"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, 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."
The Constitution of the United States is one of the most unique and important documents in Human history.
The Articles of Confederation had many weaknesses that prevented the United States from consistently addressing critical issues. Accordingly, the states convened a Constitutional Convention from May 25 to September 17, 1787 to "form a more perfect union". While convention was formed ostensibly to improve the Articles, some like Madison and Hamilton wanted to form a new government and the convention quickly went in that direction.
The convention was a sometimes stormy affair with states asserting their individual rights and sovereignty. Rhode Island was so concerned they did not even send a representative to the convention and no one from Rhode Island signed it.
Perhaps no issue was thornier than how states would be represented in the new government. Large states wanted representation by population and small states were concerned they would lose any voice and hence sovereignty. The "Great Compromise", proposed by Connecticut's Roger Sherman solved the issue by creating a bicameral legislature that gave proportional representation in one body and equal representation in the other body. The net effect was to preserve the state's influence in the federal government. Moreover, Article I section 3 stipulated the states would choose their senators. They were not popularly elected until the XVII Amendment was ratified in 1913.
The other significant issue in the Convention was individual rights and liberty. Several delegates insisted the Constitution ensure they were protected. Others felt they were either already implicitly protected by the Declaration and Preamble to the Constitution or were afraid that if individual rights were enumerated, the government could then limit individual rights to just those enumerated in the Constitution. George Mason and few others refused to sign the Constitution because it did not protect individual rights. The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, addressed this issue.
The Constitution of the United StatesThe Constitution is a remarkably short document given its powerful and lasting impact. It has seven articles that lay out the essential structure and functioning of the federal government. It was quickly amended with ten amendments, The Bill of Rights" to ensure the Constitution protected individual rights and liberties. Over the course of history, the Constitution was amended seventeen more times. The Constitution as originally drafted and the amendments are shown below when you click on the link==> |Show|
Amendments IX and X in the Bill of Rights were specifically designed to protect concerns over the power of the federal government. They state:
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
These two amendments hearken back to the concepts in the Declaration of Independence that the people have inalienable rights and that government flows from the people to the government, not from the government to the people. It also specifically protects the states in a federal structure.
Is the United States a Democracy?The word "democracy" is not used in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Article IV Section 4 states:
The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened), against domestic Violence.
The United States and each of its states are Republics. This is an important distinction that has been lost over the common connotative meaning of "democracy" as a form of government where people vote for representatives. This actually obscures the clear reasons that the United States is a Republic and constitutes a potentially slippery slope for any government. That seems strange if democracy's tenant is vote by the people. Madison tried to explain this in Federal Number 10:
The two great points of difference between a democracy and a republic are: first, the delegation of the government, in the latter, to a small number of citizens elected by the rest; secondly, the greater number of citizens, and greater sphere of country, over which the latter may be extended.
The effect of the first difference is, on the one hand, to refine and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the purpose. On the other hand, the effect may be inverted. Men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs, may, by intrigue, by corruption, or by other means, first obtain the suffrages, and then betray the interests, of the people. The question resulting is, whether small or extensive republics are more favorable to the election of proper guardians of the public weal; and it is clearly decided in favor of the latter by two obvious considerations
There was a clear concern to prevent "the tyranny of the majority". While Madison almost certainly endeavored to prevent "mob rule"--which did happen in Rome for a time--his comments and the nature of the Electoral College, have been used to demonstrate that the founders distrusted the people and wanted to concentrate power in the hands of the elite. If the Declaration of Independence is not included as a foundational document and the Bill of Rights are not considered, then this objection may be relevant. However, a careful reading of Federalist 10 shows Madison was concerned with controlling factions, protecting minority rights, and ensuring effective governance. Hence the deliberative nature associated with the Republic.
As the differences between a democracy and a republic get blurred by connotative rhetoric and a loss of historical understanding over the founding of the Republic, the intent gets lost as well. The net effect is to change the relationship of the people and the government. Increasingly the power flows from the government to the people rather than the original intent. As Timothy Sandefur states:
In short , this book examines what Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo called our system of "ordered liberty." That system saw the relationship between order and liberty in a particular way: liberty comes first, and order arises from it. We have gone astray in our constitutional understanding because we have upended that relationship. Lawyers, judges, law professors , political leaders , and commentators largely believe that the power of government, or of the democratic majority, is primary and that the freedom of the individual is only secondary. The growth of government power at the expense of individual rights... Sandefur, Timothy (2013-11-12). The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty (Kindle Locations 101-104).
The founders built a federal republic that incorporated sovereign states as a means to check unlimited federal power as well as to preserve individual liberty. The Xth Amendment is clear on that point. That is why the Senate originally was a body to represent the states and the House of Representatives to represent the people. That distinction was lost in 1913 when the XVIIth Amendment made the senators popularly elected rather than appointed by the state.
James McHenry, one of Maryland's delegates to the Convention, recorded in his diary that a woman approached Benjamin Franklin on the last day of the Constitutional Convention, "Well, Doctor, what have got--a Republic or a Monarchy?". To which Franklin answered "A Republic, if you can keep it."