“We, the People of the United States, to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America.”
On the 17th of September, 1787, 55 delegates of the Constitutional Convention signed the document that encodes the United States Constitution. It was a groundbreaking achievement, being the first time any nation had a written constitution.
The document, defined roles for the arms of government and established checks and balances for the different arms. The constitution, which enshrined the values of democracy and federalism, would make the United States the foremost democratic nation in the world. Key figures responsible for it include Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and other founding fathers.
The original document had 7 articles, but it has now undergone several amendments to take its current form.
Strengths of the United States Constitution
The United States Constitution that came into effect in 1787 replaced the Articles of Confederation. The country had hitherto had a confederalist form of government with powerful states but a weak central government. The new constitution created a new form of government that created a strong central government while accommodating the autonomy of individual states. The constitution has endured for 232 years, which shows its strength and resilience.
In creating functions for the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government, the framers of the constitution ensured that no arm had more power over the others. The clear system of separation of powers determined what each arm has power over and how conflicts in authority were to be addressed. The constitution created a self-regulating government with a system of checks and balances so that possible excesses of anyone in government can be addressed.
The introduction of the Bill of Rights as the first set of amendments to the constitution was another major plus. It aimed to protect individual freedoms and ensure that power truly resides in the people themselves. After all, Abraham Lincoln’s enduring definition of democracy was that it was a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’ Such rights as freedom of speech, religion, press, right to assembly, etc. validated the purpose of a constitution that begins with the words ‘we the people, showing that the state and government are nothing without the individual citizens.
The convention had much debate and the resulting document was such that tried to accommodate the concerns of the majority to a great extent. In keeping with this step, amendment principles were enshrined in a way that majority decisions would always prevail. This was to avoid a situation where a small group of people could make decisions to suit their selfish purposes. To date, there have been 27 amendments to the constitution, proving it to be a flexible system that could be made to align with the prevailing political and social ideas. That has enabled the abolishing of slavery, for instance.
Weaknesses of the United States Constitution
It should be noted that the United States Constitution was not created perfectly. In fact, its framers must have understood its imperfection to have included amendment procedures for future adjustments. So, just had it had areas of strength, it is deeply flawed as well, and many of these flaws are still points of heavy political debates to date.
An issue is that some of the strengths of the constitution are points of weakness simultaneously. An example is the amendment process. To amend the constitution, there must have been a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses with the proposed resolutions. Subsequently, the propositions are passed unto all state legislative houses and the amendment only stands if approved by three-fourths of all the state houses (38 states of 50). This is often a lengthy and difficult process. While the amendment of a constitution shouldn’t be easy so as to avoid abuse, the process can be optimized for better efficiency too.
Also, many people have termed the constitution as being too difficult to interpret. At 7591 words (including the 27 Amendments) the US constitution is the shortest of the world’s written constitutions of any country. The original document was a mere 4,400 words, and that left many ambiguities that legal experts and judges keep trying to interpret to this day. In fact, many terms and expressions which have now come to be associated with the constitution and American ideals are not found in the laws at all. Examples include (surprisingly) ‘democracy’, ‘separation of Church and State’, the number of judges appointed to the Supreme Court, etc.
Despite its flaws, the constitution of the United States remains the most important document in the country and is also highly valued outside the US. Being the first written constitution, many countries have followed the patterns it set forth to establish their constitutions as well. It also remains an item of pride for Americans and a uniting factor of the nation (including other national symbols such as the flag).
It is sometimes regarded as the ‘living constitution, having endured for more than two centuries. Its flexibility and adaptability have been important factors for that. Defining what a perfect constitution should be like is impossible, but what makes a great constitution are the refinements it undergoes to ensure letter laws that reflect a country’s values.
The U.S. Constitution is made up of 27 Amendments, 10 of those from the Bill of Rights. This Article is a list of all the Amendments and what they mean.
Amendments Amendment 1: Freedom of Religion
Congress cannot limit a citizens speech.Congress cannot tell a citizen what religion to practice.
Amendment 2: Right to Bear Arms Each state has a right to a militia. Citizens can have guns but it is regulated by the federal government.
Amendment 3: Lodging Troops in Private Homes During Rev. War colonists were forced to house Redcoats.Troops CANNOT be housed by citizens.
Amendment 4: Search and Seizure Search and Seizure is ONLY permitted if officials have a search warrant.Warrant must say the exact location to be searched and the exact item to be taken.
Amendment 5: Rights of the Accused
Double Jeopardy – Cannot be tried for the same crime twice Federal Government MUST have a formal accusation from a Grand Jury
Amendment 6: Right to Speedy Trial by Jury. If a government postpones a trial or it becomes hard for a person to get a hearing the charges may be dismissed.
Amendment 7: Jury Trial in Civil Cases. Guaranteed a jury trial in cases were the sum is more than $20.
Amendment 8: Bail and Punishment Excessive bail cannot be proposed nor excessive fines proposed.
Amendment 9: Powers Reserved to the People Afraid that people would only be given the Bill of Rights.
Amendment 10: Powers Reserved to the States
States have others powers in the Constitution not listed here.
Amendment 11: Suits Against the States. A private citizen from one state cannot sue another state in federal court.
Amendment 12: Election of President and Vice President. Candidate with the most votes becomes President Electoral College casts the last vote.
Amendment 13: Abolition of Slavery This amendment freed ALL slaves.
Amendment 14: Rights of Citizens Prevents states from denying rights to citizens Guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.”
Amendment 15: Voting Rights
Gives blacks, both former slaves and free blacks, the right to vote
Amendment 16: The Income Tax Congress has the power to collect tax on people’s income.
Amendment 17: Direct Election of Senators. Senators are directly elected by the people of each state.
Amendment 18: Prohibition of Alcoholic Beverages Banned the making, selling and transporting of alcohol.
Amendment 19: Women’s Suffrage Federal and State government’s cannot deny the right to vote based on gender. Women get the right to vote!
Amendment 20: Presidential Terms; Sessions of Congress
President and Vice President take office January 20th Members of Congress begin their terms on January 3 Congress must meet at least once a year
Amendment 21: Repeal of Prohibition The sale of alcohol is legal again.
Amendment 22: Limit on number of Presidential Terms No President may serve more than 2, 4 year terms.
Amendment 23: Presidential Electors for District of Columbia Gives Washington D.C. the right to vote for the President
Amendment 24: Abolition of Poll Tax in National Elections Abolished the poll tax that kept African Americans from voting.
Amendment 25: Presidential Succession and Disability
President dies, Vice President takes over Vice President then appoints a Vice President
Amendment 26: Voting Age Citizens 18 years and older have the right to vote
Amendment 27: Direct Election of Senators Before state legislatures elected Senators, this amendment gave the people the right to elect the senators