The American Constitution

For our American readers, a lot of this, if not all of this, will probably be something you have known since your childhood. But, I feel that it is necessary that we write a blog on the fascinating constitution: how it was formed, what it involved and how different people view it!

How and why was the Constitution formed?

In 1776, thirteen colonies declared their independence from Great Britain by signing the Declaration of Independence, making them ‘free and independent’ states. Consequently, this lead to the War of Independence between the former colonies and Britain from 1776-1783. The colonies had to pay tax to Britain, even though they had no representation in the British Parliament, so wanted to form their own system of government. In 1781, the newly independent colonies established a confederacy through the Articles of Confederation – a confederal government has a lot of power given to the states but little to the national government. However, this confederacy almost turned their victory in gaining independence into a defeat because it proved to be a disaster as their was little power for the national government, thus they failed to make a nation. In 1787, a group of people (now collectively known as the Founding Fathers) agreed to meet up at the Philadelphia convention to amend the Articles of Confederation. In the end, they scrapped the Articles of Confederation and created a new constitution with a number of compromises as to the allocation of powers.

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What were the compromises?

Three key compromises were the formation of government, state representation and choosing the president. Under British rule there had been a central government (unitary) with a lot of power for the national government, but the Articles of Confederation created a confederal government which gave a lot of power to the states (not the national government). The compromise was a federal government where the states and the national government had equally important powers. Representation for the states varied depending on their size. Large states wanted proportional representation where they would have more representatives compared to small states, but small states wanted equal representation regardless of state size. The compromise was to have a bicameral system (two houses): the House of Representatives would be proportional and the Senate would have equal representation. Finally, some people wanted a directly elected president and others wanted him/her to be appointed. The compromise was to have an indirectly elected Electoral College who would be elected by the people (in the Primaries) who then go on to choose the president (at the national party convention).

How liberals view the constitution

Liberals (such as the Democrats) would argue that the constitution creates a lot of gridlock (difficult to pass laws) and little accountability. Liberals also believe the Bill of Rights (defines citizen’s rights) is very important, but the system allows for the erosion of civil liberties during times of emergency. Finally, to a liberal, the courts have shown themselves slow and unwilling to intervene on a number of issues – especially social issues such as guns, abortion and gay rights.

How conservatives view the constitution

Conservatives (such as the Republicans) believe that the federal government exploits the vagueness of the constitution at the expense of states right and powers. The vagueness of the constitution can be seen through the ‘elastic’ clauses, such as the ‘necessary and proper’ clause, which allows the government to make laws which are ‘necessary and proper’ – conservatives wonder what laws are necessary and proper. They also question the growth of the courts through their power of judicial review, which allows the court to interpret the meaning of the constitution

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From a non-partisan view

The American constitution is the longest serving constitution in the world and the fact that compromises were made from the left and right meant that that there should be a good balance between the federal government and the state governments. Also, the difficulty of amending the constitution means that it requires broad based support for changes to be made to it.

Questions

  • Does the constitution fulfil its main functions?
  • Does the constitution need changing?
  • What are the pros and cons of the constitution?

Thanks for reading,

Digestible Politics

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