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On October 17th 1781, the English surrendered and peace negotiations were initiated in Paris, with an American delegation lead by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790). The Versalles treaty was signed in 1783and the British government recognized the independence and birth of a new nation: The United States of America.
Four years later, the constitution of 1787 came about and was enacted in Philadelphia, influenced by the ideas of illustrious people and enciclopedists in federal court. The election of a president and two representatives for the House of Representatives and the senate was established. New York was established at that moment as the headquarters of the federal government.
How it works
This constitution proclaimed the citizens rights to liberty, security and freedom of speech. Nevertheless, slavery was not abolished by it; African Americans and Indians were not given any civil rights, and women didn’t have a right to vote.
Almost every state, during the independence war, had their own particularly different constitutions. However, there was no government or constitution at the federal level. Every state continued to direct their own policy and, interpreted, sometimes to their needs, the treaty that was signed with England.
Just as the economic and commercial problems had been an important cause for the war, they were now found at the base of the federal constitution. In 1785 delegates from virginia and Maryland met to discuss navigation problems by the Potomac. The discussion later extended to Pennsylvania and Delaware. Lastly, Virginian common sense proposes that every state sends delegates to Annapolis to study the possible uniformity of the foreign trade system. The beginnings were timid,and only five states sent twelve delegates. Hamilton, however, requested them to appeal to all other states to summon a convention which would also be in charge of getting commercial conditions up to date and discuss a federal government.
The second issue, was of course, the most important; but when the Constitution was left in a secondary position, the organizers laboriously reassured the autonomists so there would be no alarm. The convention met in Philadelphia, in may 1786 under the indisputable presidency of George Washington. John Adams and Jefferson were ambassadors in England and France and congress was dominated by Hamiltons personality, who was the delegate from NY.
Virginian James Madison, close to Jefferson and, therefore, opposed to Hamiltons aristocratic conceptions, found himself, nonetheless, in agreement with him to set up a strong federal government, struck by the fear of seeing the young country paralyzed, due to the petty complaints between states. After a few weeks of deliberations, the weight of Washington’s opinion was decisive.
Delegates were also troubled by Daniel Shays insurrection. A former official and poor farmer from Massachusetts, he lead a troop of rebels, all victims of the economic crisis. The rich were fearful, and many adhered to the idea of a strong executive, destined to maintain order.
The 1787 Constitution, implied a commitment in diverse planes. Inspired by Montesquieus ideas about the separation of power, it insures the strength of such executive by presidential regime. Elected for four years (not by the Chambers or by universal suffrage, but by special voters, elected by each state) the President (assisted by a Vice President) represents the people of the United States, sporting a power equivalent to those of the King and Prime Minister of England. Later, George Washingtons election as the first president of the United States in 1789, further reinforcing the offices prestige.
Two chambers or houses, exercised legislative power: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The number of representatives is proporcional to the population in each state. While senators, regardless of population, were two per state which satisfied smaller states that could’ve been crushed by their more populous neighbors. The two chambers vote on laws, but tax laws must be presented to the representatives, while the senate has prerogatives in matters of foreign policy. The president must also have the approval of the senate to nominate certain senior officials. Furthermore, the senate can transform into an unappealable court to judge the citizens accused by the House of Representatives. To insure the separation of the legislative and the executive, the president must select his ministers, outside of congress, the opposite of British tradition, which would select the ministers from members of parliament and were accountable to them. American ministers cannot be deposed by congress. There may be conflicts between Congress and the president, especially since the latter is is elected every four years and the congress is renewed every two.
In that case, the president may exercise the right to veto against the decisions made in congress which, are not in effect unless a two thirds majority is achieved. Over the laws, the interpretation of the constitution and of men themselves there is the Supreme Court, whose seven judges are named by the president and receive a life title to insure complete independence. This court, decides if laws are in conformity with the constitution and God-given, natural rights. Resolves the differences between states and conflicts amongst citizens and the administration.
The constitution numbered the presidents powers carefully: decide taxes, ask for or give loans, regulate commerce between states and with foreign countries, mint currency, ensuring the defense of the country, creating positions, declaring war and to form armies and militias. In turn, numerous powers and decisions remained in the hands of individual States and their assemblies.
The Constitution was completed, thanks to Madison’s initiative, with ten amendments that acted as a Declaration of Rights, guaranteeing the individual liberties, the liberty of press, liberty of religion, and excluding every religion of the State. Congress would elect, lastly, a territory The District of Columbia -, on which the federal Capital would be built.
H. (2009, October 27). Constitution. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/united-states-constitution/constitution
The Constitution of the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution
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