The Constitution

The Constitution of the United States serves as the supreme law of the United States of America. It was originally comprised of seven articles. The first three lay out the doctrine of the separation of powers, dividing the federal government into the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Articles four five and six lay out the concepts of federalism, which allows the states the right to create their own governments, and defines the relationship between state and federal government. Article seven details the procedure by which the original thirteen states ratified the constitution in 1788. It is the oldest written constitution still in use today.

The Constitution is subject to occasional amendment, and has been amended 27 times to meet the changing needs of the nation. The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, provide protections for individual liberties and justice. They also limit the power of government. The remaining 17 detail protections on civil rights and address issues related to federal authority, or specify modifications to government processes and procedures.

The Constitution begins with “We the People,” which according to the Senate asserts that the government exists to serve the people of the United States. Many believe that the Constitution has stayed in force for over two centuries because of the separating and balancing of governmental powers to safeguard the interests of both majority rule and minority rights.

History

  • Prior to the Constitution, the provisional government of the United States drafted the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union. Under the Articles, the central government and its powers were much more limited. While they could make decisions, they lacked the power to enforce those decisions. Implementation of these decisions required ratification from all thirteen state governments. The major issue with this style of government was a lack of funds. The central government could print money, but could not instill worth in the currency. Congress could borrow money, but lacked the means to pay it back. Much of this stemmed from state governments either providing only part of their taxes, or none at all. State governments continued to operate largely as independent nations, raising their own armies, laying embargos, negotiating with foreign powers, and declaring war. By 1786, two years before The Constitution would be ratified, the United States would be faced with defaulting on their foreign loans.
  • Because they lacked funds, the Articles of Confederation did little to aid the United States in defending their newfound sovereignty. Most of their troops were facing, but not threatening, British forts remaining on American soil. Because they had not been paid, some were deserting, further weakening the army. Spain closed New Orleans to trade with Americans, and barbary pirates began seizing American trade ships, with the treasury lacking the funds to pay for their release. Congress was crippled.
  • In 1787, Congress called for state delegates to gather for the creation of a new government. The convention was not to introduce new laws or small alterations to the existing articles, but for a full revision of the Articles of Confederation. The federal government began operations under the Constitution in March of 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of The United States 8 weeks later, and the final two states ratified the Constitution by mid-1790.