The U.S. Constitution. What is a Constitution? Document or set of documents that set forth the basic rules and procedures for how a society shall be governed
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What is a Constitution?
Before the United States of America came into existence, colonial America was under the control of the British.
In an attempt to present a united front about colonial grievances, Benjamin Franklin proposed a Continental Congress, which was held in Philadelphia in 1774.
The Second Continental Congress began with the thought of a possible reconciliation with Great Britain still in mind.
The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson in 1776, and ratified by the Continental Congress on July 4th of that year.
The newly independent countries would need a new rule of law to guide them. The Continental Congress set up the Articles of Confederation.
The Confederacy would not last long, mostly due to inherent problems with the Articles.
Revolt by Massachusetts farmers against heavy debts; helped convince states that neither the state nor federal governments were functioning properly.
Daniel Shays led a protest movement of debt-ridden farmers facing foreclosures
on their homes and farms.
Demanding lower taxes and an issuance of paper money, they engaged in mob violence to force Massachusetts courts to close.
The Connecticut Compromise offered a third solution whereby legislative representation in the lower chamber is based on population and the upper chamber provides equal representation of the states.
Compromises over the issue of slavery came in three forms.
Ratifying the Constitution was not easy as many voices emerged in opposition both to a strong national government and to the specific provisions (or lack thereof) in the Constitution.
The Federalists included men like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, who, along with John Jay, wrote the Federalist papers.
The Antifederalists included men like Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine who had serious concerns about the Constitution. Two provisions in particular disturbed the Antifederalists.
The states selected special representatives to vote at ratification conventions.
The final document was short, only seven articles long.
In addition to those things already mentioned, the Constitution also contained some very basic but important principles.
While the framers did a respectable job of establishing the new government, the new Constitution offered little in the way of individual civil liberties.
As part of the fight over ratification, the Federalists agreed that they would propose a Bill of Rights once the new Constitution was ratified.
While the Bill of Rights offered civil liberties to some Americans, it would take many years before the Constitution was amended to protect most citizens against government abuse.
The Constitution has also changed through interpretation.
Although political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution (and, in fact, Madison tried to limit their effects as explained in Federalist 10), political parties have played a major role in our Constitutional democracy since the beginning.
Checks and balances and federalism combine to make government inefficient. This means that policy making is more difficult in a Constitutional system than in a Parliamentarian system.
• In what ways did the Constitution ensure that government would be responsive to the people? How has government become more responsive since 1787?
• In what ways did the Constitution seek to control the popular will and ensure order?
• In what ways did the Constitution seek to control government itself?
• In what ways did the nation’s founding documents promote equality? In what ways did they fail to promote equality?
• Is the Constitution a gate or a gateway to American democracy? Is it a gatekeeper? Explain.