Almost every government decision stems from one document: the United States Constitution. When America’s fore fathers wrote the document so long ago they probably couldn’t even imagine what government would turn out to be with hundreds of departments and offices and thousands and thousands of employees on all sorts of different levels, but ultimately, all those departments and offices have to follow the Constitution. Our entire country depends on the document for guidance. In this paper, I’m going to go over the history of the Constitution and how the Constitution has both developed and played a role in history. The United States Constitution is the most important political document in the history of this country.
The Constitution gives the basic frame of the United States government and talks about how the government will be designed. Since it’s been written, people have argued some points that aren’t explicit in the document. For example, the duties of the different offices, some people take the Constitution very literally think the document should be taken directly as it’s written, other people claim the document just gives the basic frame work and that the government needs to set up programs to do what the Constitution says. In the Bill of Rights and the Amendments, the Constitution says what rights all citizens have and also gives rights to groups, like when the Constitution was amended to give woman the right to vote in 1920.
The Constitution sets up the federal government in a series of checks and balances. The office of the President of United States is the head of the executive branch and can veto laws made the United States Congress, made up of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, which has the power to impeach and remove the president. The final branch of United States federal government is the judicial branch, with the highest power being the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court has the power to rule and interpret the Constitution and strike down bills as unconstitutional and decide the validity of situations. All of these branches are set up by the Constitution. In fact, that’s how they have their ruling power, from the Constitution. The document also talks about the roles and responsibilities of each branch.
The Constitution also talks about the federal governments relationship with the people of the United States and with the different states and talks about the responsibilities of the federal government and what the federal government promises to do and not to do. Much of this was a direct answer to how the country was governed with England was in charge, and an answer to what the people did not what their new federal government to do.
Some people way back when the Constitution was written disagreed and thought the federal government was taking too much power. In fact, the Constitution wasn’t adopted until 1787, another governing set of laws, Articles of Confederation were first written and failed.
In 1786 a convention of representatives from all the current states of the time, Rhode Island being the exception, met with the plan to change up the Articles of Confederation. But, they soon came to the agreement that a new completely new document was needed. The delegates had a vote to make the convention secret so that they could talk like how they really felt. But, we know what happened because James Madison kept a diary.
Speaking of Madison, he was known as the “Father of the Constitution” for all he did to help draft and come up with the ideas behind the document. Originally, he proposed what is now known as the Virginia Plan. This plan was similar to what the Constitution eventually set forth, but gave veto power of state laws to the national government and also had the executive elected by the legislators, so those are two key differences between how the document ended up. This plan had two houses in Congress, but another popular plan had only one house. The Great Compromise split the differences between the plans to come up with what is close to the current system, a president voted by the people, the House elected by the people, but the Senate in this plan would represent the states that they came from.
One issue that almost stopped the Constitution before it was even ratified was slavery. Representatives from northern states wanted to make slavery illegal while the representatives from southern states argued that the economy in their states required slavery and they would not put up with slavery being outlawed in the Constitution. The document more or less gave the states 20 years to come up with a solution to this issue and allowed slavery in the mean time. Eventually this lead to the Civil War.
The convention decided that only nine states needed to ratify the document of the 13 at the time to make it the binding document for the government. The document was ratifed on June 1788 fter the ninth state, New Hampshire voted to ratify it into power. The new government started operating on March 4, 1789, but a few states didn’t agree and vote to ratify the Constitition until a few years later, but they were not needed.
During the ratification process, some critics brought up their concerns with the document. To please them and make everyone happy with the document, the Constitutional leaders agreed to make some additions. These became the Bill of Rights and were added in 1791. These are the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Some of the things that were added to the Bill of Rights included the right to bear arms, the right to a trial by jury, and also an amendment forbidding cruel and unusual punishments of citizens. Some of these bills of rights were similar to the bill of English rights passed in England. In fact, while many of the ideas presented in the Constitution were original, many others came from ideas already in place in governments like England, which had a legislator as well.
The preamble of the document is very famous and something that many students memorize word for word in elementary school. It’s like a mission statement or statement of purpose that sets forth what the document and the new government is all about making it very important. So important that I’m including it here:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
—United States Constitution, Preamble
After the preamble, the Constitution has several Articles, or sections. The first article talks about the legistlative branch and powers given to legislators. The second article talks about the executive branch, so mainly discusses the president and rules for eligibility to be president and how the office of the president works. The next article talks about the judicial branch. While article five discuses the states and powers and limits of the states. Article six is the one that discusses how amendments work and they’re voted into power while article seven talks about the powers of the new federal government. Article seven talks about ratification and what had to happen for the Constitution to be ratified and that process.
Since the Consitition was brought into power, there have been 27 amendments, the first ten of course were all ratified at once in 1791 as the Bill of rights. Over the years, 17 others have been added, addressing things like giving women the right to vote, giving people of different race right to vote, and other important issues. Getting the Constitution amended is a difficult process that requires a lot of things to happen.
The United States Constitution plays such an important role in the government and political system of this country. No document is nearly as important and without the Consitition, the American governmental system would be very different. The history of the Constitution started in the late 1700s when the document was created and spans until today since it’s still used today to guide government.