The Great Constitutional Dilemma Essay, Research Paper
Together, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights aimed to solve the problems that the Americans had encountered under British rule and the Articles of Confederation by forming a new strong central government which was to be run by the people. The British colonization of the states had failed because it did not allow the people certain rights; namely, the right to have sole legislative/taxation power, the right to bear arms, and the right to be free from the quartering of troops. On the other hand, the Articles of Confederation failed because they provided the states with too much democracy. They provided the states with the power to pass almost any measure unchecked, they did not allow for an executive branch, and they gave no power to the central government. The Constitution aimed to restore order to the new states by putting them under one strong national government, while at the same time protecting the rights of all [white males]. It was in this way that the Constitution aimed at “Limiting popular government and protecting private property and minority rights without at the same time denying the sovereign public power of the people. ”
Many of the Constitution?s writers, such as James Madison, saw that with the state governments, factions ran the assemblies, and if these factions could be eliminated, then democracy in the United States could work. Madison talked about this problem and its solution in Federalist 10. He, along with many other notable statesmen noted that the state assemblies were often quick and hasty in their judgements, which lead to many bad decisions. Madison says: “?our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are decided?by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority. ” A notable example of these hasty judgements was debtor relief measures that many of the states passed into law after the war. Many times these measures allowed for the printing of worthless paper money for debtors to pay off their debts. Therefore, part of the solution to the dilemma of forming a new balanced government came by controlling the democracy. The best solution to this problem came from James Madison and the Federalists: they proposed that under the new constitution, the electorate should be expanded. Madison stated, “If a faction consists of less than a majority, relief is supplied by the republican principle, which enables the majority to defeat its sinister views by regular vote. ” Under this theory the government under the new Constitution would work by eliminating the popular majority, which held all the power under the Articles of Confederation. Each representative would represent a variety of people, and would be forced to sift through all of the different views and find the median. Therefore, under the constitution the popular majority would be eliminated because no faction could have sole control of government; therefore, every issue would have the support of multiple groups, and minority rights could still be protected under a democracy.
Even though the problem with popular democracy had been solved, the new Constitution added extra measures to make sure that no laws would be passed hastily. To prevent the hasty votes that occurred under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution was designed with a built-in system of checks and balances. The most radical check came with the establishment of an executive power in the national government. Before, under the Articles of Confederation, there was no executive power in either the state or central government. Many members of the Aristocracy recognized the problem with this. Men like George Washington saw the need for there to be a power to check the assemblies; he believed “men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power. ” These opinions among the delegates at the Constitutional convention lead to the institution of an executive branch in the new government. The president was given the power to veto any law passed by both houses, in order to prevent the situation which occurred under the Articles of confederation. However, to ensure that the President could not become a tyrannical force who would always have the last word, Congress was given the power to override a presidential veto with a two-thirds majority vote. This additional clause was added to prevent the reoccurrence of British tyranny. Under British rule, there was no override; therefore, the governor had the final word, and there was no real democracy. The final check came with the power given to the Supreme Court. Judges were nominated by the President and then approved by the Senate; however, after they are put into office, they are there for life, and have no more political obligations. Therefore, they were free to rule on issues based solely on the law and nothing else. With this power, they were able to overturn a law that had been agreed upon by both the executive and legislative branches. This final check allowed the people a permanent guardian who would always look out for their rights.
While the Constitution managed to protect minority rights and private property, while preserving a government by the people, the first Congress added ten additional amendments to further protect the people?s rights. Many of these rights had been violated while under British rule, and were listed as grievances under the Declaration of Independence. These additional rights include: the right to bear arms, the right to be free from quartering troops, and the right for individual states to legislate themselves as long as they do not violate the national law.
“The 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 may have been the most important amendment included in the Bill of Rights. While still under British rule, the colonists were always fighting for the right to have sole taxation and legislation powers over themselves. They were never given this right though, and towards the end they were not even allowed to tax or legislate themselves. Under the king?s orders, they assemblies of Massachusetts and other colonies were dissolved, and if they remained intact, their governors vetoed every act that they passed into law. Therefore, it was necessary for the first Congress to include a measure that prevented this sort of interference in state government. If the states were free to make their own laws, while still abiding by the national ones, then there was no infringement on their rights as there had been under the British rule. This amendment limited the power of the central government, and gave more power to the state governments, therefore protecting the people?s rights.
Other measures the first Congress added the Bill of Rights included the right to bear arms, and the right to be free from quartering troops. These two amendments helped to further protect the rights of citizens. In the time leading up to the revolution, quartering of troops was used as a punishment for the Massachusetts colonists. This penalty was imposed to save England money and to punish the colonists. Therefore, the first Congress added this amendment to the Constitution to protect the minorities of the Country from this form of punishment. Congress had the same idea when they granted the people the right to bear arms. The second amendment was put into action to keep the government from infringing on the people?s right to protect themselves. Shortly before the revolution, the British armies had tried to take this right from the colonists. They marched, under orders, to a weapons shed in Concord, MA to take away the arms that the colonists had acquired. Because of these actions, they new Americans were guaranteed the right to own a gun for their own protection.
It is clear that both British rule and the Articles of Confederation did not provide an adequate form of government for the colonies. Therefore, the Americans united as one body to form a new government, which not only limited the effects of popular government, but also protected the rights of minorities and landowners. Together, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights solved the problems that the Americans had for over thirty years by providing structure through checks and balances, while protecting the individual rights of men with the Bill of Rights. The Constitution allowed the country?s first politicians a means to solve the great dilemma of: “Limiting popular government and protecting private property and minority rights without at the same time denying the sovereign public power of the people. ”
1. Gordon Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, p189.
2. James Madison, Federalist Number 10.
3. James Madison, Federalist Number 10.
4. George Washington?s letter to John Jay, August 1, 1786.
5. Amendment X to the Constitution. Found in the Back of Morgan p184.
6. Gordon Wood, “The Radicalism of the American Revolution, p189.