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Lecture II: The Constitution

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Christopher Arns

on 10 September 2014

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Transcript of Lecture II: The Constitution

More than 400 years ago...
Road to Revolution
The first Constitution
From a colony to a country
Roots of the Constitution
Country in Crisis
A strong
central government
is needed
The
Constitutional
Convention
Where did the
Constitution come from?

At last, a final document
The Constitution
...The first colonists came to North America with "royal charters" to build settlements
These documents were the first examples of "political authority" in the American colonies
Jamestown (1607) was the first permanent colony in what would eventually become the United States.
Jamestown colonists established a "representative assembly" — a proto-Congress that other colonists would later copy
In 1620, Anglican separatists known as Pilgrims established the first colony in New England.
They established a framework of principles called the Mayflower Compact; set rules for political authority in the new colony
Colonists had to get written permission from the King of England to start a new colonists. The permission came from a written "charter," which was a very basic set of rules for how the colonists could run their new settlement
The colonies were far away from Great Britain, so they still had some self-government
They even drafted documents that protected some civil liberties
Massachusetts Body of Liberties, Pennsylvania Frame of Government, West New Jersey Concessions
These documents helped colonists practice forms of limited government—practice that prepared them for creating the Constitution
The path to revolution started with the Seven Years War (also called the French and Indian War) between 1754-1763
It was a world war over trade and colonial territories, fought between great powers of Great Britain, France, Prussia and Austria
Fighting took place on five continents, although Great Britain and France were the main antagonists in North America
It was an expensive war for Great Britain, and the British were deeply in debt after fighting the conflict
British government thought American colonists should help pay back the monarchy for the war. The British thought they were helping to protect the settlers against Indian attacks
Between 1764 and 1774, the British passed laws to tax the American colonists (Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townshend Acts, Tea Act) and help pay for the British military stationed in N. America
The colonists protest, leading to Boston Massacre in 1770: British soldiers fire into crowd of hostile protestors, killing five people
Tea Party of 1773: Boston revolutionaries protest Tea Act and taxation without representation
In response, Great Britain passes the 1774 Coercive Acts—also known as the Intolerable Acts
Acts include the Quartering Act, which forced colonists to give room and board to British troops
Also placed royal officials above local law; closed port of Boston; abolished self-government in Massachusetts
September 1774: First Continental Congress convenes to draft petitions to King George III
They threaten boycotts of British goods if the Coercive Acts aren't repealed
April 1775: British military tries to seize patriots' weapon stockpiles in Massachusetts, so they can begin enforcing the Coercive Acts in the countryside
Colonists fight back at the Battle of Concord and Lexington
May 1775: Second Continental Congress meets to raise an army for self-defense, but still don't proclaim formal desire for independence
War begins
Skirmishes between patriot militias and British imperial army continue into 1776
Radicals like Thomas Paine argue for independence
Finally, the Second Continental Congress adopts Resolution of Independence and Thomas Jefferson writes the Declaration of Independence, which is ratified (approved) on July 4
Importance of the Declaration
Jefferson was inspired by John Locke, a 17th century British philosopher, who believed humans have "natural right" to "Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions."
The Declaration included references to equality, natural rights and a social contract between government and the people
Locke, British legal tradition, the British Bill of Rights, colonial charters and colonial compacts all inspired ideals set forth in the Declaration
The Declaration only had one legal purpose—to justify and confirm separation from Britain
However, the document defined American ideals in certain ways that the Constitution does not, providing inspiration and legitimacy for protestors and reformers throughout U.S. history
During the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress drafts the
Articles of Confederation
to unite the states under a central government. It becomes law in 1781
The Articles established a weak central government, with a unicameral (one body) legislature
What did the Articles do?
Gave Continental Congress power to:
1. Declare war and make peace
2. Create government offices
3. Establish and control army, but couldn't force people to serve
4. Could issue gov't bonds, but couldn't tax the states
5. Could settle disputes between states, but couldn't regulate commerce
The U.S. was basically at war with itself
States taxed each other and raised tariffs, sharply reducing trade
Banks stopped lending and many people were massively in debt
The country was also in debt to France for the war, and to its own citizens
Because of the debt, armed rebellions broke out. The most famous was the Shays Rebellion, an attack on county courthouses and a federal military arsenal
Finally, the Founding Fathers realize the Articles of Confederation aren't strong enough to prevent the union from destroying itself
The Founding Fathers call for a convention to "revise" the Articles of Confederation
But secretly, the most influential delegates (especially Alexander Hamilton and James Madison) wanted to draft a new document—one that would create a strong central government
Founding Fathers such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin agreed
Delegates disagreed over how much power to give the central government
Two major plans: Virginia Plan would have given bigger states more power, while the New Jersey Plan would have created more equality in Congress for the states
They settle on a Great Compromise—House of Representatives selected by voters, with state delegations based on population
The Senate would have equal representation—two votes for each state, equalizing power between large and small states
Ironically, Southern delegates wanted slaves to count the same as free people, but Northern delegates said no. Why?
They compromised and said slaves would count as 3/5 of a free person
They also agreed to postpone any ban on the slave trade until 1808
The Founding Fathers essentially valued the Union of states over freedom of the slaves
Madison's Model
Madison wrote much of the Constitution
He was inspired by a French philosopher named Montesquieu
Madisonian model
Separation of powers with three branches of government (judicial, executive, legislative)
Checks and balances: no branch could dominate the others
Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists
A federal system would give power to a federal, central government and also to the states
Federalists like Hamilton and Madison publish 85 newspaper essays called the
Federalist Papers
to argue for the new Constitution
Anti-Federalists say this document will create an oppressive regime
They want a list of amendments that will define civil liberties and limit the government's power
Federalists agreed to add these amendments after ratifying the Constitution
The first 10 Amendments are known as the
Bill of Rights
They guarantee liberties such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, and protection from illegal searches and seizures
The Constitution created a republic with a strong central government, but one with separated and equal powers that balanced each other
Powers were limited and the states still had plenty of freedom to make their own laws
Now the new government could raise taxes, regulate commerce, enforce treaties and foreign policies, and draft an army
A federal system was the government's new structure. Powers were divided between central and state gov'ts. It was the only federal government in the world
Differences between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution
Articles
Constitution
Unicameral legislature (one body)
Bicameral legislature (two bodies)
States got one vote each
States got two votes in the Senate, and proportional votes in the House
No president
President
No mention of separation of powers
Separation of powers
No power to tax
Gives power to tax
No power to create paper currency and make monetary policy
Gives power to create paper currency and make monetary policy
No power to draft armies
Gives power to draft armies
No power to regulate commerce
Gives power to regulate interstate commerce and imports/exports
What happened to
the Articles of Confederation?
Never any formal declaration voiding them
Legally, the Founders didn't follow the right process for changing the Articles
The Constitution basically replaced it; Founders essentially chose to ignore the old document and use the new one
As Black points out, the legal process was ignored
What were the consequences?
Full transcript