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THE US CONSTITUTION. It’s History and Importance. Founding Principles. Liberty Equality Self Government. Cultural Ideals. Individualism Diversity Unity. Where did these ideas come from?. Major Influences. Mayflower Compact (Written before the Pilgrims even landed) John Locke

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the us constitution


It’s History and Importance

founding principles
Founding Principles
  • Liberty
  • Equality
  • Self Government
cultural ideals
Cultural Ideals
  • Individualism
  • Diversity
  • Unity
major influences
Major Influences
  • Mayflower Compact
    • (Written before the Pilgrims even landed)
  • John Locke
    • (Social Contract and Natural Rights)
  • English Law
    • (Magna Carta and Common Law)
  • Colonial Government
    • (Strong Bicameral Legislatures)
the limits of american democracy
The limits of American Democracy
  • Everyone is equal EXCEPT:
    • American Indians
    • Blacks
    • Women
    • Indentured Servants
    • Atheists, Jews, etc.
the conservative revolution1
The Conservative Revolution
  • While there were some major events that made many Americans want to revolt, most Americans were against war for a long time, even some of the early revolutionaries
  • The war was a slow escalation over time and the revolutionaries’ goals were not all that radical or well defined at first
the declaration of independence
The Declaration of Independence
  • The first real declaration of war
    • (Though fighting had already broken out)
  • Intended to gain support abroad
    • (Ended up being more important at home)
after the revolution before the constitution
After the RevolutionBefore the Constitution
  • Articles of Confederation
    • Could not tax
    • No enforcement power
    • State law ruled
  • Shays’ Rebellion
    • Wake up call
problems facing the us govt
Problems Facing the US Govt.
  • No money
  • No power to regulate commerce
  • No currency
  • Disagreement over western lands
  • Tiny federal army and huge state militias
  • Civil unrest everywhere concerning debts
the philadelphia convention1
The Philadelphia Convention
  • States sent representatives (everybody who was anybody in the US) to make recommendations on how to fix the Articles
  • The convention immediately decided to start from scratch and changed all the rules
  • Probably never would have worked if not for the delegates personal prestige
what they agreed on
What they agreed on…
  • Natural rights to liberty and property
    • (At least in principle, not always practice)
  • A social contract as the source of legitimacy
  • Representative (not direct) democracy
  • Limited governmental power
  • A need for a strong national government
what they disagreed on
What they disagreed on…
  • Representation
    • Small states vs. large states (New Jersey, Virginia)
    • The Great Compromise (Connecticut)
    • The Three-fifths Compromise
  • Slavery
    • North vs. south
    • Can’t ban slavery until 1808, no export tariffs
  • Who should get to vote
    • Left it up to the states (like so many other issues)
  • Needed a stronger central government, but also needed to maintain state governments
  • Result:
    • Supremacy Clause (Original)
    • Tenth Amendment (Later)
    • Express and Implied Powers (Still debating)
      • (Elastic Clause)
the structure of government1
The Structure of Government
  • Three Branches
    • Legislative (House and Senate)
    • Executive (President and Bureaucracy)
    • Judicial (Federal Courts)
  • Why do it this way?
    • Separation of Powers
    • Checks and Balances (i.e. Judicial Review)
the debate over ratification
The Debate Over Ratification
  • Not everyone supported the Constitution immediately
  • In fact, it never would have passed if not for the fact that the convention attendees just made up completely new rules about what it would take to pass it
another big compromise
Another Big Compromise
  • The last states to ratify insisted that a Bill of Rights be added to the constitution
    • They didn’t buy arguments by federalists concerning enumerated (express) powers.
  • How many rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights can you list?
  • Lots of proposed amendments (thousands) never go anywhere
  • Generally those that have passed have been proposed by two-thirds of congress and ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures
    • Prohibition is an exception
  • BUT amendments aren’t the only changes
judicial review
Judicial Review
  • It is the job of courts to interpret the constitution (Marbury vs. Madison)
  • Sometimes courts strike down unconstitutional laws
  • More often they simply reinterpret existing laws (desegregation of schools, for example)
  • Strict Constitutionalism vs. Activism
    • More on this later
congress and the president
Congress and the President
  • The President generally interprets the constitution in a way that gives him more power (e.g. disclosure of documents)
  • The Congress has tried to argue that only it can start a war, not a president (war powers act), but every single president has ignored that bit of legislation (many repeatedly)
custom and practice
Custom and Practice
  • Arguably, the Constitution has been changed in some ways just because people are now doing things differently
  • The “intentions” of the founders have certainly been violated with regards to political parties and the degree to which DIRECT democracy operates in America
the constitution right or wrong
Established a highly democratic government (at least for its time)

Created a powerful and effective national government

Still works (mostly)

Has improved over time

Perpetuated Slavery until the Civil War

Did not allow the people to directly elect most politicians

Was written by rich white men for rich white men

The Constitution: Right or Wrong?