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The Constitution
Declaration of
• Written by Thomas Jefferson
• Inspired by John Locke
• D of I opens with Jefferson invoking Locke
philosophy… “Life, liberty, pursuit of
• Jefferson continues by listing grievances
against George III for violating inalienable
• declares US independence
British Colonial Rule
Unitary System – all power flows from one central government
Powerful British
Political Subunits
Articles of Confederation
1781 – 1789 – RIP
Confederate System – power concentrated in political subunits (states)
with a weak central government (typically unite for a common goal)
Federal System – powers are divided and/or shared between state
and central governments (Current gov’t designed by framers)
Central US government
State governments
Articles of Confederation
Original American gov’t system
Weak central gov’t
Individual and state liberties not
• No executive (they hated kings)
• Confederacies are usually unstable
A of C – Weaknesses
• Article II – “Each state retains its sovereignty,
freedom, and independence.” Gov’t has no control
• Unicameral Congress (one house) with one vote
per state
– Supermajority (9 of 13) to pass a law
– Supermajority (13 of 13) to amend
• No Executive (No President), no central authority
• No Federal Judiciary (No Supreme Court), no
central law
• No control of TAXATION, commerce between
states or with foreign nations, money system
Shays’s Rebellion
• Colonies were in debt after the war, central
gov’t tried to raise taxes
• Farmers in western Massachusetts rebelled
against tax they could not afford
• Rebelled against foreclosures, forced
judges out of court, freed debtors from jail
• Showed that national gov’t was weak,
needed to seek a stronger national gov’t
The Constitutional
• 1787
• Revising the A of C
• Demographics of Delegates
-55 delegates (none from RI)
-33 Lawyers
-half were college graduates
-7 former governors
-7 plantation owners
-8 business leaders
-age 26-81 (avg. age 42)
-all male, all white
Two “Revision” Plans
• Virginia Plan
– Favored large states
– Strong central government
– Bicameral (two house) legislature – larger
house elected by the people (House of
Representatives, and a smaller house that
was selected by larger house (Senate)
• (This would change in the 17th Amendment)
Two “Revision” Plans
• New Jersey Plan
– Agreed with strong central government…BUT
– Congress would be unicameral (one house)
with states having equal votes
– Did not want large population states to
dominate the legislature
Great Compromise
• A bicameral legislature in which the House
of Representatives membership
apportioned according to the state
populations, plus 3/5 the slave population
• An upper house, the Senate, which would
have two members from each state,
elected by the state legislature (popularly
elected today)
Three-fifths Compromise
• Agree to allow the South to count 3/5 the
population in each state to balance the
power of North and South
Madisonian Principles of
Gov’t in the Constitution
• Popular Sovereignty – power to govern belongs to
the people, gov’t based on the consent of
governed (with safeguards!!)
• Separation of Powers – division of gov’t between
branches: executive, legislative and judicial
• Checks and Balances – a system where branches
have some authority over others
• Limited Government – gov’t is not all-powerful, and
it does only what citizens allow
• Federalism – division of power between central
government and individual states
Separation of Powers
Prevents an all-powerful ruling body
Legislature – passes law (Congress)
Executive – enforces law (President)
Judiciary – interprets law (Supreme
Amending the
• Meant to be difficult
• Require action from national and state
• Has only happened 27 times, of which 10
were combined as the Bill of Rights and
one (XXI) was used to repeal an earlier
amendment (XVIII)
• By two-thirds
vote of BOTH
houses of
• By a national
convention called by
Congress at the
request of two-thirds
of the state
• This method has
never been used
• By legislatures • By conventions in
in three-fourths three-fourths of
the states
of the states
• This method was
only used once
(21st Amendment)
Informal Change
• Legislation from Congress
– Created federal court system, the cabinet and
agencies, the Commerce Clause
• Executive Actions
– War powers, executive agreements
• Judicial Review
– Not specified in the Constitution
– Marbury v. Madison
Informal Change
• Actions of Political Parties
the Constitution
– Parties have taken over the presidential
nomination process, reducing the influence of
the Electoral College
• Unwritten Tradition
– Senatorial Courtesy
Fed vs. Anti-Fed
• Ratification – formal approval
• Federalist – in favor of adoption of US
Constitution creating a federal union and
strong central government
• Anti-Federalist – opposed to ratification in
1787, opposed to strong central
Federalist Papers
• Annoyingly hard to read
• Best political theory ever written in US
• Written by Alexander Hamilton, James
Madison, and John Jay
• Publius
• Convince public for ratification
Federalist #10
• Madison addresses biggest fear of gov’t
• Faction – a group in a legislature or political
party acting together in pursuit of some
special interest (think fraction – ½, 1/3, etc)
• Unequal division of property is the “most
durable source” of factions
• Founding fathers were concerned that our
government would be ripped apart
• Madison defends our national Constitution
Federalist #10
• Separation of Powers check the growth of
• Each branch of government keeps the
other two from gaining too much power
• A republic guards against irresponsible
direct democracy or “common passions”
• Factions will always exist, but must be
managed to not severe from the system.
Anti-Fed Response
• Central gov’t would threaten liberty
• Aristocratic tyranny could happen
• Demanded a guarantee of individual rights
and liberty
• States power was too limited
Bill of Rights
• 10 amendments to the Constitution
• guaranteed individual freedoms and rights
• limited power of national government,
guaranteed rights to states
• Ratified in 1789, Bill of Rights added 1791