Americans possessed a vast amount of experience with “self-government” before the formation of the Constitution. This helped to affect the political views of the framers who wrote the Constitution as well as played a key role in the formation of the first government. America already sustained values of liberty, equality, and democracy in which were undoubtedly all major aspects of the Founding period and are all elements of the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution, however, was a product of political bargaining and compromise.
The government created by the Founders was based on the key aspects of British legal and political traditions and the colony’s experience. It was also formed around innovative ideas about how they should be governed in which gained popularity in the century before America separated from Great Britain. America’s leaders, while still being ‘practical’ politicians, was influenced by the eminent thinkers of their day, like political philosophers.
In the beginning, Britain ruled its American colonies very lightly. British rule, while still evident in larger towns, was scarcely found outside of certain areas. Colonists also had discovered ways to avoid many of the taxes imposed by the British. However, during the 1760s, Britain imposed new taxes on the colonists as a result of Britain’s debt. The government mainly used tariffs, duties, and other taxes on trade to obtain the money they needed. These taxes, like the Stamp Act, which imposed a stamp tax on newspapers as well as legal and commercial documents, and Sugar Act of 1764, where colonists had been required to pay a tax on every gallon of imported foreign molasses, heavily affected the groups who relied heavily on commercial interests. The colonists, however, did not stay quiet about their feelings which resulted in the phrase “No taxation without representation” being born. The radical forces also protested against the taxes. They continued fighting for both political and social change. The radicals argued British power was politically unjust, and they began rallying for an end to British rule.
The political problems continued later on when the British government granted the East India Company a monopoly on the export of tea from Britain, hindering tea trades for colonial merchants. Radicals had grown tired of this and decided to make a change. They dumped the East India Company’s tea into Boston Harbor, an event becoming known as the Boston Tea Party. The British retaliated by closing the port of Boston to commerce, restricting movement to the West, as well as many other things. These acts of retaliation helped radicalized Americans and encouraged the Americans to begin fighting for independence from Great Britain. The Americans formed the First Continental Congress. This was delegates from all parts of the colonies that suggested the boycott of British goods. This was also considered as a helping hand for formation of the Declaration of Independence.
The Articles of Confederation seemed to be the solution for their problems. The Americans feared a firm national government would lead back to the suppression they faced with Britain. The Articles of Confederation set up the Continental Congress solely at the federal level. It did not include any executive or judicial branches except for those within the states. Unlike the British rule, he states were allowed to keep every right except those that were specifically given to Congress. States were unallowed to use taxes as a way to reject treaties. States were also very limited in dealings with foreign nations. Although the Americans initially considered the articles as a good thing, there were more weaknesses than strengths of the Articles of Confederation. The Continental Congress’ lack of power hurt the federal government. The Articles gave Congress the power to pass laws but they did not have the power to enforce those laws. A state could merely disregard a federal law if they did not support it. Plus, Congress did not have the power to levy taxes or regulate trade. They essentially had no way to enforce laws or keep order.
In 1786, state leaders all received an invitation from the Virginia legislature for a conference that was held in Annapolis. However, only representatives from only five states actually attended. This conference was the essentially the first step toward the second founding. Many other steps were taken on the path towards the Constitution. These steps included The Great Compromise and The Three-Fifths Compromise. The Great Compromise was a two-house structure of the legislative branch of government for the United States. The Great Compromise consisted of a mixture of two different plans that had different views of how to represent the people of the U.S. The New Jersey Plan benefited the small states while the Virginia Plan benefited the large states. The Three-Fifths Compromise outlined the process in which states had to count slaves as part of the population when determining representation and taxes for the government.
Finally, The Constitution of the United States was established and defined America’s national government and fundamental laws, as well as guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787 by the delegates of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The Constitution was extremely different from the Articles of Confederation although they were the basis for the Constitution. For example, within the articles, the national government was dependent upon state militias. With the Constitution, the national government could maintain an army and navy.
Although the Americans wanted to have a powerful national government, they also felt they needed to guard themselves against possible misuse of that power much like when they were under British control. They incorporated two principles into the Constitution which were the separation of powers and federalism. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in the form of 10 amendments. The separation of powers was extremely significant. It gave each branch its own powers as well as limited power over the other two branches. This was also a case with the president. A president’s veto gave the president a power over Congress as well as Congress had power over the president by controlling who was appointed to high executive posts and the judiciary. Congress also possesses power over the president with its control of a limit on how much government money was spent.
The ratification of the Constitution was a very hard task to achieve. There were even 13 different campaigns in an attempt to ratify the Constitution. Inside the complications were two different groups called the Federalists and the Anti Federalists. The Federalists supported the constitution and wanted a strong national government. The Anti Federalists wanted strong state governments and a weak national government and did not agree with the Constitution. Eventually, the constitution was adopted, however, it was strongly affected by both sides of the argument.
Along with the constitution came amendments. The government adopted amendments to add to the constitution when necessary. Over 11,000 amendments have been offered to congress however very few have actually been ratified. The reason behind this is it is very hard to pass an amendment. First comes the proposal process for the amendment. This requires two-thirds if a vote in the House and the Senate to be passed. Next comes the ratification. Next, the amendment has to be ratified. After the ratification process has begun, it can still be declined. In “We the People (eleventh ESSENTIALS Edition) 11th Ginsberg (1)” it directly states“What is more, if the necessary two-thirds vote is obtained, the amendment can still be killed by the refusal or inability of only 13 out of 50 state legislatures to ratify it.” (Page 54) This shows that the amendment process is even more difficult as it only takes the refusal of 13 states in order to kill an amendment.
This shows, however, that there is limited change being made to the constitution as it is still useful in keeping a strong and structured government in the United States. Although the amendments help to outline the constitutional rights of the individual, it cannot enforce itself. It is up to the government, law enforcement, and the people themselves to implement their rights that are state in the Constitution.
There has been many events that led to the ratification of the Constitution. Americans have faced many obstacles throughout this ratification like the Articles of Confederation as well as the many opposing opinions in regards to political decisions.