The Origins of a New Nation • Colonists came to the New World during the 1600s for a variety of reasons including: • to escape religious persecution • find plentiful land • and to seek a new start in life. • The colonists were allowed significant liberties in terms of self-government, religious practices, and economic organization BUT…. • They were still part of the British Empire.
The Political Theory and Practices of the Revolutionary Era • Conflicts in the new nation: • Traditional rights of life, liberty, and property seemed to be threatened by British policies on trade and taxation. • The Revolution was inspired by a concern for liberty together with the development of sentiments for popular sovereignty and political equality.
Basic concepts in the Revolutionary era • Liberty — the preservation of traditional rights against the intrusions of government • Popular sovereignty — assumes that ultimate political authority belongs to the people • Political equality — refers to decision making where each person carries the same weight
Basic Constitutional Rules • Apportions power and responsibility among governmental branches • Defines the fundamental nature of relationships between governmental institutions and the people • Specifies how individuals are to be selected for office • Tells how the rules themselves may be changed
Organizing a Government: Writing a Constitution • Definition • A nation’s basic law. • Sets the broad rules of the game. • The rules are not neutral - some have advantages, others don’t.
The Articles of Confederation • The First American “Constitution” • The colonists created a loose league of friendship under "The Articles of Confederation.“ • Established predominantly as reaction to the unitary system used in Britain in which all of the power and sovereignty is vested in the central government.
Problems Under the Articles of Confederation • The Congress had no power to tax. States coined their own money and trade wars erupted. • Congress had no power to regulate commerce among the states or ensure a unified monetary system. • States conducted foreign relations without regard to neighboring states' needs or wants. Duties, tariffs, and taxes on trade proliferated with different ones in each state.
Failure of the Articles • The economy began to deteriorate. Several years of bad harvests ensued. Farmers went into ever-deeper debt. Many leaders worried about questions of defense, trade, and frontier expansion. • By 1786, several states had called for a convention to discuss ways of strengthening the national government. And then…
Shay’s Rebellion, 1786 • Widespread economic problems among farmers at the end of the Revolutionary War • Nonpayment of taxes and debts led to foreclosure proceedings and imprisonment for debt. • Farmers in western Massachusetts took up arms to prevent courts from meeting and (led by Captain Daniel Shays) forced the ill-equipped state militia to withdraw. • By the spring of 1787, special armed forces recruited from the Boston area defeated the rebels.
Aftermath of Shays’s Rebellion • Shays’s Rebellion reinforced the fears of national leaders about the dangers of ineffective state governments and of popular democracy out of control. • In this climate of crisis, a call was issued to meet in Philadelphia to correct defects in the Articles of Confederation. • Delegates to the Philadelphia convention were instructed to propose revisions for the Articles of Confederation, but they wrote an entirely new constitution instead.
The New Constitution Philadelphia, Summer 1787
Only 11 states actually participated • The RI delegation never showed up • NYers went home in protest (except for Alexander Hamilton) • Rule of secrecy • Madison: “No Constitution would ever have been adopted …if the debates had been public”.
Madison (Federalist #51) "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself."
Consensus Among the Delegates • Support for a substantially strengthened national government. • Concern that a strong national government is potentially tyrannical. • Conviction that government should not be allowed to fall into the hands of particular interests.
Changing Views • During the American Revolution, American leaders worried primarily about the misrule of executives and judges. • Those who drafted the Constitution were more afraid of the danger of legislative tyranny. • The framers turned to the idea of mixed or balanced government
Conflict Centered Around Disagreements Between Large and Small States. • Representation of the states in the legislature • Status of slavery • Selection of the president
Compromises at the Constitutional Convention Proposals for representation — the most intense of the debates concerned the relative power of large and small states • “Virginia Plan” • “New Jersey Plan”
Virginia Plan • Bicameral Legislature – representation in both houses based on Population • Unitary Executive – elected by the legislature • National Judiciary – elected by the legislature
New Jersey Plan • Unicameral Legislature – equal representation by state. Large and small states have the same vote. • Executive Committee – removable by a majority of states • Judiciary (state courts work fine)
The Great Compromise • Bicameral Legislature • House (representation by population) • Senate (equal representation by state) • President - elected by Electoral College removable by national legislature • Supreme Court – appointment shared by Senate and President (and other courts to be named later)
A “President” as an alternative to a “King”: • A single elected chief executive • Indirect election of the president by an “Electoral College”. • The House of Representatives would choose a president only if no candidate received a majority of electoral votes.
Broad Principles • No branch should control all power or dominate the other branches. • Executive, legislative, and judicial powers, were placed into different branches (the principle of separation of powers). • The framers also arranged for the legislative, executive, and judicial powers to check one another and share power (the principle of checks and balances).
Federalism: Division of Powers • The framers created a federal system with a relatively strong central government. • “Supremacy” clause (Article VI, Section 2) • “Elastic” clause (Article I, Section 8) • But the States remain important components within the federal system.
Understanding the Constitution — What the Framers Created • The Constitution is one of the major structural factors that has influenced the evolution of American government. • Major outlines of our present-day government are expressed in the document written in 1787. • Only 27 formal amendments have been added in more than 200 years.
The Constitution created what is called a “Republican” form of government • Based on popular consent and some popular participation, but placed barriers in the path of majoritarian democracy. • Limits the purposes and powers of government in order to prevent tyranny (both executive & majority)
Checks on majority rule • Created a system in which the people rule only indirectly • Bicameral legislature, with varying terms of office and different constituencies • Indirect election of the president and Senate (changed by Amendment XVII) • Presidential appointment of judges and confirmation by the Senate • Cumbersome and difficult amendment process
“Limited” National Government • The Constitution lists specific powers of the national government (Article I, Section 8) and specifically denies others (Article I, Section 9). • The Bill of Rights (not part of the original Constitution) imposes restraints on the national government by protecting fundamental rights of citizens.
Foundations for a national free enterprise economy • The framers were concerned that a system “too much upon the democratic order” would threaten private property. • Constitutional protections for property rights • The framers took steps to encourage the emergence of a national free enterprise economy.
Slavery:a potentially divisive issue Several provisions were adopted that explicitly recognized slavery: • The “Three-fifths” Compromise • Legislation against the slave trade was prohibited until the year 1808. A tax on importation of slaves was permitted. • Return of runaway slaves was required.
The Battle to Ratify the Constitution • Delegates had been instructed to propose alterations to the Articles of Confederation, but they wrote an entirely new Constitution instead. • Ratification was a difficult process. • Federalists — favored ratification • Anti-Federalists — opposed ratification
The Authors of the Federalist Papers: • James Madison • Alexander Hamilton • John Jay
The “Anti-Federalists” • Samuel Bryan • George Clinton (NY Governor) • Patrick Henry (“Give me Liberty or Give me Death!”) • Robert Yates
Federalists Weaker state governments Indirect election Longer terms Government by the elite Not concerned about individual liberties Anti-Federalists Strong state governments Direct election Short terms of office Government by common man Strong protections of individual liberties Ratifying the Constitution
Top Ten Reasons Why We Should Ratify the Constitution • 10 – Because we’re not really giving all the power to the federal government. • 9 – The people retain rights unenumerated. • 8 – No one will inflict cruel and unusual punishment on me. • 7 – I can have a jury trial. • 6 – I can have a speedy trial, a lawyer, & find out who said all those nasty things about me.
5 – No government can take my life, liberty or property without due process. • 4 – The cops can’t search me without a damn good reason. • 3 – My home is my castle (and the government officials can’t expect free room & board). • 2 – I can own a gun just like the NRA says.
And the Number 1 Reason to Ratify the Constitution: • 1- Freedom (of speech, of religion, of assembly, and of the press)
How the Constitution Changes • Constitutional rules can and do change over time. • Formal & Informal Methods • The tendency of the Constitution to change with the times is why we sometimes use the term the “Living” Constitution.
Amendments • First 10 • 11 (Courts) & 12 (Electoral College) • Civil War (13th-15th) • 20th Century (16-27) • Taxes, Election of Senators, Vote for Women, Prohibition, Presidential Term limits, 18-21 Vote, DC Vote
The Next Constitutional Amendment? • Restrictions on Gay Marriage (proposed in Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Address) • Restrictions on flag burning (elimination of a 1ST Amendment “free speech” defense) • Acceptance of the word “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Informal” Constitutional Change • Judicial Interpretation • Changing Political Practice • Technology • Increasing Demands on Policymakers