senate and further agreed to by the President before becoming law. The House has several exclusive powers: the power to initiate revenue bills, to impeach officials, and to elect the U.S. President in case there is no majority in the Electoral College.

Each state is represented in the House in proportion to its population, but is entitled to at least one representative. The most populous state, California, currently has 53 representatives. The total number of voting representatives is fixed by law at 435. Each representative serves for a two-year term. The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, who presides over the chamber, is elected by the members of the House, and is therefore traditionally the leader of the House Democratic Caucus or the House Republican Conference, whichever of the two Congressional Membership Organizations has more voting members.

Elections for representatives are held in every even-numbered year, and on Election Day, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. By law, Representatives must be elected from single-member districts by plurality voting.

3.3.4 – The Senate

The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Each state is represented by two senators, regardless of population. Senators serve staggered six-year terms. The chamber of the United States Senate is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., the national capital.

U.S. Capitol: This is an image of the western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

The Senate has several exclusive powers not granted to the House, including consenting to treaties as a precondition to their ratification. The Senate also confirms appointments of Cabinet secretaries, federal judges, other federal executive officials, military officers, regulatory officials, ambassadors, and other federal uniformed officers, as well as trial of federal officials impeached by the House. The Vice President of the United States is the ex officio President of the Senate, with authority to preside over the Senate’s sessions, although he can vote only to break a tie.

Senators are regarded as more prominent political figures than members of the House of Representatives because there are fewer of them, and because they serve for longer terms, usually represent larger constituencies.

3.4 – The Executive Branch

The executive power in the government is vested in the President and Vice-President of the United States, the Cabinet and federal agencies.

3.4.1 – Introduction

The executive power in the federal government is vested in the President of the United States, although power is often delegated to the Cabinet members and other officials. The head of the Executive Branch is the President of the United States. The President and the Vice President are elected every four years; they are elected as running mates by the Electoral College. Each state, as well as the District of Columbia, is allocated a number of seats in the Electoral College based on its representation in both houses of Congress. The President is limited to a maximum of two four-year terms. If the President has already served two years or more of a term to which some other person was elected, he may only serve one more additional four-year term.

3.4.2 – President of the United States

President Donald J. Trump

The executive branch consists of the president and those to whom the President’s powers are delegated. The President is both the head of state and government, as well as the military commander-in-chief and chief diplomat. The President, according to the Constitution, must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed”, and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. ” The President presides over the executive branch of the federal government, an organization numbering about 5 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel and 600,000 postal service employees.

The people indirectly elect the President to a four-year term through the Electoral College; the president is one of only two nationally elected federal officers. The Twenty-second Amendment, adopted in 1951, prohibits anyone from being elected to the presidency for a third full term. It also prohibits anyone who has previously served as President for more than two years of another person’s presidential term, or who has acted as President, from being elected to the presidency more than once. In all, 43 individuals have served 55 four-year terms. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama became our 44th President and current President.

In the United States, a person must be at least 35 to be President or Vice President, 30 to be a Senator, or 25 to be a Representative, as specified in the U.S. Constitution. Most states in the U.S. also have age requirements for the offices of Governor, State Senator, and State Representative. Some states have a minimum age requirement to hold any elected office (usually 21 or 18). Most states will not allow ballot access to people who do not meet the age requirement of the office they are running for.Eligibility Criteria

Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets the requirements to hold office. A president must:

  • be a natural-born citizen of the United States;
  • be at least thirty-five years old;
  • have been a permanent resident in the United States for at least fourteen years.

3.4.3 – Vice President of the United States

Vice President Michael Pence

The vice president is the second-highest ranked executive official of the government. As first in the line of presidential succession in the U.S., the Vice President becomes President upon the death, resignation, or removal of the President. Transitions of this type have happened nine times in U.S. history.

Under the Constitution, the Vice President is President of the Senate. By virtue of this role, he or she is the head of the Senate. In that capacity, the Vice President is allowed to vote in the Senate, but only when necessary to break a tie vote. While the Vice President’s only constitutionally prescribed functions, aside from presidential succession, relate to his or her role as President of the Senate, the office is now commonly viewed as a member of the executive branch of the federal government. The current Vice President is Joseph Biden.

3.4.4 – Cabinet of the United States

The Cabinet of the United States is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, who are generally the heads of the federal executive departments. All Cabinet officers are nominated by the President and then presented to the Senate for confirmation or rejection by a simple majority. If they are approved, they are sworn in and then begin their duties.Cabinet of the United States

Aside from the Attorney General, and formerly the Postmaster General, they all receive the title of Secretary. Members of the Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the President, which means that the President may dismiss them or reappoint them (to other posts) at will. Positions in the Cabinet include Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General.

3.5 – The Judicial Branch

Organized under the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court and federal courts make up the judiciary branch of the United States.

3.5.1 – Introduction

The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary generally does not make law or enforce law, but rather it interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. The judiciary branch is often tasked with ensuring equal justice under law. It consists of a court of final appeal in addition to lower courts.

The United States federal courts make up the judiciary branch of federal government. These courts are organized under the United States Constitution and laws of the federal government. In the United States court system, the Supreme Court is the final authority on the interpretation of the federal Constitution as well as the constitutionality of the various state laws. In the US federal court system, federal cases are tried in trial courts, known as the US district courts, followed by appellate courts and then the Supreme Court. State courts, which try 98% of litigation, are subject to the jurisdiction of each state. The judicial system begins with a court of first instance, is appealed to an appellate court, and then ends at the court of last resort.

3.5.2 – Supreme Court of the United States

Supreme Court Justices 2017-Present

The U.S. Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law. It also has original jurisdiction over a small range of cases. The Court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the President of the United States appoints justices “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. ” Most presidents nominate candidates who broadly share their ideological views, although a justice’s decisions may end up being contrary to a president’s expectations. Because the Constitution sets no qualifications for service as a justice, a president may nominate anyone to serve, subject to Senate confirmation.

Before 1981, the approval process of justices was usually rapid. From the Truman through Nixon administrations, justices were typically approved within one month. From the Reagan administration through the present, the process has taken much longer. Some believe this is because Congress views justices as playing a more political role than in the past.Under the U.S. Constitution, the President of the United States appoints justices “by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. ” Most presidents nominate candidates who broadly share their ideological views, although a justice’s decisions may end up being contrary to a president’s expectations. Because the Constitution sets no qualifications for service as a justice, a president may nominate anyone to serve, subject to Senate confirmation.

3.5.3 – United States Court of Appeals

The United States courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system. A court of appeals decides appeals from the district courts within its federal judicial circuit, and in some instances from other designated federal courts and administrative agencies. The United States Courts of Appeals are considered among the most powerful and influential courts in the United States. Because of their ability to set legal precedent in regions that cover millions of people, the United States Courts of Appeals have strong policy influence on U.S. law.

U.S Court of Appeals and District Courts map: Map of the geographic boundaries of the various United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts.

There currently are thirteen United States courts of appeals. The eleven “numbered” circuits and the D.C. Circuit are geographically defined. The thirteenth court of appeals is the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which has nationwide jurisdiction over certain appeals based on their subject matter. Currently, there are 179 judges on the United States Courts of Appeals authorized by Congress and Article III of the U.S. Constitution. These judges are nominated by the President of the United States, and if confirmed by the United States Senate, have lifetime tenure. They earn an annual salary of $184,500.

3.5.4 – United States District Courts

The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States district court. Each federal judicial district has at least one courthouse, and many districts have more than one. In contrast to the Supreme Court, which was established by Article III of the Constitution, the district courts were established by Congress. There is at least one judicial district for each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. There are eighty-nine districts in the fifty states, with a total of ninety-four districts including territories.

3.6 – Federalism

Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States.

3.6.1 – Introduction

Federalism around the World: A map showing countries currently organized along federalist principles in green.

Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant with a governing representative head. The term “federalism” is also used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units. Federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and state governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.

3.6.2 – History of Federalism in the United States

Federalism in the United States is the evolving relationship between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States. Since the founding of the country, and particularly with the end of the American Civil War, power shifted away from the states and toward the national government.

Federalism in the United States: The United States is composed of fifty self-governing states and several territories.

Originally, federalism was the most influential political movement arising out of discontent with the Articles of Confederation, which focused on limiting the authority of the federal government. In 1787, fifty-five delegates met at a Constitutional convention in Philadelphia and generated ideas for a bicameral legislature, balanced representation of small and large states, and checks and balances. Once the convention concluded and released the Constitution for public consumption, the Federalist movement became focused on getting the Constitution ratified.

The most forceful defense of the new Constitution was The Federalist Papers, a compilation of eighty-five anonymous essays published in New York City to convince the people of the state to vote for ratification. These articles, written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, with some contributed by John Jay, examined the benefits of the new, proposed Constitution, and analyzed the political theory and function behind the various articles of the Constitution. The Federalist Papers remains one of the most important documents in American political science.

The Federalist Papers: Title page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers.

In 1789, Congress submitted twelve articles of amendment to the states. Ten of these articles, written by Madison, achieved passage on December 15, 1791 and became the Bill of Rights. The Tenth Amendment set the guidelines for federalism in the United States. The Tenth Amendment states the Constitution’s principle of federalism by providing that powers not granted to the federal government nor prohibited to the States by the Constitution are reserved to the States or the people.

3.6.3 – Dual Federalism, Cooperative Federalism, and New Federalism

Dual federalism is a theory of federal constitutional law in the United States according to which governmental power is divided into two separate spheres. One sphere of power belongs to the federal government of the United States while the other severally belongs to each constituent state. Each sphere is mutually equal, exclusive, and limiting upon the other sphere, and each entity is supreme within its own sphere. The theory originated within the Jacksonian democracy movement as backlash against the mercantilist American System and supported centralization of government under the Adams administration during the 1820s. With an emphasis on local autonomy and individual liberty, the theory served to unite the principles held by multiple sectional interests: the republican principles of northerners, the pro-slavery ideology of southern planters, and the laissez-faire entrepreneurialism of western interests.

The Great Depression marked an abrupt end to Dual Federalism and a dramatic shift to a strong national government. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policies reached into the lives of U.S. citizens like no other federal measure had. The national government was forced to cooperate with all levels of government to implement the New Deal policies; local government earned an equal standing with the other layers, as the federal government relied on political machines at a city level to bypass state legislatures. This became known as Cooperative Federalism.

Another movement calling itself “New Federalism” appeared in the late 20th century and early 21st century. New Federalism, which is characterized by a gradual return of power to the states, was initiated by President Ronald Reagan (1981–1989) with his “devolution revolution” in the early 1980s and lasted until 2001.. Previously, the federal government had granted money to the states categorically, limiting the states to use this funding for specific programs. Reagan’s administration, however, introduced a practice of giving block grants, freeing state governments to spend the money at their own discretion. New Federalism is sometimes called “states’ rights”, although its proponents usually eschew the latter term because of its associations with Jim Crow and segregation.

3.7 – Constitutional Limits

The United States adheres to the principles of a constitutionally limited government in the three branches of government.

3.7.1 – Introduction

United States Constitution: “We the People”, as it appears in an original copy of the Constitution.

A constitutionally limited government is a system of government that is bound to certain principles of action by a state constitution. This system of government is dialectically opposed to pragmatism, on the basis that no state action can be made that conflicts with its constitution, regardless of the action’s possible consequences. An example of a constitutionally limited government is the United States of America, which is a constitutionally limited republic. Correspondingly, constitutionalism has a variety of meanings. Most generally, it is “a complex of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law.” In the United States Constitution, several articles and sections describe and specify the limits set upon the federal and state governments in the Union.

3.7.2 – Legislature

Article I, Section 9 lists eight specific limits on congressional power. It includes sections such as “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken” and “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

3.4.3 – Executive

Twenty-Fifth Amendment: Joint Resolution Proposing the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, page 1.

Article II, Section 1 creates the presidency. The section vests the executive power in a President. The President and Vice President serve identical four-year terms. This section originally set the method of electing the President and Vice President, but this method has been superseded by the Twelfth Amendment. More importantly, Section 2 grants and limits the president’s appointment powers: “The president may make treaties, with the advice and consent of the Senate, provided two-thirds of the senators who are present agree;” “With the advice and consent of the Senate, the President may appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States whose appointments are not otherwise described in the Constitution;” and “Congress may give the power to appoint lower officers to the President alone, to the courts, or to the heads of departments. ” In addition, the Twenty-fifth Amendment limits the presidency to two terms.

3.4.4 – Self-Restraint

The Supreme Court has developed a system of doctrine and practice that self-limits is power of judicial review. The Court controls almost all of its business by choosing what cases to consider, writs of certiorari. In this way it can avoid expressing an opinion if it sees an issue is currently embarrassing or difficult. The Supreme Court limits itself by defining for itself what is a “justiciable question. ” First, the Court is fairly consistent in refusing to make any “advisory opinions” in advance of actual cases. Second, “friendly suits” between those of the same legal interest are not considered. Third, the Court requires a “personal interest,” not one generally held, and a legally protected right must be immediately threatened by government action. Cases are not taken up if the litigant has no standing to sue. Having the money to sue or being injured by government action alone are not enough.

3.4.5 – Codified and Uncodified Constitutions

A constitution is a set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is. When these principles are written down into a single document or set of legal documents, those documents may be said to embody a written constitution; if they are written down in a single comprehensive document, it is said to embody a codified constitution.

Codified constitutions are often the product of some dramatic political change, such as a revolution. States that have codified constitutions normally give the constitution supremacy over ordinary statute law. Some constitutions are largely, but not wholly, codified. As of 2013, only two sovereign states have uncodified constitutions, namely New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Uncodified constitutions are the product of an “evolution” of laws and conventions over centuries. By contrast to codified constitutions (in the Westminster System that originated in England), uncodified constitutions include written sources.

3.5 – Limited Government

In a limited government, the power of government to intervene in the exercise of civil liberties is restricted by constitutional law.

3.5.1 – Introduction

In a limited government, the power of government to intervene in the exercise of civil liberties is restricted by law, usually in a written constitution. It is a principle of classical liberalism, free market libertarianism, and some tendencies of liberalism and conservatism in the United States. The theory of limited government contrasts, for example, with the idea that government should intervene to promote equality and opportunity through regulation of property and wealth redistribution.

3.5.2 – Limited Government in the United States

The Federalist Papers: Title page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers.

A constitutionally limited government is a system of government that is bound to certain principles of action by a state constitution. This system of government is dialectically opposed to pragmatism, on the basis that no state action can be made that conflicts with its constitution, regardless of the action’s possible consequence. The United States of America, a constitutionally limited republic, is an example of a constitutionally limited government.

In the United States, as discussed in the Federalist Papers, the idea of limited government originally implied the notion of a separation of powers and the system of checks and balances promoted by the U.S. Constitution. This understanding of limited government maintains that government is internally limited by the system of checks and balances (as well as the Constitution itself, which can be amended), and externally through the republican principle of electoral accountability. Such an understanding of limited government, as explained by James Madison, does not place arbitrary and ideologically biased parameters on the actions of a government, thus allowing government to change as time demands.

3.5.3 – Ninth and Tenth Amendments

In 1789, James Madison presented to the First United States Congress a series of ten amendments to the United States Constitution, today known as the Bill of Rights. After enumerating specific rights retained by the people in the first eight amendments, the Ninth Amendment and the Tenth Amendment summarily spelled out the principle of limited government. Together, these two last amendments clarify the differences between the enumerated rights of the people versus the expressly codified delegated powers of the federal government. The Ninth Amendment codified that the rights of the people do not have to be expressly written in the Constitution to still be retained by the people. Reversely, though, the Tenth Amendment codified that any delegated powers of the federal government are only authorized to be performed so long as such delegated powers are expressly delegated to the federal government specifically by the Constitution. Government can do some things and not others.

Bill of Rights: The First Amendment rights of free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of petition protect lobbying, including grassroots lobbying.

The Constitution limits the power of the government in several ways. It prohibits the government from directly interfering with certain key areas: conscience, expression, and association. Other actions are forbidden to the federal government and are reserved to state or local governments.

3.5.4 – Differences with Other Doctrines

John of England signs Magna Carta, published ca. 1902: John of England signs Magna Carta. Illustration from Cassell’s History of England (1902).

“Limited government” stands in contrast to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, which states that the king, and by extension his entire government, held unlimited sovereignty over its subjects. Limited government exists where some effective limits restrict governmental power.

In Western civilization, the Magna Carta stands as the early exemplar of a document limiting the reach of the king’s sovereignty. While its limits protected only a small portion of the English population, it did state that the king’s barons possessed rights that they could assert against the king. The English Bill of Rights, associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1688, established limits of royal sovereignty. In contrast, and as stated above, the United States Constitution of 1787 created a government limited by the terms of the written document itself, by the election of the legislators and the executive by the people, and by the checks and balances through which the three branches of government limit each other’s power.

3.6 – Separation of Powers

Separation of powers is a doctrine in which each of the three branches of government have defined powers independent of each other.

3.6.1 – Introduction

  

[LEFT]: Montesquieu: Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, who urged for a constitutional government with three separate branches of government.
[RIGHT]: Portrait of John Marshall by Henry Inman (1832): Henry Inman painted his original portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall in September 1831, when the jurist sat for Inman in Philadelphia. This painting is a copy of Inman’s original that he made in 1832 for an engraver. John Marshall bought the painting for his daughter who passed it to her daughters. Marshall’s granddaughters lent the portrait to the Virginia State Library in 1874 and the surviving granddaughter bequeathed it to the Library in 1920.

Separation of powers is a political doctrine originating from the writings of Montesquieu in The Spirit of the Laws in which he urges for a constitutional government with three separate branches of government. Each of the three branches would have defined powers to check the powers of the other branches. This idea was called separation of powers. This philosophy heavily influenced the writing of the United States Constitution, according to which the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the United States government are kept distinct in order to prevent abuse of power. This United States form of separation of powers is associated with a system of checks and balances.

3.6.2 – Executive Power

The impeachment trial of President Clinton: Floor proceedings of the U.S. Senate, in session during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton.

Executive power is vested, with exceptions and qualifications, in the President. By law, the president becomes the Commander in Chief of the Army, Navy, and Militia of several states when called into service, and has power to make treaties and appointments to office. The Constitution empowers the president to ensure the faithful execution of the laws made by Congress. Congress may terminate such appointments by impeachment, and restrict the president. The president’s responsibility is to execute instructions given by Congress. Bodies such as the War Claims Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission all have direct Congressional oversight.

3.6.3 – Judicial Power

Judicial power—the power to decide cases and controversies—is vested in the Supreme Court and inferior courts established by Congress. The judges must be appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, hold office during good behavior, and receive compensations that may not be diminished during their continuance in office. If a court’s judges do not have such attributes, the court may not exercise the judicial power of the United States. Courts exercising the judicial power are called “constitutional courts.”

3.6.4 – Alternative Model: The Parliamentary System

In a parliamentary system, the head of state is normally a different person from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system in a democracy, where the head of state often is also the head of government, and most importantly: the executive branch does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature. The Parliamentary system can be contrasted with a presidential system which operates under a stricter separation of powers, whereby the executive does not form part of, nor is appointed by, the parliamentary or legislative body. In such a system, congresses do not select or dismiss heads of governments, and governments cannot request an early dissolution as may be the case for parliaments. Since the legislative branch has more power over the executive branch in a parliamentary system, a notable amount of studies by political scientists have shown that parliamentary systems show lower levels of corruption than presidential systems of government.

3.7 – Checks and Balances

To get the three branches of government to cooperate, a system of checks and balances was created to achieve a fair separation of powers.

3.7.1 – Introduction

To prevent one branch of government from becoming too powerful, protect the minority from the majority, and induce the branches to cooperate, governments often employ a system of “checks and balances. ” Like the concept of separation of powers, this idea is credited to Montesquieu. Through this system, each branch of government “checks,” or limits, the other two so that the power shared between them is balanced. An example of this is the president’s veto power: the president can limit Congress’s power by vetoing a bill. However, the legislative branch can overturn this veto with a two-thirds majority in both of the houses, thus maintaining the balance.

3.7.2 – Legislative

The legislative branch of the United States checks and monitors the executive and judicial branches. The legislative passes bills, has broad taxing and spending power, controls the federal budget, and has power to borrow money on the credit of the United States. It has sole power to declare war, as well as to raise, support, and regulate the military. Further, the legislative branch is responsible for the ratification of treaties signed by the President and gives advice and consent to presidential appointments to the federal judiciary, federal executive departments, and other posts (Senate only). Lastly, the legislative has sole power of impeachment (House of Representatives) and trial of impeachments (Senate); it can also remove federal executive and judicial officers from office for high crimes and misdemeanors.

3.7.3 – Executive

The legislative branch of the United States checks and monitors the executive and judicial branches. The legislative passes bills, has broad taxing and spending power, controls the federal budget, and has power to borrow money on the credit of the United States. It has sole power to declare war, as well as to raise, support, and regulate the military. Further, the legislative branch is responsible for the ratification of treaties signed by the President and gives advice and consent to presidential appointments to the federal judiciary, federal executive departments, and other posts (Senate only). Lastly, the legislative has sole power of impeachment (House of Representatives) and trial of impeachments (Senate); it can also remove federal executive and judicial officers from office for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The President exercises a check over Congress through his power to veto bills, but Congress may override any veto by a two-thirds majority in each house. When the two houses of Congress cannot agree on a date for adjournment, the president may settle the dispute. Either house or both houses may be called into emergency session by the president. The Vice President serves as president of the Senate, but he may only vote to break a tie.

The president, as noted above, appoints judges with the Senate’s advice and consent. He also has the power to issue pardons and reprieves. Such pardons are not subject to confirmation by either the House of Representatives or the Senate, or even to acceptance by the recipient. Many pardons have been controversial. Critics argue that pardons have been used more often for the sake of political expediency than to correct judicial error. One of the more famous recent pardons was granted by President Gerald Ford to former President Richard Nixon on September 8, 1974, for official misconduct that gave rise to the Watergate scandal. Polls showed a majority of Americans disapproved of the pardon, and Ford’s public-approval ratings tumbled afterward.

The President is the civilian Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. It is generally understood that he has the authority to command them to take appropriate military action in the event of a sudden crisis. However, only the Congress is explicitly granted the power to declare war, as well as to raise, fund, and maintain the armed forces. Congress also has the duty and authority to prescribe the laws and regulations under which the armed forces operate, such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and requires that all Generals and Admirals appointed by the president be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate before they can assume their office.

3.7.4 – Judiciary

Courts check both the executive branch and the legislative branch through judicial review. This concept is not written into the Constitution, but was envisioned by many of the Constitution’s Framers. Judicial review in the United States refers to the power of a court to review the constitutionality of a statute or treaty, or to review an administrative regulation for consistency with either a statute, a treaty, or the Constitution itself. The Supreme Court ‘s landmark decision on the issue of judicial review was Marbury v. Madison (1803, ), in which the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have the duty to review the constitutionality of acts of Congress and to declare them void when they are contrary to the Constitution. Marbury, written by Chief Justice John Marshall, was the first Supreme Court case to strike down an act of Congress as unconstitutional. Since that time, the federal courts have exercised the power of judicial review.

Supreme Court: The Supreme Court holds the power to overturn laws and executive actions they deem unlawful or unconstitutional.

The judiciary also has involvement in the impeachment process of a president. The Chief Justice presides in the Senate during a president’s impeachment trial. The rules of the Senate, however, generally do not grant much authority to the presiding officer. Thus, the Chief Justice’s role in this regard is limited.

4 – Ratification of the Constitution

4.1 – Federalists and Anti-Federalists

While the Constitutional Convention was held to revise the Articles of Confederation, an entirely new constitution was drafted.

4.1.2 – The Constitutional Convention

In 1787, a convention was called in Philadelphia with the declared purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. However, many delegates intended to use this convention to draft a new constitution. All states except for Rhode Island sent delegates, though not all delegates attended the Convention. At the Convention, the primary issue was representation of the states. Under the Articles, each state had one vote in Congress. The more populous states wanted representation to be based on population (proportional representation). James Madison of Virginia crafted the Virginia Plan, which guaranteed proportional representation and granted wide powers to the Congress. The smaller states, on the other hand, supported equal representation through William Paterson’s New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan also increased the Congress’ power, but it did not go nearly as far as the Virginia Plan. The conflict threatened to end the Convention, but Roger Sherman of Connecticut proposed the “Great Compromise” (or Connecticut Compromise) under which one house of Congress would be based on proportional representation, and the other house would be based on equal representation. Eventually, the Compromise was accepted, and the Convention was saved.

Compromises were important in settling other disputes at the Convention. The Three-Fifths Compromise designated that three-fifths of slave population would be counted toward representation in Congress. In another compromise, the Congress agreed to ban slave trade after 1808. Similarly, issues relating to the empowerment and election of the President were resolved. This led to the Electoral College system in choosing the Chief Executive of the nation.

4.1.3 – Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists

Alexander Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton was a key player at the Constitutional Convention.

The Constitution required ratification by nine states in order to come into effect. The fight for ratification was long and difficult. The Constitution was to be ratified by special ratifying conventions, not by state legislature. Interested in retaining power, states were resistant to ratifying a new, stronger central government. Those who favored ratification were known as Federalists,while those who opposed it were considered Anti- Federalists.The Federalists attacked the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. On the other hand, the Anti-Federalists also supported a House of Representative with substantive power. They acknowledged that the Constitution was not perfect, but they said that it was much better than any other proposal. Three Federalists—Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay—wrote a series of essays called The Federalist Papers. These essays explained the Constitution and defended its provisions. The documents were intended for the state of New York, though people from across the country read them. The Federalists defended the weakest point of the Constitution—a lack of a Bill of Rights—by suggesting that current protections were sufficient and that the Congress could always propose Amendments. Anti-Federalists such as Patrick Henry attacked the Constitution, suggesting that it would lead to a dangerously powerful national government. One of the Anti-Federalist’s strongest arguments was the Constitution’s lack of a Bill of Rights. Many Anti-Federalists were eventually persuaded by the Federalists’ arguments.

4.2 – The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers were written between 1788-9 and encouraged people to ask their representatives to ratify the Constitution.

The Federalist Papers: Title page of the first printing of the Federalist Papers.

During 1788 and 1789, there were 85 essays published in several New York State newspapers, designed to convince New York and Virginia voters to ratify the Constitution. The three people who are generally acknowledged for writing these essays are Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. Since Hamilton, Madison, and Jay were considered Federalists, this series of essays became known as The Federalist Papers. One of the most famous Federalist Papers is Federalist No. 10, which was written by Madison and argues that the checks and balances in the Constitution prevent the government from falling victim to factions. Anti-Federalists did not support ratification. Madison also wrote Federalist No. 51, under the name “Publius” or “Public. ” He argues here that each branch of government would not be dependent on other branches and, thus, forming factions within the national government. That way, the government can work in the best interests of the people and not each other.

Many individuals, such as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, were Anti-Federalists. The Anti-Federalists had several complaints with the Constitution. One of their biggest was that the Constitution did not provide for a Bill of Rights protecting the people. They also thought the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government and too little to individual states. A third complaint of the Anti-Federalists was that senators and the president were not directly elected by the people, and the House of Representatives was elected every two years instead of annually. On December 7, 1787, Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12, and New Jersey ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. By summer 1788, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York had ratified the Constitution, and it went into effect. On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but it relented and ratified it a year later.

4.3 – Ratification of the Constitution

In order for all states to ratify, a compromise over a bill of rights had to be made.

4.3.1 – Introduction

Delaware was the first state to ratify the Constitution on December 7, 1787. The vote was unanimous, 30-0. Pennsylvania followed on December 12 and New Jersey ratified on December 18, also in a unanimous vote. The Constitution went into effect by the summer of 1788 after the following states had ratified the Constitution: Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, and New York.

On August 2, 1788, North Carolina refused to ratify the Constitution without amendments, but relented and ratified it a year later. North Carolina was not the only state that wanted amendments. New York and Virginia ratified the Constitution under the condition that a Bill of Rights be added. On September 26, 1789, Congress sent a list of twelve amendments to the states for ratification. Ten of the amendments would become the Bill of Rights.

Congress of Confederation and the Constitution: The signing of the Constitution of the United States.

North Carolina ratified the Constitution in November of 1789, followed by Rhode Island in May 1790. Vermont became the last state to ratify the Constitution on January 10, 1791.

4.3.2 – The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights was enacted on December 15, 1791. Here is a summary of the ten amendments ratified on that day:

  • Amendment 1: Establishes freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and petition.
  • Amendment 2: Establishes the right to keep and bear arms.
  • Amendment 3: Bans the forced quartering of soldiers.
  • Amendment 4: Interdiction of unreasonable searches and seizures; a search warrant is required to search persons or property.
  • Amendment 5: Details the concepts of indictments, due process, self-incrimination, double jeopardy, and rules for eminent domain.
  • Amendment 6: Establishes rights to a fair and speedy public trial, to a notice of accusations, to confront the accuser, to subpoenas, and to counsel.
  • Amendment 7: Provides for the right to trial by jury in civil cases.
  • Amendment 8: Bans cruel and unusual punishment, and excessive fines or bail.
  • Amendment 9: Lists unremunerated rights.
  • Amendment 10: Limits the powers of the federal government to only those specifically granted by the constitution.

5 – Amending the Constitution

5.1 – Introduction

5.1.1 – Article V

To protect the Constitution from hasty alteration, the framers of the Constitution wrote Article V.

Constitutional Convention: The Framers supported a process that would allow the newly created constitution to change, but also made sure it could not be changed too quickly.

The Articles of Confederation made amending the law very difficult, as all states had to agree to an amendment before it could pass. A unanimous vote had the potential to completely stall crucial change. However, the Framers of the Constitution worried that too many changes would harm the democratic process. To protect the Constitution from hasty alteration, the framers wrote Article V. This article specified how to amend the Constitution, showing that the Constitution could adapt to changing conditions with an understanding that such changes required deliberation.

5.1.2 – Proposing and Ratifying Amendments

There are two ways to propose amendments: First, states may call for a convention. This has never been used due to fears it would reopen the entire Constitution for revision. The other way is for Congress to pass amendments by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.

There are two additional ways to approve an amendment: One is through ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. Alternatively, an amendment can be ratified by three-fourths of specially convoked state convention. This process was used during the Prohibition era. Those in favor of ending Prohibition feared that the 21st Amendment (set to repeal the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol) would be blocked by conservative state legislatures. On December 5, 1933, these so-called “wets” asked for specially called state conventions and ratified repeal. Thus it was proved that a constitutional amendment can be stopped by one-third of either chamber of Congress or one-fourth of state legislatures.

5.1.3 – Restrictions to the Amendment Process

The amendment process originally came with restrictions protecting some agreements that the Great Compromise had settled during the Constitutional Convention.

The Great Compromise (also called the Connecticut Compromise) was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In part, the agreement defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the US Constitution. It called for a bicameral legislature along with proportional representation in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally between the states.This agreement led to the Three-Fifths Compromise, which meant less populous Southern states were allowed to count three-fifths of all non-free people toward population counts and allocations.

Thus, Article V of the US Constitution, ratified in 1788, prohibited any constitutional amendments before 1808 which would affect the foreign slave trade, the tax on slave trade, or the direct taxation on provisions of the constitution. Also, no amendment may affect the equal representation of states in the Senate without a state’s consent.

5.2 – Formal Methods of Amending the Constitution

5.2.1 – Introduction

The formal processes of amending the constitution are the processes articulated in Article V of the Constitution. These are the Congressional method and the Constitutional Convention methods.

In theory the two houses first adopt a resolution indicating that they deem an amendment necessary. This procedure, however, has never actually been used. The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives instead directly proceed to the adoption of a joint resolution; thus, they mutually propose the amendment with the implication that both bodies “deem” the amendment to be “necessary. ” All amendments presented so far have been proposed and implemented as codicils, appended to the main body of the Constitution.

Amendment Proposal: Resolution proposing the nineteenth amendment.

If at least two-thirds of the legislatures of the states make the request, Congress is then required to call a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments. This provision, many scholars argue, allows for a check on the power of the Congress to limit potential constitutional amendments.The state legislatures have, in times past, used their power to apply for a national convention in order to pressure Congress into proposing a desired amendment.

A classic example of this was demonstrated starting in the late 1890s. During that period a movement to amend the Constitution to provide for the direct election of U.S. Senators caused such proposals to regularly pass the House of Representatives only to die in the Senate. As time went by, more and more state legislatures adopted resolutions demanding that a convention be called. In response to this pressure the Senate finally relented and approved what later became the Seventeenth Amendment for fear that such a convention—if permitted to assemble—might stray to include issues above and beyond the direct election of U.S. Senators.

The President has no formal role in the constitutional amendment process. Article One provides that “every order, resolution, or vote, to which the concurrence of the Senate and House of Representatives may be necessary (except on a question of adjournment) shall be presented to the President of the United States; and before the same shall take effect, shall be approved by him, or being disapproved by him, shall be repassed by two thirds of the Senate and House of Representatives. ”

As previously stated, the Constitution requires that at least two-thirds of the members present of both the House of Representatives and the Senate the agree to a joint resolution which proposes a constitutional amendment. However, in Hollingsworth v. Virginia (1798), the Supreme Court held that it is not necessary to place constitutional amendments before the President for signature and that, by the same logic, the President is powerless to veto a proposed constitutional amendment.

5.2.2 – Ratification

After being officially proposed, a constitutional amendment must then be ratified either by the legislatures of at least three-fourths of the states, or by conventions in the same proportion of states. Of the 27 amendments to the Constitution that have been ratified, Congress has specified the method of ratification through state conventions for only one: the 21st Amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1933.

Most states hold elections specifically for the purpose of choosing delegates to such conventions. New Mexico state law provides that the members of its legislature be the delegates at such a state ratification convention. It is unclear whether this New Mexico state law violates the United States Constitution.

Although a proposed amendment is effective after three-fourths of the states ratify it, states have, in many instances, ratified an amendment that has already become law, often for symbolic reasons. The states unanimously ratified the Bill of Rights; the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, providing for equal protection and due process; the Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting racial discrimination in voting; and the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women a federal constitutional right to vote. In several cases, the ratification process took over a century.

5.3 – Informal Methods of Amending the Constitution: Societal Change and Judicial Review

5.3.1 – Introduction

The United States Constitution can be changed informally. Informal amendments mean that the Constitution does not specifically list these processes as forms of amending the Constitution, but because of change in society or judicial review changed the rule of law de facto. These methods depend on interpretations of what the constitution says and on interpretive understanding of the underlying intent. This type of change occurs in two major forms: through circumstantial change and through judicial review.

5.3.2 – Societal Change

Sometimes society changes, leading to shifts in how constitutional rights are applied. For example, originally only land-holding white males could vote in federal elections. Due to a burgeoning middle class at the peak of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, society became focused on expanding rights for the middle and working classes. This led to the right to vote being extended to more and more people. However, formal recognition of the right of poor whites and black males, and later of women, was only fully secured in the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) and the Nineteenth Amendment (1920).

5.3.3 – Judicial Review

John Marshall established judicial review.

In the United States, federal and state courts at all levels, both appellate and trial, are able to review and declare the constitutionality of legislation relevant to any case properly within their jurisdiction. This means that they evaluate whether a law is or is not in agreement with the Constitution and its intent. In American legal language, “judicial review” refers primarily to the adjudication of constitutionality of statutes, especially by the Supreme Court of the United States. This is commonly held to have been established by Chief Justice John Marshall in the case of Marbury vs. Madison,which was argued before the Supreme Court in 1803. A number of other countries whose constitutions provide for such a review of constitutional compatibility of primary legislation have established special constitutional courts with authority to deal with this issue. In these systems, no other courts are competent to question the constitutionality of primary legislation.

5.4 – The Twenty-Seven Amendments of the U.S. Constitution

There are 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 being the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Bill of Rights: The Bill of Rights are the first 10 of 27 amendments to the Constitution, and serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property.

The other amendments have been added over time, mostly via the processes mentioned in Article V of the Constitution. The 11thsecures the right to sue a state. The 12th defines the election of President and Vice President and the fallback system if one should die in office. The 13th abolishes slavery. The 14th specifies the post-Civil War requirements and notes that freed slaves are citizens. The 15thspecifically dictates that all races have full rights. The 16th modifies the tax system. The 17th lays out the system for replacement of senators. The 18th banned alcohol. The 19th gives women the right to vote. The 20th patches some basic government functions. The 21stmakes the 18th amendment inactive, thereby un-banning alcohol. The 22nd amendment states that no one can be elected President more than 2 terms. The 23rd modifies the Electoral College. The 24th states that no one can be kept from voting because of tax status. The 25th reinforces the replacement system for the President and Vice President. The 26th moves the voting age to 18. The 27th deals with the payment of representatives.


Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless Political Science under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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