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By the late 1780's many Americans had grown dissatisfied with the Confederation. It was unable to deal effectively with economic problems and weak in the face of Shay's Rebellion. A decade earlier, Americans had deliberately avoided creating a strong national government. Now they reconsidered. In 1787, the nation produced a new constitution and a new, much more powerful government with three independent branches. The government the Constitution produced has survived far more than two centuries as one of the most stable and most successful in the world.
The Articles of Confederation and the Constitution resembled each other in some cases and differed from each other greatly in other aspects. The Articles of Confederation were a foundation for the Constitution, and sometimes even called the Pre-Constitution. The Confederation, which existed from 1781 until 1789, was not a big success. It lacked power to deal with interstate issues, to enforce its will on states, and had little stature in the eyes of the world. It was time for a revision, a new perspective, and a radical change in our government system. However, the principles which guided the crafting of the Declaration of Independence were those same ideals which Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and others used to write the Constitution.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."1 Never before has such a bold assumption been pushed forward as the reason for a peoples' existence. Thomas Jefferson's declaration, which has guided the path of this nation through two hundred years of unique existence is that we hold the truth to be self-evident, that all men, (and women) are created equal, and endowed by there Creator with certain undeniable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
In Jefferson's day, the cost of his actions, and those who agreed with him, was high. Their final personal covenant is represented in the final words of the timeless document which guides this nation. "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor." During the ensuing revolutionary war, their property was destroyed, homes and plantations burned, because they made the audacious assertion that they were 'equal.'
This American spirit lays the foundation of the Constitution. The main goal of this document was to create a strong, effective central government, while at the same time maintaining the individual rights of every man to be free from encroachment of a federal system which they had just defeated in the Revolutionary war. This was a revolutionary undertaking in and of itself. The settlers of the new world came from a wide background. Some came to America seeking freedom to worship without government interference. Some came to the new world as businessmen, intending to start new enterprises, and build a personal fortune by trading with their home country. Some ships docked in America in order to dump criminals, ruffians, and other dregs of society on our shores because their homeland no longer wanted them. And of these, many of them had become the fiercest warriors of the just completed war. Now even these men wanted freedom, recognition, and a piece of the American dream pie. Since the idea of a central government was not the initial goal of the founding fathers, in some ways they had to start from scratch. Many changes were made from the Articles of Confederation after heated debate, disagreement, compromise, and prayer. From our modern, and sometimes overly cynical perspective, some historians have begun to question the fairness of the constitution, and whether the goal of freedom for all Americans was achieved. The New World was, in effect, an experiment in freedom. In giving every man right, responsibility, and freedom to govern themselves, the founders of our country took an incredible risk. They built on the partial successes of the Articles of Confederation, and even though the Articles were far from being successful, they also weren't a complete failure.
The Constitution laid the foundation for a nation and not a loose association of states. Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress was not authorized to raise money by taxation. The Constitution allowed collection and levy taxes ("the power of the purse"). The Constitution differed by demanded a strong national executive. This executive was elected by an electoral college, based upon population and number of representatives selected by state legislatures. The Articles, however, had no provision for a federal executive. Committees of Congress executed the laws. Besides the aforementioned, there are many other ways the Articles differed from the Constitution. The Founding Fathers recognized these flaws or discrepancies in the government and sought out to change them. The Founding Fathers knew we needed a "more perfect union." How would they achieve that? Well, they realized we needed the power to tax. The Articles allowed no power to tax. They wanted a strong, effective central government. There was a weak central government under the Articles. Everyone agreed that the constitution had to be fair to all. Larger states could not have more power over smaller states.
There were three important ordinances that were formulated and retained by both the Articles and Constitution. The ordinance of 1784, based on a proposal by Thomas Jefferson, divided the western territory into ten self-governing districts, each of which could petition Congress for statehood when its population equaled the number of free inhabitants of the smallest existing state. The Ordinance of 1785, Congress created a system for surveying and selling the western lands, and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 abandoned the ten districts established in 1784 and created a single Northwest Territory out of the lands north of the Ohio; the territory out of the divided subsequently into between three and five territories. It also specified a population of 60,000 as a minimum for statehood, guaranteed freedom of religion and the right to trial by jury to residents of the Northwest, and prohibited slavery throughout the territory. As a matter of fact, this may have been the ordinance's most important feature. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was the first attempt to ban slavery and outlaw territory.
One of the most pressing problems dealt at Philadelphia was the problem of representation and how the states should be represented in the lower house in proportion to their free (white) population, and in this measure, the constitution failed to secure freedom for all men. The Southern states argued that based on population done African-Americans should be counted for determining the basis for representation, and direct taxation. They came up with the idea that three-fifths of the total slave population should be figured into proportion and allotment of representatives. The Southern colonies based this formula on the fact that a slave by contributing his or her labor to the overall wealth of the state, they considered that a slave was three-fifths as productive as a freeman. In this measure, the constitution failed to address the issue of freedom and well-being of all Americans. The black American still was not considered a citizen, and the Constitution failed to correct this problem. For them, America would not be the land of the free for another hundred years. This was one area in which compromise was chosen over principle.
One of the many compromises that did serve our country well was the creation of an upper house, the Senate, that states should be represented equally with two members each regardless of size or population. The House of Representatives or lower house remained based on apportionment. Never before had a government been established with the goal of protecting the rights of free men by creating a government of checks and balances. However, what might have been advantageous would have been a of a list of individual rights, which would restrain the powers of the national government in the way that bills of rights restrained the state governments. Hindsight is always 20-20.
The writing of the Constitution of 1787 was the single most important political event in the history of the United States, and a notable event in the political history of the modern world. Historians believe that this political tract is one of the most important documents produced in the last four centuries. The authors of the Constitution created a superb flexible instrument of government that has withstood civil war and insurrection, political corruption, two world wars, numerous domestic troubles and international disputes. The framers of the Constitution were far-sighted and created a document and system of government that was both firm in its basic foundation though flexible in its execution and interpretation.
In June of 1754, twenty-three distinguished men from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland gathered upon invitation of Lieutenant Governor James Delancey of New York to concert their efforts to renew friendship with Iroquois…[continue]
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