“To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.”
– Calvin Coolidge
Today, we will take a look at one of the most enduring documents in the history of America.
The US Constitution
The United States constitution is the central instrument of the American government and the land’s supreme law. For many decades now, it has guided the evolution of governmental institutions and has provided the basis for political stability, individual freedom, economic growth and social progress.
The US constitution is the world’s oldest written Constitution still in force, one that has served as the model for a number of other constitutions around the world. The Constitution owes its staying power to its simplicity and flexibility. Originally designed in the late 18th century to provide a framework for governing 4 million people in 13 very different states along North America’s Atlantic coast, its basic provisions were so soundly conceived that, with only 27 amendments, it now serves the needs of more than 309 million Americans in 50 even more diverse states that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
The path to the Constitution was neither straight nor easy. A draft document emerged in 1787, but only after intense debate and six years of experience with an earlier federal union. The 13 British colonies in North America declared their independence from their motherland in 1776. A year before, a war had broken out between the colonies and Britain, a war for independence that lasted for six bitter years.
While still at war, the colonies – now calling themselves the United States of America- drafted a compact that bound them together as a nation. The compact designated the “Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union,” was adopted by a congress of the states in 1777 and formally signed in July 1778. The Articles became binding when they were ratified by the 13th state, Maryland, in March 1781.
The Articles of Confederation devised a loose association among the states and set up a federal government with very limited powers. In such critical matters as defence, public finance and trade, the federal government was at the mercy of the state legislatures. It was not an arrangement conducive to stability or strength. Within a short time, the weakness of the confederation was apparent to all. Politically and economically, the new nation was close to chaos. In the words of George Washington, who would become the first president of the United States in 1789, the 13 states were united only “by a rope of sand.”
It was under these inauspicious circumstances that the Constitution of the United States was drawn up. In February 1787, the Continental Congress, the legislative body of the republic, issued a call for the states to send delegates to Philadelphia to revise the Articles in the state of Pennsylvania.
The Constitutional Convention convened on May 25, 1787, in the Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence had been adopted eleven years earlier on June 4, 1776. Although the delegates had been authorized only to amend the Articles of Confederation, they pushed aside the Articles and proceeded to construct a charter a completely new, more centralized form of government. The new document, the Constitution, was completed on September 17, 1787 and was officially adopted on March 4, 1789.
The 55 delegates who drafted the Constitution included most of the new nation’s outstanding leaders, or founding fathers. They represented a wide range of interests, backgrounds and stations in life. All agreed, however, on the central objectives expressed to the preamble to the Constitution: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
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