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The Constitution: Frontier to a new Nation
The constitution of the United States is a great frontier in history because it outlines social, political and economic standards that help develop a better country. It defines principles of government, and establishes controlling power over a governing body. Revolutionists fought to protect the newly found American principles such as liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They would not be able to keep the rights that they wanted for the country and people unless there was a formal document dictating one’s rights. There was a need for a Constitution.
Let us look back before the Constitution. In 1781, during the American Revolution, the Articles of Confederation were developed in order to protect the personal liberties of the people. Although the Articles of Confederation were designed to hold colonies together, they did not fulfill their purpose as intended. They lacked the power to tax, regulate trade, and had an ineffectual proportional representation. There was an insufficiency of power over the states as well. As an new nation, there were many challenges facing the people ahead. The articles were limited in providing solutions to many and most of these challenges because the states held most of the power. This of course, made the people want the Constitution on a social level as the people did not like it when the states had too much power.
The US Constitution was written and developed to focus in on and resolve these problems. In order to protect the liberty and well being of the people, a new and stronger system was necessary. States were already acting independently, and congress lacked the power to regulate and enforce laws as there were no checks and balances within the system. This is seen early on in the second article, “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”
Another sever problem that resulted because of the Articles of Confederation was that the system was not able to enforce laws to control the people, which meant that it was up to the states to govern the people. This means that there was no unity between the states and the people, which is going to lead to competition between the states over land, commerce and repayment of the public debt. This brings the need for a Constitution on economic grounds as commercial legislation was virtually not possible as there as the tarrifs were different from every state and that created conflicts. Since the country was so economically and politically, practically everyone was in favor of a new Constitution. “During the war of the revolution, our commerce was suspended; our trade continued to languish had to contend with domestic and foreign obstacles; ” This says a lot about the economic and political situation of the country, so something needed to be done about this, hence the forming of the Constitution. Now that the problems of the Articles have been addressed, we can now focus on how the Constitution improved and became a frontier in the history of the US.
The Constitution resolved many conflicts in the shape of a “checks and balances” system with three branches (judicial, legislative, executive) and a bi-cameral legislative branch. The most difficult aspect of the old system that had to be dealt with was equal representation. Since the number of representatives was proportional to the states population, then the big states like Virginia would have the upper hand. The smaller states did not like this, and it was resolved that the lower house (House of Representatives) would be proportional to the states population and the upper house (the Senate) would be composed of 2 senators from every state. “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state.” This was a huge improvement as now small and large states would be happy.
The next important issue that needed to be settled was slavery. The constitution doesn’t mention the legality of holding slaves, but the slave trade is ended in 1808. Now to appease both the North and South, slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person, so they would be partially counted but taxed proportionally. This becomes the 3/5 Clause, “Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”
On the issue of commerce, Congress now gained the authority to tax and regulate all trade except exports. “No state shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any imposts or duties on imports or exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing ”
The one thing that the delegates acted rather conservatively on was placing too many checks on the influence of the masses, as the people could not vote directly for the president, (”Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.” ) and they could only vote directly for the House of Representatives, which has less power than the senate.
Then on the other hand, the framers do away with official aristocracy, in the Constitution, (”No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: ” ) so that provides more social mobility giving the people more freedom. Another beneficial document that was designed for the people is the Bill of Rights, as it outlines and protects very specific rights of every citizen.
Since colonists had a natural fear of governmental authority and having just declared their independence from Britain, there were many fears of a tyrannical form of government. They designed the Articles of Confederation intentionally weak, so that it would limit congressional authority. The corruption of the English monarchies had a tremendous impact on colonists, and was one of the driving forces for revolt. They didn’t want this form of corruption to develop in the American government, because of too much governmental power and authority. However, the Articles of Confederation were so weak, they lacked the power to regulate, thus causing states to act very independently. There was absolutely no power to sanction states that failed to comply with tax or other major decisions.
The anti-federalists, who favored a weak federal government, was definitely a minority and feared the large republic would abuse their power. In order to secure and protect the people from this type of overpowering abuse, James Madison introduced the Bill of Rights, which secured the minority and protected the individual rights of Americans.
The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the newly constructed Constitution, increased and safeguarded the liberties that the anti-federalists such as Patrick Henry were so concerned about. Many anti-federalists that had originally opposed a strong central government, and the Constitution, gradually started to consent and progress toward the newly formed constitution.
The Bill of Rights was a stepping stone for anti-federalists, one which turned many of the negative attitudes into a more positive toleration. Americans demanded a government for the people, apart from British rule, and that’s exactly what they received. The last Bill of Rights stated, “those powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This helped to ensure states rights, and further calmed the fears of anti-federalists. More and more Jeffersonians began to accept this newly designed constitution.
Although the Constitution is not perfect and may not satisfy everyone, it is nonetheless a frontier to a new and better nation. The delegates knew that making a perfect political system was impossible, they made up the Constitution in which they could reach social, political and economic compromises on many levels. Providing future generations with flexibility and a constantly evolving government is quite a big frontier.
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