The Constitution is one of the most important documents for the United States. It allows the government to work in a way that benefits the people of the United States while giving the government the power to govern. It provides balance to the government’s different branches and guarantees rights to individual people who live in the United States. To fully understand the Constitution, it is essential to know how and why it was written.
Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation served as the first Constitution for the United States and was written after the 13 states realized that they needed a common group of laws and rules to bring them together. The articles were written in 1777 and approved by the last of the states in 1781. The Articles of Confederation allowed the states to print money. It also allowed them to gather an army and make laws that applied across the entire United States. There were some flaws in the articles that became clear after the American Revolution. The Articles of Confederation did not give the federal government a way to enforce laws or collect taxes. With no national court system, there were many inconsistencies between states. There was also no president. This weak federal government caused each state to act independently, with no consistency from one state to another. These issues brought about a meeting of delegates called the Constitutional Convention.
After Alexander Hamilton called for a meeting, the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1787. Fifty-five delegates attended, and all states except Rhode Island were represented. The initial goal was to fix the Articles of Confederation. However, after a lot of consideration, the convention members realized that it would be better to create an entirely new document. The convention’s main goals were to delegate power to the federal government while not violating individual rights. Three branches of government, legislative, judicial, and executive, were put into place, and a system of checks and balances would ensure that one branch of the government was not able to overpower the other two branches. The first president, George Washington, was unanimously voted in as the first member of the executive branch.
The 55 delegates were made up of farmers, merchants, bankers, and lawyers. Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and George Washington were three of the delegates in attendance. Some others that are not as well-known today included George Mason, Roger Sherman, William Paterson, and James Wilson.
The Constitutional Convention considered two drafts while they were hammering out the details of our representative government. These were called the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan.
James Madison wrote the Virginia Plan. Madison wrote this plan around the idea that larger states with bigger populations should have more representatives in Congress. His plan proposed the same three branches of government we currently have, including a Senate and House of Representatives to represent the states.
New Jersey Plan
The New Jersey Plan, also known as the small-state plan, was written by James Paterson. This plan said that all states should have equal representation in Congress within one legislative body regardless of their population. In other words, it did not plan for both a Senate and a House of Representatives.
The Big Compromise
The Constitutional Convention members reached a very important compromise. They decided that there would be both a Senate and a House of Representatives, but the Senate would have two representatives per state, no matter what their population was, while the House of Representatives would have a number of members assigned based on population.
The introduction to the Constitution is called the preamble, and it is important to introduce the purpose of creating the Constitution. It reads:
“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.”
Articles of the Constitution
Article I of the Constitution deals with the structure and powers of Congress. It outlines the rights of Congress, including levying taxes for defense and welfare purposes, printing money, and regulating commerce.
Article II details the qualifications a presidential candidate must meet and the rights of the president to act as the leader of the armed forces. This article has been amended with the 12th and 25th amendments.
Article III outlines the rights and responsibilities of the court system of the United States. It explains what the courts can and cannot do and the job of the Supreme Court.
Article IV revolves around states’ rights and responsibilities as part of the United States. It allows for citizens to move freely between states and prohibits a state from discriminating against the citizens of another state in favor of its own.
There are two steps that must occur before any amendment can be made to the Constitution. Article V outlines these steps.
Article VI establishes the laws of the United States and the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. No states can make laws that conflict with the national law. This article also validates national debt.
Article VII explains the process under which the Constitution would become the official rule of the land. Nine states had to ratify it, and once this happened, the Constitution would go into effect for those states. It took almost three years for the Constitution to become active after it was approved by the Constitutional Convention. The first state to ratify it was Delaware in 1787, and Rhode Island was last in 1790.
The Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is made up of the first ten amendments to the Constitution and gives individuals certain protections and rights. It ensures the right to free speech, the freedom to assemble, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to petition. The Bill of Rights also protects those suspected of a crime, gives the government power to declare additional personal rights as protected, and limits the power of government to only what is stated in the Constitution. After the Bill of Rights, 17 other amendments have been added.