Constitutional Separation Of Powers Essay, Research Paper
When the all the delegates in 1787 gathered in Philadelphia, they came to change the Articles of Confederation. Four visible weaknesses of the articles made it impossible for Congress to execute its constitutional duties. These were analyzed in numbers 15-22 of The Federalist, the political essays in which Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay argued the case for the U.S. Constitution of 1787. The first weakness was that Congress could legislate only for states, not for individuals; because of this it could not enforce legislation. Second, Congress had no power to tax. Instead, it was to assess its expenses and divide those among the states on the basis of the value of land. States were then to tax their own citizens to raise the money for these expenses and turn the proceeds over to Congress. They could not be forced to do so, and in practice they rarely met their obligations. Third, Congress lacked the power to control commerce. Finally, the fourth weakness ensured the demise of the Confederation by making it too difficult to correct the first three. Amendments could have corrected any of the weaknesses, but amendments required approval by all 13 state legislatures. None of the several amendments that were proposed met that requirement.
Spearheaded by James Madison, who thought the Articles of Confederation to be woefully inadequate, delegates from the 13 colonies decided to draft a new governing document. On Tuesday morning, May 29, Edmund Randolph proposed the Virginia Plan. The proposed government had three branches–legislative, executive, and judicial–each branch structured to check the other. Highly centralized, the government would have veto power over laws enacted by state legislatures. The plan, Randolph confessed, “meant a strong consolidated union in which the idea of states should be nearly annihilated.” This plan was not taken lightly by those opposed to a strong national government. On June 13 delegates from smaller states rallied around proposals offered by New Jersey delegate William Paterson. Railing against efforts to throw the states into “hotchpots,” Paterson proposed a “union of the States merely federal.” The “New Jersey resolutions” called only for a revision of the articles to enable the Congress more easily to raise revenues and regulate commerce. It also provided that acts of Congress and ratified treaties are “the supreme law of the States.” With these two proposals, a rift in the delegates formed.
The creation of the Constitution entailed many hours of debate and compromise, and even when it was completed, some delegates were unhappy with it. It is often said that the U.S. Constitution is a “bundle of compromises,” in the end both sides of the Constitutional debate had to give and take in order to get a well working document. The anti-federalists argued that it gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the state government, there was no bill of rights (felt that the delegations of rights in the Constitution were too broad and vague), Congress (because of the necessary and proper clause) wielded too much power, and finally the executive branch held too much power.
Federalists countered with the idea of “separation of powers” and “checks and balances.” Balancing states rights with the needs of a central government was the major issue in creating the Constitution of the United States. The framers accomplished this by letting the states keep all the powers necessary to regulate the daily lives of their citizens, provided that these powers did not conflict with the needs and welfare of the nation (the 10th Amendment.) The national powers are balanced by a deceivingly complicated system of checks and balances. This division of authority, federalism, is instrumental in the steady flow of our nation
The idea of separation of powers was enhanced by the checks and balances system installed by the framers. Each branch of government may exercise some control over the others. This system works in several ways. Congress, for example, passes laws. The President may check Congress by rejecting its legislation. This veto power is balanced, however, by the power of Congress to override the veto by a two-thirds vote in each house. The federal courts restrain Congress by ruling on the constitutionality of laws. This system was created to prevent any one branch of national government from becoming too powerful.
As to the inclusion of a bill of rights in the Constitution, the federalists said: A listing of rights may be a very dangerous thing. If the national government were to list specific protected rights, what would stop it from violating rights other than the ones listed? Since we can’t list all rights, the Federalists argued, it’s better not to list any at all. By June of 1788, the Constitution was close to ratification. Nine states had ratified and only one more was needed. To achieve this, the Federalists agreed that once Congress met, it would draft a bill of rights.
As our country continued and still continues to grow problems started to arise dealing with the Constitution. A very important point in dealing with constitutional power is the Supremacy clause. Article VI of the Constitution states, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” In other words a state government retains the power to make laws, as long as those laws do not interfere with the workings and decisions of the national government and of the Constitution.
The Constitution gave powers to the national government such as: Article I, Section 8 states, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Article IV Section 4: “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.”
While the Constitution does give power to the national government, it also restricts its actions, a limited government. Article 1, section 9: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it. No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed. No capitation, or other direct, tax shall be laid unless in proportion to the census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”
The framers of the Constitution had the idea of “balance of powers” in mind while writing our Constitution. The Articles of Confederation had been proven woefully inadequate because the previously outlined items. The inclusion of the Bill of Rights, the system of checks and balances, and the foresight to restrict powers have made our Constitution a shining example of the separation of powers.