The Constitution of the United States
The Federal Convention convened in the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787, to revise the Articles of Confederation. Because the delegations from only two states were at first present, the members adjourned from day to day until a quorum of seven states was obtained on May 25. Through discussion and debate it became clear by mid-June that, rather than amend the existing Articles, the Convention would draft an entirely new frame of government. All through the summer, in closed sessions, the delegates debated, and redrafted the articles of the new Constitution. Among the chief points at issue were how much power to allow the central government, how many representatives in Congress to allow each state, and how these representatives should be elected–directly by the people or by the state legislators.
The work of many minds, the Constitution stands as a model of cooperative statesmanship and the art of compromise.Does not the Constitution give us our rights and liberties? No, it does not, it only guarantees them. The people had all their rights and liberties before they made the Constitution. The Constitution was formed, among other purposes, to make the people’s liberties secure– secure not only as against foreign attack but against oppression by their own government. They set specific limits upon their national government and upon the States, and reserved to themselves all powers that they did not grant. The Ninth Amendment declares: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
What is meant by the term “constitution”? A constitution embodies the fundamental principles of a government. Our constitution, adopted by the sovereign power, is amendable by that power only. To the constitution all laws, executive actions, and, judicial decisions must conform, as it is the creator of the powers exercised by the departments of government.
What is the source of the philosophy found in the Constitution? The book which had the greatest influence upon the members of the Constitutional Convention was Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, which first appeared in 1748. The great French philosopher had, however, in turn borrowed much of his doctrine from the Englishman John Locke, with whose writings various members of the Convention were also familiar.
Are there original ideas of government in the Constitution? Yes; but its main origins lie in centuries of experience in government, the lessons of which were brought over from England and further developed through the practices of over a century and a half in the colonies and early State governments, and in the struggles of the Continental Congress. Its roots are deep in the past; and its endurance and the obedience and respect it has won are mainly the result of the slow growth of its principles from before the days of Magna Carta.
How extensively has the Constitution been copied? All later Constitutions show its influence; it has been copied extensively throughout the world.
The United States government is frequently described as one of limited powers. Is this true? Yes. The United States government possesses only such powers as are specifically granted to it by the Constitution.
What is meant by the word veto, in the President’s powers? The word is from the Latin and means “I forbid.” The President is authorized by the Constitution to refuse his assent to a bill presented by Congress if for any reason he disapproves of it. Congress may, however, pass the act over his veto but it must be by a two-thirds majority in both houses. If Congress adjourns before the end of the 10 days, the President can prevent the enactment of the bill by merely not signing it. This is called a pocket veto. (Art. I, sec. 7, cl. 2).
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