This article is written by Monesh Mehndiratta, a law student at Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun. The article explains the formation of the US Constitution in detail. It also deals with important documents and events that led to its formation. It further explains its salient features and elements that help in its growth and development over the years.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
The political system in America, which is over two hundred years old, has been able to give the states a just claim to the maturity of government. It has evolved through the wisdom and understanding of its founding fathers. It can be easily said that the political system in the US is a homemade product. It is not something that has been created with the help of ideologies and plans but a result of unending trials, errors, and their corrections. The Constitution of the United States has imbibed in itself the doctrine of Separation of powers and adhered to it strictly till date. It has also accepted the principle of union without unity, i.e., a federation.
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land of the USA. It is the foundation of the American government and has been the basis for all of its laws and government policies for over two hundred years. It was written by the Founding Fathers of the United States and ratified in 1788. It is an incredibly complex document that contains provisions for the organization of the government, the rights of citizens, and the responsibilities of the states, their federal nature, along with the powers of all three organs of the government, namely, the legislature, executive, and judiciary. However, a question that hits the minds of people is how this incredible document has gotten into place. Today we will discuss the formation and creation of the US Constitution in detail, along with its development in recent years.
History of development of the US Constitution
History reveals that the Constitution of the United States has been molded by the exigencies of time. The peculiar setup of the thirteen colonies led to the formation of the federation. These colonies were situated largely on the Atlantic side and consisted of different classes:
- The crown colonies were ruled by a governor in each colony who was appointed by the British King. He ruled the colony with the help of a council formed to assist him in the administration.
- Another class of colony was the proprietary colony. These colonies were governed by people having the right to exercise powers.
- There were charter colonies where the powers were given directly to the free men living there.
All these colonies were bound together by their love of civil liberty and adherence to free government. During the 18th century, they acquired self-government to a large extent and elected colonial assemblies to initiate the legislation. They were able to manage the trade, police, taxes, and needs of the local people. However, the mother country controlled foreign trade, internal affairs like the army, and navy, and maintained peace. But this was not acceptable to the colonies, and they resented it. As a result, there was a conflict of interest between the ruler and the people over whom he ruled.
Moreover, these rulers brought the principles followed in England, like the English Common Law, which contained provisions that the king had to obey in any case. These provisions could not be molded or changed even by the parliament. This led to enmity between the two to such a large extent that the people decided not to be ruled by anyone rather than create their own laws to regulate their conduct.
Declaration of independence
The colonies were dictated by the mother country only until the time the French and Spaniards existed. With their extinction because of a seven-year war, things changed completely. The colonies decided to prepare themselves for a war. In 1775, the Congress of Representatives of the States was called in Philadelphia, where George Washington was appointed as the Commander-in-Chief of the Army. There, the colonies decided to declare war against England.
Later, in 1775, the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed by the states, which declared them free and independent. They were absolved of allegiance to the Crown in Britain and had full power to maintain peace, enter into contract alliances, and do anything that an independent state could do. With this declaration, the history of independence in the US began.
The formation of Confederation
The Constitution of the United States was the result of a long process of evolution that began after the American Revolution. After the war, the individual states were united in a loose alliance known as the Confederation. The first thing that grabbed the attention of people after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence was to end the war together. This confederation was a form of government that was vastly different from the one they have today. The newly independent states did not have any government, a president, Congress to make legislation, or courts to settle disputes. The Confederation was a decentralized system of government in which the individual states retained their sovereignty.
The main purpose of the Confederation was to provide a unified front against Great Britain and to provide for a common currency. However, the Confederation was not a strong central government and had few powers. It could not raise taxes, regulate commerce, or enforce laws. This led to economic troubles for the newly independent states. Without a strong central government, the states were vulnerable to foreign threats and the threat of civil war. To address these issues, some of the Founding Fathers began to call for a reformation of the Confederation and the creation of a strong central government.
The struggle for revenue
The newly independent states were facing economic troubles due to the lack of a strong central government. In order to raise revenue, the states realized that they must pass legislation related to taxes and tariffs, but since they were united in a confederation, they had no power to do so. This led to a struggle between the states as they all tried to raise revenue on their own.
At the same time, the states were also facing economic troubles due to the lack of a unified currency. Without a common currency, it was difficult for people to trade with one another and for the states to pay off their debts. This led to the creation of the Continental Dollar, the first paper money issued in the United States. To address this issue, the Founding Fathers began to call for a strong central government that could raise revenue and resolve the problems and rifts between the states. This was the beginning of the movement towards a federal system of government.
Articles of Confederation
In July 1776, a committee was appointed to draft the Articles of Confederation, which were approved by the Congress of States in 1777. It was this document that named the confederation “The United States of America”. Further, it stated that each state would retain its sovereignty, freedom, independence, powers, and jurisdiction, which would not be delegated to Congress, and that they would safeguard their own individual entity.
It was observed that they came close for a specific purpose, which was common defense, security of their liberties, mutual and general welfare, assistance to each other in times of attack, etc. This was mentioned in the third article of the document.
It established a Congress, which was the only common institution in the Confederation. The Congress consisted of delegates from each state. Every state had to send more than two representatives but less than seven and had one vote. This clearly shows that the Confederation was a loose union of states, and the Articles of Confederation had no binding force. Though the Congress was asked to control the affairs of the states, it had no real powers. It was merely considered an advisory board. This weakness of the confederation was soon visible.
The British recognized the independence of colonies by way of the Treaty of Paris in 1783. But soon after the victory, the newly formed Confederation had to face a crisis. This was seen as an opportunity by the founding fathers to create the Constitution of the country, which could help in retaining the union intact.
America and Continental Europe
The United States was also facing threats from continental Europe and had to figure out the preferable solution. European powers such as France, Spain, and the Netherlands were actively trying to take control of the newly independent states. To protect themselves, the Founding Fathers began to call for an even stronger central government.
To address these threats, the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution of the United States in 1787. This document created a strong federal government with three branches of government and a system of checks and balances. The Constitution not only protects the sovereignty of the states but also gives power to the government to deal with such matters and make laws for its citizens. This document is the basis of the United States government today and has been amended over the centuries to accommodate the changing needs of the nation.
The American Army
The American Army was also a major factor in the formation of the Constitution of the United States. The American Army was a small, poorly funded force that was unable to protect the nation from foreign threats. In order to deal with this situation, the founding fathers realized that there was a need for a mechanism that could provide national defense for the country and safeguard its territory and boundaries.
As a result, the United States Army was created in 1789. This was a much larger and better-funded force that was able to protect the nation from foreign threats. The United States Army was instrumental in the development of the Constitution of the United States and the creation of a strong federal government.
On the way to a federal convention
The Founding Fathers were aware of the fact that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate and that a stronger central government was required to provide protection against foreign threats and to ensure economic stability. This issue could only be resolved by creating a strong central government empowered to make decisions and laws for the betterment of the country. The founding fathers began to call for a federal convention to create a strong central government.
The need for a federal convention was resisted by some states and supported by others. The states that opposed it were afraid that a strong central government would take away their rights and usurp their power. To address these concerns, the Founding Fathers wrote the Federalist Papers and a series of essays that outlined the need for a strong federal government. This series of essays helped to convince the states of the need for a federal convention.
The Philadelphia Convention
After independence, the union faced many issues. One among them was the dispute between different states. One such instance was seen in the states of Maryland and Virginia, which quarreled over the Potomac River. In order to resolve the dispute and extend the powers of the Confederation over the regulation of commerce, a conference was called in 1786 at Annapolis. This conference was attended by only five states out of thirteen. Further, the Congress was asked to summon a convention of delegates from all the states to Philadelphia in order to decide whether the articles should be amended or not. As a result, 73 delegates from twelve states attended the convention, which consisted of George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, James Wilson, and others. These delegates are popularly considered the founding fathers of the Constitution of the United States.
The delegates have to accomplish two objectives. They had to establish a stable and strong central government while preserving the independence of the states at the same time. In order to achieve this goal, extensive discussions were held and various suggestions were put forth, and then a brief document was signed by the states unanimously. This document embodied in itself the Constitution of the United States, was ratified at the Philadelphia Convention, and was enforced in 1789.
The Constitution changed the character of states and established a federal government while giving maximum autonomy to the states. This union of thirteen states gradually increased to the present fifty states. This document provided for the regulation of commerce between the states and created a strong central government that could provide for economic stability.
The Constitution also provided for the formation of a Congress, an executive branch, and a judicial branch. These branches of government would be responsible for the regulation of commerce and the protection of the nation’s interests.
Obstacles faced by the government after the ratification of the US Constitution
After the ratification of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers had to address several obstacles to the formation of the United States. These obstacles included the lack of a common currency, the lack of a unified military, and the lack of a strong central government. To address these issues, the Founding Fathers passed a series of laws that provided for a unified currency, a unified military, and a strong central government.
With the passage of time, many laws were passed as and when the need was felt by the Founding Fathers. They also passed laws that provided for the regulation of commerce between the states and the protection of the nation’s interests. These laws helped to create a strong central government and a unified nation.
Making of the US Constitution: a summary
The Constitution of the United States was the result of a long process of evolution that began after the American Revolution. It was written by the Founding Fathers of the United States and ratified by the states in 1788. In order to create the Constitution, the Founding Fathers had to overcome several obstacles and pass a series of laws.
The Founding Fathers first had to create a confederation of states in order to provide a unified front against Great Britain. They then had to address the issue of taxes and tariffs and create a unified currency. To provide for national defense, the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution of the United States in 1787. This document created a strong federal government with three branches of government and a system of checks and balances. The US has some unincorporated territories as well. These are Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, etc. All of these territories have a non-voting representative in the Congress. But the residents of each of these territories are full-fledged US citizens.
The Founding Fathers then had to pass a series of laws that provided for the regulation of commerce and the protection of the nation’s interests. Finally, the Founding Fathers had to pass the Bill of Rights, which outlined the basic rights of citizens and provided for freedom of religion, speech, and the press.
Salient Features of the US Constitution
The Constitution of the United States has the following salient features:
- It is written;
- It is rigid;
- It has a federal character;
- The Constitution is accepted as the supreme law of the land;
- Embodies separation of powers;
- Acts a system of checks and balances;
- It consists of the Bill of Rights;
- It recognizes the concept of Judicial review; and
- It provides dual citizenship to its citizens.
Written character of the Constitution
The US Constitution is a written document consisting of seven articles and twenty-six amendments. However, some parts are unwritten, and these elements play a vital role in its development. For example, the framers of the Constitution provided for indirect elections of the President, but with the passage of time, these elections have become direct.
Rigidity in the amendment procedure
The American Constitution is considered to be the most rigid Constitution in the world, as the amendment procedure is long and cumbersome. Every amendment needs to be ratified by three-fourths of the states, which makes it difficult.
Federal character of the US Constitution
The US was originally a federation of thirteen states, but today it consists of fifty. The Constitution divides the powers between the center and the states. It explains the powers of the central government and the residuary powers left to the states.
Separation of powers
The Constitution is largely based on the doctrine of separation of powers, as the powers of the three organs of the government, namely, the legislature, executive, and judiciary, have been clearly laid down. The Congress is the legislative organ, while the President is the head of the executive. The judicial powers vest with the courts, with the Supreme Court of the United States at the apex.
System of Checks and balances
The framers of the Constitution recognized the importance of coordination among the organs of government and decided to introduce a system of checks and balances. The powers of each organ are decided in such a way that they act as checks on each other. For example, the President, who is the head of the executive branch, has the power to veto the bills passed by Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, also has the power to decide the organization of the judiciary and appoint the judges of the Supreme Court.
Concept of republicanism
The United States of America is a republic, with the President being the elected head of state. The Constitution derives its authority from the people, and it makes it mandatory for every state to accept the republican form of government.
Presidential form of government
The Constitution of the United States provides for the presidential form of government, as all executive powers are vested with the President. He cannot be removed by the Congress during his term easily. His cabinet members are neither members of Congress nor answerable to it.
Dual citizenship as given in the US Constitution
The Constitution of the United States gives dual citizenship to its citizens. A citizen of America is a citizen of the USA and the state in which he or she resides.
Popular sovereignty provided by the Constitution
The sovereignty of the USA is attributed to the citizens. The Preamble of the Constitution starts itself with the words “We the people of the United States..“, making the people the supreme authority. This concept is known as “popular sovereignty.”
The United States of America has a bicameral legislature. It consists of a lower house known as the House of Representatives and an upper house called the Senate. The US upper house is considered the most powerful upper chamber in the world and has a tenure of six years.
Growth of the Constitution
The original Constitution of the United States has seven articles and was framed to govern only thirteen states. However, the present Constitution has changed significantly because of the conventional, judicial interpretations, amendments, etc.
Amendments to the US Constitution in brief
Though the process of amending the Constitution in the US is cumbersome, twenty-seven amendments have been made so far, which have helped in its growth.
- The first ten amendments have been incorporated into the Bill of Rights, which guarantees fundamental rights to its citizens.
- The Eleventh and Twelfth amendments helped in removing the ambiguities from the Constitution, while the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
- The Fourteenth Amendment regulated citizenship in the country and the Fifteenth Amendment provided equal rights to the white and colored people.
- The Sixteenth Amendment deals with tax on incomes and further amendments have helped in the growth of the Constitution to deal with the demands of society.
- The Twenty-Sixth Amendment finally deals with the right to vote for all its citizens above the age of 18 years.
Laws or legislations passed by the Congress
Another factor that is responsible for the growth of the Constitution is the laws passed by the Congress. The Constitution made provisions for the establishment of the Supreme Court, but its organization, tenure, appointment, and salaries of judges are decided by Congress. Similarly, the method of election and suffrage is determined by the state legislature.
The Congress also laid down the budget procedure and authorized the establishment of a banking system in the country. The Constitution did not make any provision for the legislative procedure, but the laws enacted by Congress provided for three readings and then debates and discussions over the matter. All this has expanded the Constitution.
The judiciary and its interpretation have played a vital role in the development of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has, from time to time, given wide meaning and interpretation to the provisions of the Constitution in order to cover within its ambit the needs of society. For example, the powers of the national government to regulate interstate commerce, railways, telegraphs, etc. have been decided because of the Supreme Court’s interpretation.
Conventions leading to growth of the Constitution
Another important development in the Constitution has been made by the conventions in the US. Some of these conventions are:
- The fathers of the Constitution originally provided for indirect elections of the President but with the help of convention these elections have become direct in nature.
- The Constitution provides that the speaker of the House of Representatives must be chosen by the House but in reality, he is nominated by the majority party.
- The process by which the Senate accepts the recommendations of the President for the appointment at federal offices is a result of the convention.
- Another convention that helped in the growth of the Constitution is the practice by which the President keeps the leader of the majority party informed about the negotiations and treaties.
All the above-mentioned practices show that the conventions played an important role in the development of the Constitution.
In order to achieve the goal of self-governance and the principles of an independent nation, it is necessary to have a strong regulating authority and laws placed in place to regulate the conduct of the people living there. This can only be achieved when there is a constitution that acts as a guardian and standard for every law that exists in a country. The Constitution of every country is its supreme law, from which every other law or enactment derives its sanctity. It is also an indication that the country is now independent and capable of governing itself without external interference. The same goes for the United States as well.
After years of war and struggle, the colonies finally emerged as independent states and formed a union that was later named the United States of America. To achieve the goal of an independent nation, it was necessary to formulate the Constitution, which could provide guidance as a beacon light to fight every issue that would come before the new government. The Founding Fathers wrote the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights in order to create a strong central government that could provide for national defense and regulate commerce. This Constitution and its values have been able to guide people and the country in tough times and are continuing to do so.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When was the Bill of Rights incorporated into the Constitution of the US?
The first ten amendments to the US Constitution were incorporated into the Bill of Rights and adopted as a single unit in 1791.
Which documents serve as the basis of the Constitution of the US?
The Articles of Confederation provided a structure and framework for the Constitution and are considered its base.
Which treaty recognized the United States as an independent nation?
The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1783, recognized it as an independent nation. The people also chose George Washington as their first president.
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