US Constitution

Here is a presentation of the United States Constitution with some proper historical context and content, including various discussion topics.

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Please feel free to use this presentation as a tool for quality instruction. Although I may not necessarily endorse the event in which it is presented, Amendment Avenger will always endorse Liberty.

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constitution-51Declaration of Independence

Articles of Confederation

Constitution of the United States

Federalist Papers

Anti-Federalist Papers

Washington’s Farewell Address

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NATIONAL ARCHIVES Charters of Freedom

       – Constitution Day  

        – Liberty Day

The Story of the Constitution of the United States

The principal historic events and key issues that led to the formation the American system of government are as fascinating and as spectacular as the Constitution itself.  Indeed, the fireworks contained within the document are a direct reflection of the tumultuous events and coordinated responses of an outstanding galaxy of brilliant men who conceived this new republic in the age of monarchies. The platform for American government that was established the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the consequences of subsequent events have been intimately baked into the United States Constitution.

No taxation without representation was indeed an important issue.  However, it was number seventeen on a list of twenty-seven grievances contained within the Declaration of Independence. The taxation concern was not even listed in the top half. Listed eleven more times in the document than no taxation without representation was the abuse of representative powers. Included seven more times was abuse of military powers. The abuse of judicial powers by judges who legislated from the bench was listed four times as often. Finally, listed twice more was inciting domestic insurrection. The Unanimous Declaration of Independence of the United States recognizes God four times in its text and establishes the protection of life, liberty, and property as the foundation of good government according to contract theory of consent of the governed (Declaration).

Formally ratified in 1781 by all the States, The Articles of Confederation were principally a “league of friendship” between thirteen sovereign and independent states. The Articles featured a unicameral legislature, no executive or judicial branch, and a loose confederation of independent States, (More Perfect Union).  Article III: contained a “general welfare” clause was eventually carried over to the Constitution (Constitution). Each state was authorized two to seven representatives but only had only one vote The Congress could not tax the people directly or regulate trade. The Congress had to make formal requests to the states to raise troops or fund the treasury. Furthermore, Congress could appropriate and borrow money and handle foreign relations, but those powers were limited (More Perfect Union).

As a consequence, James Madison saw the Articles as woefully inadequate because the United States could not tax directly, was impotent in setting or regulating commercial policy or settle disputes between the states. Additionally, there was no effective way to support a war effort. On the brink of economic disaster due to states printing and inflating their money supply, businesses were in a state of depression and farmers were losing their lands. The farmers in Massachusetts were in revolt and the state government had to put it down. Known as Shays’s Rebellion, the revolt exacerbated fears the anarchy was around the corner.  The young looking 36-year old delegate from Virginia, James Madison, had a rescue plan.

Madison invited George Washington to lead a convention in Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation in 1787. Washington had repeatedly declined and hesitated for several months before ultimately deciding to attend. His presence added an air of legitimacy to the convention. A total of 55 delegates from 12 States participated. Rhode Island was the only State that did not send a delegation (More Perfect Union).  Among the supporters of a new constitution known as the Federalists were:  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. Together, they wrote a series of essays in defense of the constitution known as The Federalist Papers. Opponents to a new Constitution, George Mason, Elbridge Gerry, and Patrick Henry, wrote articles in response to the Federalists appropriately called the Anti-Federalist Papers (Ratification).  Other prominent members of the Philadelphia Convention were Edmund Randolph of Virginia, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, John Dickinson of Delaware, Robert Yates, Gouverneur Morris and Robert Morris of Pennsylvania, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, John Rutledge of South Carolina, Oliver Ellsworth  of Connecticut, William Patterson of New Jersey, and Benjamin Franklin, The convention began in May and ended on September 17, 1787

During the convention, several plans were hatched by various factions to solve the problems inherent in the Articles. These include the Virginia Plan, New Jersey Plan, and Hamilton’s Plan.

The Virginia Plan written by Madison and proposed by Edmund Randolph and it contained a nationalist framework that was considered to be an offensive rat to Patrick Henry due to the consolidation of power it required.  Gouverneur Morris supported the Virginia Plan as having the necessary authority to be effective and not operate in the shadows. This was a complete overhaul of the central government designed to centralize authority.

The New Jersey Resolution was introduced by William Patterson in an effort to preserve the power of the States. His recommendation was for the Union to be merely federal and not national as the Virginia delegates have proposed. Many State members were dismayed for fear of losing allot of power. After three days of debate, the New Jersey Plan was scuttled in an apparent victory for the nationalists led by James Madison, who proposed letting the people ratify the new Constitution directly instead of through the State Legislators (More Perfect Union).

Hamilton’s Plan included an American king, Senators for life, strong central government, the ability of Congress to write all laws whatsoever, and even referred to the government of England as the best in the world. Although there were many that expected the government to head in that direction and newspapers speculated as much, Hamilton’s Plan was overwhelmingly rejected because most delegates thought it went too far (More Perfect Union).

After fierce debate over the inclusion of a Bill of Rights to be included in the Constitution waged by the Antifederalists, and with the Constitution itself hanging in the balance, Madison agreed to include a Bill of Rights. This is known as the Great Compromise or Madison’s Compromise. The choice to compromise did win over support from the Antifederalist camp. The Federalist were very concerned that any rights excluded would be interpreted as non-existent.

The day the Constitution was approved and signed in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, but it was nothing more than a scrap of paper at that point.  It would have to be ratified. The unanimity required under the Articles for ratification was replaced by a three quarters vote from nine of the thirteen States. Through special ratification conventions, the required number of votes had been obtained. However, without New York and Virginia it was doubtful the union would hold. By July of 1788, Virginia and New York were onboard. North Carolina and Rhode Island did not ratify until after George Washington was inaugurated as President. This completed the Union (Ratification).

The Constitution of the United States establishes seven institutions: The People, The Militia, the States, the United States, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial. Article I enumerates eighteen specific legislative powers to a bicameral Congress consisting of a House of Representatives and the Senate. In Article II, eleven specific powers are granted to the new Executive branch.  Article III lists seven new Judicial branch powers. Article IV deals with the relationship between States the Federal government. Article V deals with new amendments. Article VI establishes the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land. Article VII calls it as Done, Recognizes the Lord and contains thirty-nine signatures from the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention.

Bills must originate in the House. The Senate can offer their response and after a conference between the two houses, a final bill is introduced for a vote.

Members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people of the States. The number of representative for each state is based on the population of the state. These elections are held every two years.  All Electors are required to meet requirements the State puts forth to become a congress member. The federal requirement for age for House members is twenty-five years of age. If a seat becomes vacant for any reason such death or even impeachment, the State Governor can appoint someone to the seat until an election can be held. The House has the power to determine if an offense is impeachable.

The Senate is made up of two Senators from each state no matter no matter the population and was appointed was representatives of the State legislation until the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913. The federal requirement for age for Senators is thirty years of age. The Senate can ratify treaties, confirm Presidential nominations for offices, and has the sole power of impeachment after directed by the House (Constitution).

Congress can borrow money, collect and levy taxes, regulate commerce’s from State to State and internationally. They can create laws dealing with bankruptcies, create a post office, prompt the sciences and arts, and coin and regulate the value of money. The power to support an army and maintain a navy, punish and define felonies on the open sea, declare war grant letters of Marque and Reprisal.  Taxes are to be taken based on the census of the population. No tax shall be charged from one state to another. All taxes are to be enumerated and use of money shown publicly from time to time. The suspension of habeas corpus which protects citizen’s rights can only be done in times of rebellion and or invasion. There will be not title or nobility granted or named by the United States or foreign office permitted while in service to the United States.

The Executive or President of the United States must take an Oath of Office where in he swears or affirms to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.  A person must be no younger than 35 years of age, natural born a citizen of the United States, and a resident for fourteen consecutive years.  The President shall be elected by the Electors appointed by the States. There is the same amount of electors as there are Senators and Representatives for each state.  The term of office is four years and with a maximum two terms according to the Twenty-second Amendment.

When called into actual service of the United States by Congress, the President shall be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and the Militia of the United States. The office has certain powers the he can use. The Executive can sign treaties, sign bills into law, veto bills, nominate ambassadors, Supreme Court judges, give pardons for offenses committed against the United States and fill empty vacant Senate seats. The President must also give a State of the Union Address which is used to publicly state how the country is performing.

Listed in the Constitution is neither a requirement nor an authorization for the President to provide employment, administer health care, grant citizenship, make laws, use executive orders to usurp laws, start wars, spend or donate public money, provide foreign aid, regulate the economy, spy on the people, kill citizens at will, declare war on drugs, research AIDS, create any unconstitutional agencies (such as the BATF, CIA, DHS, TSA, NSA, and FDA), impose sanctions, and police the world (Constitution).

The Judicial Branch of government has seven powers that the Constitution spells out.  It was intended to be very limited in its power only to interpret law set forth by the other branches of government. A judge shall hold office during good personal behavior. The judicial powers of the country are set up in one Supreme Court.  The judgeships may extend the law equally under the Constitution.  The courts handle all disputes of cases affecting ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and public officials. The courts handle all federal cases involving the United States, disputes between two or more States, disputes between citizens and States, and land grant issues. The courts deals with all crimes except where impeachments are involved the House of Representative s and Senate handling cases dealing with the President. The Supreme Court also handles treason, an act of war against the United States. A person cannot be convicted of such a crime unless two or more wittiness the act of treason of it is tried in open court.

The federal government gives full trust to all States in the matter of public affairs and public acts. Congress puts out very general laws regarding these affairs. All citizens of every state have the rights, privileges and immunities of the United States. Likewise a fugitive from one State that goes to another State hoping to escape prosecution will be surrendered back to the original state upon request by that State.

The Congress can allow a new state to be admitted so long as it is not from any existing states. If the new State is a part of an exciting Stat, then not only does congress have to approve but also the legislature the states involved.  Every state in the union is guaranteed protection from invasion and a republican form of government, meaning a representatives government control by the rule of law (Constitution).

Recognizing the very real need to change the Constitution from time to time, a Constitutional Convention process is included in the document. If two-thirds of the States agree that there needs to be a convention, the representatives then come together and vote on the subject. With a three-quarters vote of all the States, the change will be ratified. The Constitution gives the President no official determination or involvement in this process.

Expressly forbidden to government in the main body of the constitution before the Amendments are: Ex post Facto Laws, unapportion tax, taxes on exports, titles of nobility or foreign offices, suspension of Habeus Corpus in cases not involving invasion or rebellion, Bills of Attainder, States engaging in war with one another unless invaded, Bills of credit or paper money, spending money without a law, and corruption of blood.

After Article VI establishes the Constitution and all laws and treaties pursuant to the Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land it is signed in Article VII with an acknowledgement of the Lord on September 17, 1787 (Constitution).

Madison trimmed the amendments that were sent to him by the States into twelve amendments. On Dec 15, 1791 three-fourths of the States ratified ten of them. These first ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights (More Perfect Union).

At just over 4,440 words, the Constitution has endured in America for over 200 years, making it the shortest and oldest constitution in the world. Indeed, countries that are ten times older than the United States have not been as successful. France has had fifteen constitutions since America first ratified its impressive document. With the power to free an entire nation and built on the foundation of liberty and representative republicanism in an age of monarchies, the United States Constitution serves as a crowning achievement in human history, enabling  unprecedented explosions of prosperity for the benefit of all mankind. It is truly a beacon of civilization without equal.  Although the Constitution is certainly not perfect document, it remains the best contract between a people and their government ever devised.

Works Cited

The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

The Declaration of Independence for the United States of America: A Transcription. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the U.S. Constitution. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Ratification. 2008. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.