United States Constitution
During the American Revolutionary War, the American colonists officially declared independence from England on July 4, 1776. The nation’s Declaration of Independence was adopted, and the citizens moved forward as a free country. Around the same time, another committee formed to write the first draft of a constitution of laws and rights.
A year later, in November 1777, the Second Continental Congress approved the first draft, known as the Articles of Confederation. By 1781 all thirteen states had adopted the Articles, allowing the government to steer the country through the war; however, many leaders felt the system did not do an adequate job of uniting the states as one nation.
First, the Articles of Confederation did not allow the nation’s government to take in enough money, and America could not have survived another war. This left America vulnerable, and action needed to take place. In February 1787, delegates from each state met in Philadelphia to discuss the Articles of Confederation and ways to improve the current system.
Next the Constitutional Convention began in May 1787, where the delegates decided to create a government that was best for all of the nation’s people. After much debate and discussion, a committee of five representatives was formed to write the first draft of a new constitution. The men on this committee included:
• John Rutledge, South Carolina
• Edmund Randolph, Virginia
• Nathanial Gorham, Massachusetts
• Oliver Ellsworth, Connecticut
• James Wilson, Pennsylvania
In September 1787, the Constitutional Convention resumed to approve the document. Although most delegates disagreed with at least some of the draft, it received 39 signatures. The Constitution was sent to each state to accept and went into effect on March 4, 1789.
In 1789 the Articles Congress dissolved, and the First Congress began. George Washington was named the nation’s first president later that year.
Beginning with the words “We the People of the United States of America,” the Constitution truly represented what America stood for: a free nation created and led by its people. It specifically outlines America’s legislative branch, the Congress, and its separate Senate and House of Representatives.
The executive branch of government is defined as well, creating the country’s roles of President and Vice President. All qualifications and rules concerning the presidency are listed in the Constitution.
Finally the judiciary branch is established within the Constitution, with the creation of both the Supreme Court and America’s court system.
The Constitution also allows changes, known as Amendments, to be proposed and accepted. In order for an Amendment to the Constitution to be officially passed, it must receive at least two-thirds of the votes from both houses in Congress.
In 1791 the Bill of Rights went into effect. Consisting of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights provides Americans with the right to bear arms, enforces the idea of a trial by jury, and lists other important additions. Among the protective measures noted in the Bill of Rights is the protection from unlawful search and seizure. Most important to many Americans, though, is the First Amendment, which brought the freedom of speech to the country’s citizens. This right still represents the ideals, hopes, and dreams of the nation’s forefathers, who fought bravely to establish a land of freedom.
The Constitution and its Amendments stand as an ever-changing document. Because Congress has the power to change it, the Constitution can evolve with the people. It may not always be perfect: slavery was not officially abolished until the Thirteenth Amendment did so in 1865. Later the Eighteenth Amendment (1919) banned the sale of alcohol in the United States, leading to the nation’s rocky Prohibition period. This was eventually reversed by the Twenty-first Amendment (1933), which once again permits the sale of alcohol.
While the Constitution may never please everyone and will always face criticism, it has been able to unite the citizens of the United States for centuries. Leaders from Mexico, China, and other countries have used the United States Constitution as an inspiration and a guideline for establishing a free country, governed by the people.