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The Constitution is important because it was expressly designed to limit powers into three co-ordinate branches, the legislative, executive, and judiciary branch; none of which was to have supremacy over the others. This separation of powers with the checks and balances which each branch was given over the others was designed to prevent any branch, from infringing individual liberties safeguarded by the Constitution. I think the U.S. Constitution was a way for the U.S. to establish government which was a negotiation between the two former governments, a monarchy and total state power. I think by creating the checks and balances, people’s rights would be safer and they would feel more secure not having one branch of government with absolute power. What I found most interesting about the Constitution was how complex and detailed the framers made it, to effectively explain and limit the individual branches of power in government. In the words of Thomas Paine, "a government without a constitution is power without right". Meaning that for power to be granted, it is necessary to establish a constitution.

The Federalist Papers 10 & 51 were essays which helped persuade the citizens of the United States to vote for the federal Constitution. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay used pseudonyms as their names to convince the public. Those who were skeptical of voting for a government, which had many different major powers, were reassured by the founding fathers in their speeches and conventions throughout the U.S.

The importance of Constitution, both in its content and its status, is little appreciated by the general public.

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Constitution Essay

Our constitution is the basis of what this country is about. This country stands for freedom and starting a life where you truly have the free will to do as you please. The constitution wasn’t created right away, opposed to what many people think. They had to go through trial and error until they came about the Constitution. First, there was the Articles Of Confederation, which was a rough layout of the Constitution. Then when we found the flaws in that we created the amendments. The main amendments to the Constitution are the first ten, which protect the rights of the people; these have come around to be known as The Bill Of Rights.

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The Constitution (1781–1815)

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Always use specific historical examples to support your arguments.

Study Questions

How effective was the national Congress under the Articles of Confederation? Why were the Articles replaced by the Constitution? How was the federal government different under the Constitution?

Afraid of strong centralized government after the Revolutionary War, the drafters of the Articles of Confederation made certain that the federal government would never be able to strip power from the individual states. As a result, the national Congress was so weak and politically ineffective that it was unable to maintain national unity and went virtually bankrupt. The specter of rebellion and collapse forced American elites to create a stronger, more centralized government under the Constitution.

In 1777 , America’s leading politicians were well aware that powerful governments could become stifling and oppressive. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson had outlined King George III’s “long train of abuses” against the colonies: unfair and unpopular taxes, quartering acts, and other punishments. With these abuses fresh in mind, the framers of the Articles decided that the United States should be only a loose confederation of thirteen nearly independent members. They believed that this structure would bind the states for common defense but would allow republicanism to flourish in smaller communities. The Articles therefore created a national Congress with the power to maintain armies, declare war and peace, govern western lands, and resolve interstate disputes, but lacking the power to levy direct taxes. Each state was given one vote, and most decisions were to be made by majority rule.

Although the confederation looked good on paper, it proved to be wholly ineffective. First, Congress had virtually no power to control the states. Commerce and territorial disputes erupted throughout the decade during which the Articles were in effect. Second, Congress, unable to levy taxes of its own, could only request money from the individual states. Many states, however, refused to pay. Finally, growing domestic unrest among the working classes, which reached a peak in Shays’s Rebellion, convinced wealthier Americans that the Articles had to be amended, if not replaced.

Under the new Constitution, the United States was a more tightly bound federation than the loose confederation that had existed under the Articles. The new federal government was divided into three separate but equal branches, each with distinct powers and authority. The new bicameral Congress was given the power to levy taxes, while the president was given the authority to execute and enforce congressional laws. The Supreme Court assumed the task of judicial review to determine whether Congress’s laws were constitutional. Thus, though the Constitution gave the new government greater power and authority, it also instituted safeguards to keep federal power in check, as the framers of the Articles of Confederation had originally intended.

Which political group do you believe had a more profound effect on the formation of the United States, the Federalists or the Democratic-Republicans?

Even though Democratic-Republican presidents held the White House for twenty-four of the United States’ first thirty-six years, the Federalists had a much greater effect on the formation of the new nation. The Federalists pushed for the ratification of the Constitution and then bolstered the federal government by providing solid economic and legal infrastructure. Their influence put in place the systems that have kept the United States stable and unified throughout its history.

Had the Anti-Federalists had their way, the Constitution might never have been ratified. Patriots like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams believed that the new federal government would be too powerful and too constricting. They feared that the new office of president was too much like a monarch and did not think that Congress should have the right to tax all Americans. Like many political philosophers of their day, they thought that republicanism would never survive in a large country because the government would be too distant from the hearts and minds of the people it represented.

Federalists, however, disagreed. In the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison argued that republicanism would work for the United States. The republic would be so large, with so many conflicting constituencies, that no single faction would ever be able to dominate the others. Moreover, safeguards inserted into the Constitution, such as the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances, would prevent the government from ever becoming too powerful. These Federalist arguments helped convince the states to ratify the Constitution.

Other major Federalist contributions came through Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s economic policies, which bolstered the federal government and put the nation on sound financial footing. Despite protests from Thomas Jefferson and other Democratic-Republicans, Hamilton urged President Washington and Congress to support the development of American manufacturing, pass an excise tax to fund the government, assume all state and federal debts, fund those debts at par, and create a Bank of the United States. The assumption of debt and funding at par gave the country credibility and encouraged speculators to invest in American enterprises. The excise tax filled the federal treasury, and the Bank of the United States helped stabilize the economy. Perhaps most important, the Federalists’ loose interpretation of the Constitution justified strong centralized government.

The Federalists also influenced the U.S. legal infrastructure through the decisions of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall. Most of Marshall’s rulings during his years as chief justice bolstered the federal government’s power vis-à-vis the individual states. In Marbury v. Madison, for example, he secured the power of judicial review for the Supreme Court. In subsequent cases, he also defended the Court’s superior position to state courts. In doing so, Marshall legitimized the federal government and gave it strong legal precedents.

Which nation was responsible for the War of 1812 , Britain or the United States? What caused the war?

Despite the fact that the United States was the first to declare war, Britain clearly initiated the conflict, as British troops continued to occupy U.S. territory in the Ohio Valley and the Royal Navy seized American merchant ships and impressed their crews. The United States tried to resolve the disputes diplomatically, and then, when diplomatic attempts failed, imposed trade sanctions on Britain in an attempt to gain London’s attention. However, these measures failed, leaving President James Madison and Congress little choice but to defend American sovereignty.

The war stemmed from the fact that Britain had continued to treat the United States as one of its colonies even after the Revolutionary War and the establishment of a new U.S government. Under the Treaty of Paris, Britain had agreed to withdraw its troops from the Ohio Valley and to respect American shipping. In practice, though, neither promise was ever honored: British troops remained stationed in British forts on U.S. territory, and Royal Navy captains continued to seize American merchant ships. The British made the same concessions again in Jay’s Treaty in 1794 but never honored those commitments either. In fact, seizures of American merchant ships increased in the first decade of the 1800 s, and Royal Navy officers began to impress an increasing number of American sailors to serve on British warships. Impressment outraged Americans and thus forced the U.S. government to act.

When diplomatic efforts failed to resolve the crisis peacefully, Jefferson encouraged Congress to pass the Embargo Act in 1807 to ban trade with all foreign countries. Jefferson hoped the sanctions would convince the British government to change its ways. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Embargo Act failed miserably and only hurt American merchants. Congress repealed the law in 1809 and tried to use the new Non-Intercourse Act to ban trade only with Britain and France. This act, however, likewise failed to produce any response, leaving Congress effectively out of diplomatic options.

Suggested Essay Topics

1 . How did the Anti-Federalists help shape the United States?

2 . Did the “elastic clause” justify acts such as Hamilton’s excise tax and Bank of the United States or Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase?

3 . How would you characterize Anglo-British relations in the years after independence?

4 . Describe how three of the following affected the formation of the federal government:a) Marbury v. Madisonb) the Louisiana Purchasec) the Bank of the United Statesd) the Alien and Sedition Acts

5 . Was the Constitution written to be a self-consciously landmark document or was it simply a compilation of compromises? Support your argument.

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The U.S. Constitution: An Overview

An article from the New Book of Knowledge discusses the history of the United States Constitution, including the ratification and amending of the document.

In 1987, Americans celebrated the bicentennial, or 200th anniversary, of the signing of the Constitution of the United States. This document, which has served as "the Supreme Law of the Land" for more than two centuries, is the world's oldest written constitution still in use.

The United States Constitution is a system of basic laws and principles that defines the rights of American citizens and sets limits on what the government can and cannot do. It provides the framework for the federal (national) government and establishes a system of federalism, by which responsibilities are divided between the national government and the states' governments.

One of the important principles on which the Constitution is based is the separation of powers, which divides power between the three separate branches of the federal government. The legislative branch (represented by Congress) has the power to create laws; the executive branch (represented by the president and his advisers) has the power to enforce laws; and the judicial branch (represented by the Supreme Court and other federal courts) has the power to dismiss or reverse laws that it determines are "unconstitutional."

Why the Constitution Was Written

When the United States won its independence from England in 1781, a majority of Americans felt a stronger allegiance to their individual states than to their new country. Most people did not wish to create a strong national government, far away from their homes, over which they felt they would have little or no control — they had just fought a long and bitter war to free themselves from such a government. In response to these suspicions, leaders organized the new American government according to a document known as the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave each state a great deal of independence and represented little more than a league of friendship between them.

The main purpose of the Articles was to establish a system by which the states could co-operate if they needed to defend themselves against a foreign enemy. The Articles established a Congress that could raise an army and a navy, but only when the states gave permission. Congress also had the authority to issue and borrow money and to handle foreign and Indian affairs. Congress could also pass laws, yet it did not have the power to make the states obey them. Nor was it able to control citizen uprisings, such as Shays' Rebellion, which occurred from 1786 to 1787. Farmers in western Massachusetts staged violent protests against their state government. As a result of this and other similar revolts, many people began to feel that a stronger national government might be necessary after all.

In 1786 leaders in Virginia passed a resolution calling for delegates from the 13 states to meet in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the nation's problems. Their goal was to amend (change) the Articles to make the national government more effective. But only twelve representatives from five states attended this Annapolis Convention, so they resolved to call another meeting the following year.

The Constitutional Convention

On May 14, 1787, delegates from twelve of the states (all except Rhode Island) began to gather in Philadelphia, and the Constitutional Convention opened in Independence Hall on May 25th. In attendance were many remarkably talented scholars, philosophers, war leaders, and politicians. Alexander Hamilton, representing New York, was largely responsible for arranging the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin, representing Pennsylvania, freely offered the incomparable wisdom of his 81 years. Gouverneur Morris, also from Pennsylvania, headed up the committee that actually wrote the Constitution. George Washington, from Virginia, took the chair as president of the convention. And James Madison, also from Virginia, earned the nickname "Father of the Constitution" because time and again his brilliant ideas and tireless energy kept the convention moving toward its goal.

Almost immediately after the convention opened, a struggle developed between the delegates of the large and small states as to what form the new government should take. The more populous states supported the Virginia Plan, which proposed that representation within the government should be based on the size of a state's population. The plan was designed to give states with large populations a proportionately large share of decision-making power. Less populous states, however, supported the New Jersey Plan, by which every state, regardless of size, would have the same representation within the government.

The convention came to a standstill until the delegates from Connecticut devised an ingenious way to settle the dispute. The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise) called for the creation of a bicameral (two-house) legislature, or Congress. One of the two houses of the new Congress (the House of Representatives) would be elected according to the states' relative populations. The other house (the Senate) would give equal voice to each state no matter what its size. Once this breakthrough had occurred, the delegates agreed more readily on most of the remaining issues.

On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed by 39 of the original 55 delegates. Several had left the convention altogether. Three others — Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts and George Mason and Edmund Randolph of Virginia — refused to sign because they lacked confidence in the document's ability to rule the nation. But although no one realized it at the time, the document the delegates signed that day not only gave rise to the government of a new nation, but became a symbol of hope for oppressed peoples all over the world.

Ratifying the Constitution

The Constitution was signed by most of the delegates who created it. Yet the task still remained for the states' governments to approve it. The Constitution itself specified that 9 of the 13 states would have to ratify the document before it could become effective.

Delaware had the honor of being the first state to approve the Constitution on December 7, 1787. But the remaining drive for ratification was far from easy. In three of the largest states — Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia — the contest was close. And the founders knew that the new government would have no chance of succeeding without the support of these large states. So they mounted a campaign in defense of the Constitution by publishing a series of essays in New York newspapers. These essays, which came to be known as The Federalist, were written under the name Publius, a pen name adopted by the authors James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay.

People who opposed the Constitution, known as anti-federalists, launched a campaign to defeat ratification, believing the Constitution would make the national government too powerful. But mostly they objected that the document did not contain a bill of rights, which would guarantee citizens certain privileges that the government could never take away from them. Anti-federalists published their own series of essays, under such pen names as Brutus, to discourage ratification.

In response to the opposition, John Hancock at the Massachusetts ratifying convention proposed that a bill of rights be added as the first group of amendments to the Constitution. Ratification in Massachusetts and almost all the rest of the uncommitted states depended on the understanding that adopting a bill of rights would be the new government's first order of business.

On June 21, 1788, the Constitution went into effect when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document. New York and Virginia followed suit soon thereafter, thus ensuring the new government would have the support it needed to succeed.

Amending the Constitution

The first Congress to conduct business under the authority of the new Constitution met in New York City on March 4, 1789. The issue of a bill of rights was proposed at once, and the new government began following constitutional procedures to change, or amend, the document. According to the Constitution itself, amendments must be approved by at least two thirds of the members of each house of Congress and by three quarters of the states. (There is also an alternate amendment process that has never been used.)

In 1791, the first ten amendments, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were added to the Constitution. These ten amendments define and protect the rights of the American people. Each of the 16 amendments that followed over the course of the next two centuries reflects, in its own way, the needs and desires of the ever-changing American society. The power to amend the Constitution is the primary reason the document has been able to survive the turbulent changes throughout the past two hundred years.

Professor of Government

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Use these resources to introduce students to how the American people elect national leaders, the laws that govern the nation, and the three branches of government.

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