An Outline Introduction to American
After the War of Independence, American went through period of social adjustment. How to convert the Confederation into the Federation was a new test for a nation of many nations. To shape a new society acceptable to all, they had to design a new system–Federalism. As Senator Mitchell put it in 1987, ―Other nations derive from a single tribe or a single race. They practice a single religion. Common racial, ethnic, and religious heritages are the glue of nationhood for many. The United States is different.‖ It does not have all these things. But for more than 200 years, the Union has successfully maintained its unity. Racial discrimination and localism did exist, but they did not lead to disintegration. It is worth while to study the contributing factors.
Immediately after independence, the 13 states were not closely united. Different backgrounds and economic conditions made them suspicious of each other. Many Americans had the belief that the peace treaty had provided independence for the 13 separate states, not for a united country. All the states began to write their own constitutions which listed the powers belonging to the government and the people. The Massachusetts constitution, for example, says:
The goal of government is to supply individuals with the power of enjoying in safety and peace their natural rights and the blessing of life. And whenever these ends are not obtained, the people have the right to alter the government ……
Influenced by the theory of human imperfection, American people believed it was not right to pin their hope on the assumption that government officials were always trust worthy.
A series of challenging problems soon compelled Americans to give up their wishful idea about ―independent sovereign states.‖
The ideology of the Revolution
Although conflict between radicals and moderates was held in check during the war, once the fighting ended, practical differences surfaced. Moderates advocated a political economy based on a strong national government that6 would actively advance commerce and protect private property. Radicals favored a different political economy, based on a weaker central government, a more localized democracy, and a hands-off economic policy. The dispute rendered the Congress of Confederation almost powerless.
The financing of the Independence War
America entered the war without any way of getting money to pay for it. Taxing the people was out of the question, not only because Americans had begun the war precisely to avoid high taxes levied by the English Government, but also because Congress had no authority to tax. Congress and the separate
第 1 页 共 4 页
states had all incurred heavy debs, both internal and external, to finance the war. After he war ended, they had no way of raising enough money to pay the debts. Congress had also printed a lot of paper money to finance the war. But there was no gold or silver to back up the paper money. With so much paper money in circulation, its value dropped and dropped. By 1781, the paper money dropped to only half a percent of its face value.
The economic problems of the states
During the war, trade with Britain was cut off. After the war, trade resumed. But Britain continued to exclude American ships from British ports. Congress, operating under the Articles of Confederation, was too weak to negotiate a more advantageous trade relationship with Britain. As a result, prices for American farm goods dropped sharply. The states addressed their economic problems in different ways. Some states decided to pay off their war debts by raising taxes. Few farmers could pay their debts-much less the increased taxes. To add to their troubles, farmers were required to pay their taxes in specie.
A lot of people were frightened by what seemed to be a growing lawlessness. Many people realized that the Confederation would not be able to deal with the country‘s major problems – to protect democracy and contain anarchy.
To prevent the fruit of victory from going up in smoke, a number of prominent persons, including Washington, James Madison and the 81-year-old Franklin, met and discussed the problems facing the nation. Their conference led to the opening session of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia,
on May 25, 1787. Fifty-five delegates from all the states except Rhode Island attended the Convention.
As a matter of fact, the delegates had not been empowered by the states to work out a Constitution. They had come to discuss how to deal with the common problems. But as the Convention proceeded, the delegates concluded that it was
impossible to try to solve the problems by patching up the Articles of Confederation.
James Madison, a 36-year-old lawyer put forward a plan known as the
‗Virginia Plan‘, which was known as the basis of the discussion. His plan was a
blueprint for a new government which was radically different from the
Confederation. There were also provisions with regard to admitting new states
and amending the Constitution. The delegates were in basic agreement that the
new government should be given adequate power.
The delegates, as representatives of the state, argued bitterly any time the interests of their states seemed in jeopardy. The greatest challenge was to find grounds for compromise that would leave in jeopardy. The greatest challenge was to find grounds for compromise that would leave state believing that it had struck the best bargain it could. The most difficult question was about representation: Would the number of senators and representatives be based on population or would all the states have equal representations? The agreement
第 2 页 共 4 页
was reached only through compromise. And the work of writing the Constitution was completed on September 17, 1787.
The Constitutional Convention decided that the Constitution would go into effect once nine states, rather than all the 13 states, had ratified it.
When the Constitution was placed before the people of the 13 states, disagreement ensued. While it was supported by some people who called
themselves the Federalists, it also met with strong opposition of others who became known as the Anti-federalists. The federalists included merchants,
planters, craftsmen, speculators and most of the frontiersmen. The Anti-federalists, mostly small farmers and people with debts, however, criticized the draft Constitution for its negligence of state power and the individual‘s rights.
The Constitution did not win its final ratification until the Federalists had promised to accept amendments proposed by the opponents. The promise paved the way for the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which have been known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights provides for the
protection of human rights and says that the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, speech and the press, the right to keep and bear arms, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures, and the right against self-incrimination (the right for everyone to refuse to give witness against himself in any criminal case ). The Bill of Rights has been regarded as a safeguard against arbitrary violations of human rights by the government. The Contents
The U.S. Constitution was designed to unite all the people and prevent abuse of power by government officials. It was for this purpose that the U.S.
Constitution adopted a totally new system—federalism based on the division of
powers between the federal government and the states. Powers given to the
federal government are known as delegated powers. They include the power to deal with problems of general concern, such as the power to coin money, to make federal laws, to raise an army and declare war, to conduct diplomacy and make treaties, and to tax imports and deal with cases concerning two or more states. All the powers not listed in the Constitution are reserved for the state. With its reserved powers, the state could pass state laws to deal with issues that would concern only people living within the state border.
The power delegated to the federal government is divided among three separate, but interdependent branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.
They cooperate with each other, but they also check each other.
Congress is the legislative branch. It consists of two chambers, the
Senate and the House of Representatives. Congress is invested with the power to make laws, levy taxes, declare war and appropriate money to cover government‘s expenditures.
The Executive branch is headed by the President whose duty is to protect the Constitution and faithfully carry out the laws passed by Congress. Powers given to the President are also listed in the Constitution. He signs the acts
第 3 页 共 4 页
passed by Congress into law or vetoes them. He appoints federal judges and federal officials with Senatorial approval. He conducts diplomacy and commands the U.S. armed forces. He issues executive orders and proposes legislations.
The Judicial branch refers to the Supreme Court and other federal courts created by Congress. The Supreme Court interprets the Constitution and determines whether presidential orders and the Acts of Congress are constitutional. As the highest guardian of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws, it will punish anyone who breaks the federal law.
These three branches are balanced against each other. No branch is powerful enough to do what it likes without considering the opinion of the other two. It also helps to prevent abuse of power that is often caused by absolute concentration of powers. But the strict division of power can be a cost to efficiency and cause trouble.
The Constitution was also framed on the belief that liberty, an inalienable natural right, was not to be achieved freely in society. Everyone must be ready
to pay a price for liberty, to give part of his liberty in return for protection and to tolerate different ideas.
Although the U.S. Constitution was the product of many compromises, it was unusual in many ways. It was the first constitution written in modern sense. No other important country, including Britain, had a written constitution at that time.
It rejected one-man rule, with the vestiges of feudalist social and political hierarchy of lords. It made earnest efforts to carry out the principle that the government should serve the people.
The constitution guaranteed unalienable human rights with the adoption of the Bill of Rights. For the first time in human history, it declared that supremacy was with the people who were entitled to replace a government
through open election. It upheld equality and political liberalism as the foundation of democracy.
In summary, it can be said that the U.S. Constitution was born of practical need as a compromise agreement or social contract. It set forth the fundamental rules of the American system. As time went on, some amendments were made. But its essence remains the same. It was designed to protect liberty and democracy. One thing that the designers of the Constitution failed to anticipate was party politics and the increased power of the federal government.
第 4 页 共 4 页