National Collective Action Essay, Research Paper
The framers of the U.S. Constitution were men who wanted to solve the problems of collective action and agency loss. The Articles of Confederation contained many weaknesses, and to amend this, the framers sought to create a strong central government that could delegate authority and cut down transaction costs. Many compromises were necessary in order to solve these conflicts. The framers adopted certain changes that helped to balance the need for effective national collective action against the dangers inherent in the delegation of any authority. This balance represented the political theory that was the basis for the Constitution, and it created the background for the incredibly arduous equality struggle endured by African Americans.
The first task that needed to be accomplished at the Constitutional Convention was disposing of the Articles of Confederation. Under this document, there was no strong central government and legislature could not impose taxes. Instead, they had to rely on the states to voluntarily contribute tax money, which created a huge free rider problem and would not let the US pay off the debts incurred during the war. There was also no central currency under the Articles of Confederation, which led to an unstable economy and high transaction costs during trade. The framers knew that in order to solve these problems, they needed to create a strong central government that could delegate authority and cut down transaction costs.
The conflicts and compromises that ensued because of this decision would frame the United States government. In settling these conflicts, the framers of the Constitution attempted to protect against the dangers inherent in the delegation of authority to government officials required to produce it. For example, the fight between sparsely populated states and heavily populated states for representation was settled by creating a bicameral Congress. This revelation was a product of Madison?s blueprint for a new Constitution, now known as the Virginia Plan. It was the first major step in shifting the focus of deliberations from fixing the confederation to reconsidering the requirements of a national union, and it provoked the proposal of the New Jersey Plan, which advocated state power. With a bicameral legislature, two houses would exist within the government. The Great Compromise stipulated that a lower chamber (House of Representatives) would be composed of representatives based on population, while an upper chamber would consist of equal representation for every state. The authority to levy taxes was reserved to the lower chamber as well. This was one of the ways the framers of the Constitution ensured against the abuse of delegated authority while pursuing the effective collective action they needed.
The framers feared that a concentration of power in any one group or branch of government would lead to tyranny. In an effort to avoid the domination of government by one group, they devised the system of checks and balances in the Constitution. In this system, each of the three branches has some capacity to limit the power of the other two. It largely originated with the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu, who argued that the power to govern could be effectively limited by dividing it among multiple branches of government. For example, while Congress passes legislation, the president can veto that legislation, and courts can declare executive acts unconstitutional. The executive was decidedly to be chosen in a manner that exercised the states? rights as the electoral college was created. This inspired political parties, for there was no other easy way to gain the majority of electors. The framers also agreed to include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution to ensure that citizens would not be tyrannized by the powerful elite.
The framers created multiple ways to amend the Constitution so that power did not rest too heavily upon one group. One way allowed states to begin the amendment promise, while another began it with Congress. Although this system of operation represents the need for effective national collective action, the framers had to come up with a way to protect against those with delegated power. Because of this, the Constitution allows an amendment to be proposed either by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress of by an “application” from two-thirds of the states. After this, enactment of the amendment only occurs if three-fourths of the states accepts it.
When the balance of the need for capable national collective action against the dangers in authority given to government officials was finally struck, it was a more a product of politics than political theory. In his famous Federalist No. 51, Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary?you must enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself”. The problem of self-governance is expressed in this statement, as is the likelihood that tyranny by the majority would arise within a democracy. The solution lies in pitting politicians against each other in the system of checks and balances, because this allows them to counteract each other?s temptation to misbehave. Many of the Constitution?s provisions have no theoretical rationale; they are simply products of political compromise. This is evident in the lack of justification for such decisions as the three-fifths rule and malapportioned Senate. The Constitution was a plan that a substantial majority favored over the status quo and all could live with, although no delegate favored it.
As the nation aged, nationalization increased, which resulted in a decrease of states? rights. The framers left many issues regarding this power struggle unresolved. Civil Rights was one of the first problems to arise as slavery. Every step of the civil rights movement took place because of the presence of politics, as it was predicated on the existence of strong national majorities who elected politicians that would support the Civil Rights movement. Trying to maximize their representation in the House of Representatives, southern delegates insisted that slaves were undeniably people and should be included in their population count. Northerners, however, argued that since slaves did not enjoy the freedom to act as autonomous citizens, they should not be counted at all. The compromise reached was that each slave would count as three-fifths of a citizen. Although the importation of slaves was eventually banned, the Constitution required that northerners return runaway slaves to their masters. In the end, the U.S. Constitution sanctioned slavery. Slavery and then segregation endured almost two centuries before the national majority struck out against local tyranny. This is because the framers ceded in the Constitution a broad, exclusive jurisdiction to the states rather than providing for a national veto over state laws.
African Americans faced two obstacles in securing rights. One was the Constitution itself, which reserves the important authority for the states, such as determining voting eligibility, and separates powers among the three branches of government. The second obstacle they faced in the battle for civil rights was the observation that people do not engage in costly behavior without some expected return. When factions do not possess the capacity to defend themselves, tyranny cannot be avoided. The politics of self-interest in a fragmented constitutional system explains why it took so long to eradicate slavery and other forms of discrimination endured by African Americans.
The framers of the Constitution were concerned with the weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation, and sought to correct them with an entirely new document. While effective national collective action was decidedly key, the framers were careful in protecting against the dangers inherent in the delegation of authority to government officials required to produce it. The balance achieved was one based on politics, and it would affect the success of every movement in the United States, including the African American struggle for civil rights.