The Constitution of the United States is the seven articles that are the framework of our government and was created to ensure the rights and responsibilities of all citizens. The Constitution has been described as a living, breathing document since it is constantly open to interpretation and amendment. This paper will be focusing on the history from the ending of the French-Indian War to the signing into law of the Constitution, the preamble, the seven articles, and what they mean to us as citizens.
The events leading up to the formation of the constitution, begins with the end of the French-Indian War in the 1760's. At this time, the British government began to face financial problems due to the debt it incurred protecting the colonies during the war. Since the colonies paid very little in taxes, the British government implemented a new, modest tax on the colonies to help resolve their debts. As time went on, they began adding additional tariffs, duties, and other taxes on commerce. Other additional taxes followed such as the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act of 1764. These taxes lead to the Boston Tea Party and the assembly of the first Continental Congress in 1774. The first Continental Congress was an assembly of delegates from all parts of the colonies. They called for a total boycott of British goods. While the more radical delegates, began discussing the idea of independence from British rule.
The Revolutionary War was the result of the colonies having enough of British rule and the first Continental Congress. The second Continental Congress was assembled in early 1776. They appointed a committee to draft a statement declaring the colonies independence from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was the statement that was drafted and was signed into law on July 4, 1776. In November of 1977, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation's goals were to limit the powers of the national government, the relationship between the states and national government (called the confederation), and gave the national government, which consisted of only Congress, very limited power. The Annapolis Convention was a meeting in Annapolis, Maryland in 1786 that led to the convening of the Constitutional Convention. Delegates from five states gathered to discuss problems in maritime commerce but found they could not solve them without changes in the Articles of Confederation. They issued a call to all states to meet in Philadelphia in 1787 to resolve the difficulties. Following the Annapolis Convention was Shay's rebellion. It was an armed uprising in Massachusetts in 1786 that exposed many deficiencies in the Articles of Confederation and led to more calls for a revision of the Articles and eventually the Constitutional Convention.
The Constitutional Convention (or the Philadelphia Convention) of 1787 was called to amend the Articles of Confederation, the rules for the United States' first independent government. But when the fifty-five delegates attempted to amend the plan, they realized the task was impossible. The delegates decided to do away with the Articles of Confederation and began working in secret to devise an entirely new framework for government, the Constitution of the United States. The Virginia Plan provided for a system of representation in the national legislature based on the population of each state or the population of each state or the proportion of each state's revenue contribution to the national government, or both. Since the states varied enormously in size and wealth, the Virginia Plan was thought to be favoring the larger states. The New Jersey Plan proposed a central government with a single-house legislature in which each state would be represented equally and not based on the state's population or revenue. At last the delegates from the larger states and the delegates from the smaller states were able to come to an agreement, which is referred to as the Great Compromise. The Great Compromise combined these two plans creating our current legislature with two houses, one based on population and elected by the people and the other house allowing two senators per state being appointed by state legislatures. The last issue the Continental Congress had to decide on is the issue of how slaves would be counted when appropriating taxes in the Union. The Three-Fifths Compromise settled this issue. The agreement was that slave states would pay extra taxes because every slave is counted as 3/5 of a freeman. The reason for this is that it was calculated that a slave is only 3/5's productive as a freeman. After deciding on the issues and coming to an agreement, the Constitution was formed and written. It is organized into three main parts: the preamble or introduction, the seven articles, and then the twenty-seven amendments or revisions to the original document. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 delegates.
The authors of the Constitution believed that the national government needed to be stronger than it had been under the Articles of Confederation. At the same time, however, they were deeply mistrustful of human nature and of the tendency for people in power to violate the rights of others. As a result, they sought to create a government powerful enough to govern, but not so powerful as to threaten individual liberty. The idea of a constitutional government -- of a government with a written set of rules which it cannot violate -- is itself, one way to create a limited government. The Founding Fathers also sought to divide power in a number of ways in order to prevent its abuse. Three of the key ideas embedded in the Constitution are separation of powers, checks and balances, and federalism.
The separation of powers and the system of checks and balances was based on the ideas of the French philosopher Montesquieu. The Constitution created three separate branches of government and gave each of the branches their own powers and areas of influence. At the same time, in order to further protect the citizens, the constitution set up a system of checks and balances. Basically, each branch of government has a certain number of checks it can use to ensure the other branches do not become too powerful. The Executive Branch's power lies with the President of the United States, whom is elected by the people, is given the job of executing, enforcing, and administering the laws and government. The Bureaucracy is part of the Executive Branch. The Legislative Branch consists of the Congress which is responsible for making the federal laws. Congress consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Judicial Branch's power is vested in the Supreme Court and the federal courts. Their job is to interpret