When fifty-five delegates from eleven of the thirteen states met in Philadelphia in May of 1787 (four years after the Revolutionary War) for a Constitutional Convention, one of their biggest concerns was to establish a government that did not create any kind of tyranny. Tyranny is the abuse of power by one supreme ruler, like a dictator or king. Tyranny can also happen if a few people (such as several generals or religious leaders) seize control of something or if the majority denies a minority’s rights. The abuse of power can lead to the destruction of a whole country. For this reason, the Framers of the Constitution decided to create a new constitution to replace the existing Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, there was no court system, no chief executive, and not even a way for the government to force a state to pay taxes, which made the government weak. The new constitution needed to be strong so that it could hold our nation together, and yet limit the authority of individual groups to prevent tyranny from happening. The framers decided to use the Constitution to guard against tyranny with four methods. These methods were giving states a more equal representation in Congress, Federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances.
One of the framers’ first challenges was to protect us from tyranny by making sure neither large nor small states had more power in Congress. This was difficult because both large states and small states wanted more representation, and the framers aimed to make sure everyone was pleased with the new constitution. The larger states, such as Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, wanted to determine the number of representatives each state has using the Virginia Plan. The Virginia Plan was to appoint representatives according to population. The smaller states, such as Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey did not like the Virginia Plan because they wouldn’t have very much representation. For this reason, they came up with the New Jersey Plan. The New Jersey Plan was for all of the states to have the same number of representatives. The states then decided to make a compromise. The state’s population now decides the number of representatives a state has in the House of Representatives, which benefits bigger states. There cannot be more than one representative for every thirty thousand people in a state. Furthermore, each state must have at least one representative. Representatives serve for a two-year term. In the Senate, however, each state has two senators, each with one vote. This benefits smaller states. Senators have six-year terms. This system of deciding the number of representatives each state has in Congress helps to guard us from tyranny by making sure that neither larger states nor littler states are too powerful. (Document D)
Another of the framers’ tasks was to defend against tyranny by making certain that neither the federal government nor the state governments became too powerful, so, James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution”, came up with the idea of Federalism. Federalism is the division of power between the federal government and state governments. He said it would provide “double security” to the people by helping to protect their rights and providing separation of powers at the national and state level. Madison also believed that the different governments would each control each other, at the same time that each would be controlled by itself. The central government mostly deals with matters that have to do with our whole country or the world, while state governments deal with local and state issues. The central government can regulate trade, conduct foreign relations, provide an army and navy, declare war, print and coin money, set up post offices, and make immigration laws. On the other hand, state governments have the power to set up local governments, hold elections, establish schools, pass marriage and divorce laws, and regulate in-state business. They both have the very important powers of taxing, borrowing money, setting up courts, and making and enforcing laws. Federalism defends against tyranny by keeping the federal and state governments from possessing an excessive quantity of power. (Document A)
The framers also wished to separate the powers of government so there would not be tyranny, which just so happened to be another of Madison’s ideas. Madison considered the accumulation of all powers: legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, to be the very definition of tyranny, so the framers created three branches of government that were separate and distinct. First, they decided to construct a legislative branch (Congress) that would consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. This branch would make laws, print money, declare war, punish pirates, and collect taxes. Next, they chose to assemble an executive branch consisting of the President, Vice President, and cabinet that would enforce the laws and make treaties with other countries. Finally, they established a judicial branch, made up of the supreme and inferior courts. The judicial branch would decide what a law means, have the ability to declare laws unconstitutional, and provide consequences for not obeying the laws. Serving in two branches of government at once is not allowed. This is because if someone served in more than one branch, that person would have more power than those who only serve in one branch. This could cause tyranny. (Document B)
Finally, the framers prevented tyranny from happening by giving each branch of government power to check and balance the others, yet another of James Madison’s ideas. The legislative branch can exercise control over the executive and judicial branches by being able to approve nominations for cabinet seats and Supreme Court Justices made by the President, override a President’s veto, and impeach the President and remove him or her from office. The executive branch can check and balance the legislative and judicial branches by being capable of vetoing Congressional legislation and nominating judges. Also, the judicial branch has power over the legislative and executive branch by having the ability to declare laws and presidential acts unconstitutional. In addition to allowing each branch to check and balance the others, checks and balances also helps with separation of powers by allowing the various branches to do different things. (Document C)
The Framers’ attempt to write a new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation turned out to be very successful. They really gave a lot to our nation by helping America become the first country to truly protect against tyranny. With the help of the small state – large state compromise, federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances, they ensured that the terrible beast, tyranny, would never arise in the United States of America.