History of the Constitution of the United State
History of the Constitution of the United States
The United States Constitution became the supreme law of the land on March 4, 1789, six years after the end of the American Revolution in 1783. Why was the Constitution adopted so many years after the Revolution? The answer is that the Constitution was not the first document written to govern the new country. The Articles of Confederation was.
Following the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, the members of the Continental Congress realized that it would be necessary to set up a national government. The newly formed states feared that a strong central government would create oppression and decrease the power of the people. They had just fought a war against a powerful king, and did not want their new government to have too much control over what their states could do.
The representatives of the 13 states agreed to a confederacy, or alliance, providing each state maintained its own sovereignty and all rights to govern itself, except those rights specifically granted to Congress. The Articles of Confederation became the original constitution of this confederacy, which the representatives chose to name The United States of America.
The Articles of Confederation contained the terms, agreed to by the 13 new states, by which the states would participate in a centralized form of national government, in addition to their self-rule. Adopted on March 1, 1781, the Articles were in effect until the Constitution took its place. It was not long however, before there were problems.
The Articles of Confederation did not work as well as its framers had expected. The Articles did work effectively in some areas such as:
Congress had the power to deal with foreign countries and make treaties, or formal agreements, with them.
Congress had the authority to declare war, direct the Continental Army, and make peace such as it did when it wrote the Treaty of Paris which established peace between the United States and Great Britain in 1783.
Under the authority granted to it, Congress set up the first postal service, oversaw the expansion of the population into the western part of the country and the formation of new states.
Congress established the nation’s first coin money and managed affairs with the Native Indians.
However, the Articles had placed too much power in the states’ control which caused ongoing disagreements between them. Other problems included:
Congress had no power to oversee trade between the states and each state could place tariffs, or taxes, on goods moving through its state. There was no one entity charged with enforcing treaties with foreign countries.
Congress did not have the power to raise money to pay for military actions against foreign powers such as the Spanish and English who threatened the borders.
The national government did not have the power to make the states follow its laws, and it could not enforce the paying of money that was due from each state to support the national government.
There was no national system of courts to settle disputes about laws.
Congress lacked leadership, as there was no president.
It was time for change and a new governing document, the Constitution, was written during the Philadelphia Convention—now known as the Constitutional Convention—which met from May 25 to September 17, 1787. The Constitution was signed on September 17, 1787. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify, or approve, the Constitution. Congress established March 4, 1789, as the date to begin operating a new government under the Constitution.