The Constitution: America’s Most Prized Document?

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All Americans know the phrase “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If pressed they could probably give you a few more phrases from the Declaration of Independence. But what about the Constitution? Could they even recite the preamble? Probably not. And, while the Declaration of Independence was important, the Constitution was, and is, even more so. The Constitution set up the government that has served us the last two hundred years. It set up not only the freedoms we are guaranteed, but also the government that would continue to ensure those freedoms. Our fore fathers planned ahead and created a government not of their time, but for all ages. However, this great government almost was not so.

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, the states were divided amongst themselves and ratification of the Constitution did not look promising. The Constitution was met with not only disapproval, but opposition. Several states threatened not to ratify it. Because of this looming threat, the Convention dropped the number of states needed for ratification from all thirteen to nine. Even with this ratification seemed doubtful. The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five documents that argued in favor of ratification and the Constitution. The Federalist Papers serve as the primary source for the understanding of the Constitution because they outline the motivation and philosophy behind the proposed system of government. The authors of the Federalist Papers wanted to influence the vote in favor of ratification as well as shape future interpretations of the Constitution.

While all eighty-five of these papers, written by various authors under the pseudonym Publius, were important, there were two whose impact was enormously significant. The most influential papers were in fact, Federalist Numbers 10 and 51. These arguments were instrumental in the forming of what would be known as the Madisonian Form of Government as well as ratification of the Constitution.

These two Federalist Papers, along twenty-seven others, were written by James Madison. James Madison was considered by many to be the ‘father of the Constitution’. He was given this title for being the principle author of the Constitution as well as for writing one-third of the Constitution’s largest abutments, The Federalist Papers.

Federalist No. 10 addresses one of James Madison’s greatest fears, factions, or special interests. He and his associates feared both the factions of the majority as well as of the minority. Either sort of faction could take control of the government and use its power to their own advantages. To this end, factions had to be controlled. Factions of the minority were easily taken care of by being outvoted by the majority. Majority factions, however, were harder to control and could easily oppress the minority and violate their basic rights. While he believed factions needed to be controlled, he did not wish to remove them. Also, the only way to remove factions, was to remove liberty.

Madison believed that the precautions in the Constitution would allow all the factions room to express their views. Instead of majority oppressing the minority, their different interests would negotiate a solution by which the majority ruled but only with regard and consideration to the minority. The very number of factions would preclude any one from exercising tyrannical control over the rest. Madison held that a large republic is the best way to handle factions because small size means that common passions are likely to form among a majority of the people, and democracy means that the majority, or faction, can enforce its will; republics have chosen representatives that would be from a large sample and thus result in a better government.

Federalist 51, the other most influential document, was in regards to the separation of power and strongly influenced by the philosopher Montesquieu. This was the letter that most shaped the form of our government. In this, Madison proposes the separation of powers, once again to guard against factions.

In a republican form of government, the legislative branch is the strongest and must therefore be divided into different branches, so as to be as little connected with each other as possible. This was achieved through the separation of the Senate and House of Representatives as well as the way delegates are elected and the length of their terms Madison also believed in applying the theory of separation to the government on the whole. By having three branches of government, all able to check on and balance each other, power would be harder for the majority, factions, to seize. The separation of power, which guards against factions, is also powered by them. The very number of factions would preclude any one from exercising tyrannical control over the rest. The multiplicity of interests protects us from one another.

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union… and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, did ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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