The constitution is the document that has framed and shaped the United States from inception. It is the document that is defended by all new presidents and also the document which affords the citizens of the United States freedoms and rights that cannot be removed. In its drafting it shaped the formation of a new country and a new style of governance. It is a bottom up as opposed to established ways of government which are top down. However for all its virtues the Constitution is somewhat ambiguous and there is some debate of the intent of the drafters, did they intend to give as much power or did they intend to give less power to the people?
The Constitution sets out the system, rules and regulations of how the new American government was to work. The constitution was drafted by a small select group of people from the 13 states; they were the peoples representatives for the constitution. However these people were very much part of an emerging elite, the masses werent literate nor would they have had a vast understanding of theories of government, all they knew was the old system and monarchical government. Therefore the drafting of the constitution fell to what one could call idealistic gentry, who were very wealthy and well educated perhaps an upper class group of individuals.
They may have been acting on behalf of the people but there are numerous examples of blatant self-interest. When assigning powers to congress taxation was obviously a big area, the representatives from the Southern states managed to get exemptions for export duties. Many of the representatives from these southern states were heavily involved in the Tobacco trade and made a lot of their personal wealth from this trade so it was is in their own direct interest to get exemptions for these things. This is a clear demonstration on how some representatives werent wholly representative.
To assess how much power and liberty the constitution gives to the people one obviously must look at the language and the content of the document itself. In article one, section four, it states The congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall appoint a different day. The language of this section implies that congress was only intended to meet rarely, any elected chamber that is intended to meet rarely cannot have much legitimacy.
It cannot be thought of, as a great democratic institution representing the peoples will. At the time of drafting the constitution, the rules on the senate were to be two senators for each state, which were appointed by the state legislatures, rather than directly elected by the people. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof. This is somewhat of an oxymoron for a country that states we hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal.
The power in the Senate does not lie with the people, but of the people they elected for their State legislatures. There is no direct link here between the people and congress, the power is appointed rather like the house of Lords in the mother country, which was meant to be a bridge between the monarch and the house of commons, if you will a middle ground between two opposing factions. The way the Senate was comprised is of a political appointee system, which inevitably favours the wealthy and influential elites. It is the power of the people by proxy, which is hardly democratic.
The Congress had the discretion whether to publish its proceedings, so if they so chose the public who put them there could never know what they are doing on their behalf. The system laid out in the constitution for electing the President is symbolic of the distrust of the people by the representatives at the constitutional convention. The Electoral College system was devised as a half-way house between the people directly electing the president and the president being appointed. The Electoral College is devised as to proportion the votes to the population of the states.
So the number of electors for each state is the number of house representatives and senators combined. Therefore New York currently has 31 House representatives and 2 senators, so it has 33 electors for the Electoral College. When Americans are voting for a President they are actually voting for a board of electors who then vote for the president. But these electors dont have to follow what the majority of people in that state voted for; they can if they so wish vote for another candidate. This has happened on some occasions in the 1948 presidential election one of Tennessees electors voted for J.
Strom Thurmond instead of voting for Harry Truman. This shows a blatant disregard for democratic principles, as the drafters of the constitution did not want a direct link between voters and the presidency. They did not believe that ordinary people could make sophisticated and intelligent decisions. It shows that they had a healthy interest in their own self-interest, perhaps following the maxim of Thomas Gordon Whatever is good for the people is bad for their governors . In theory this could still happen in modern America, as the board of electors do not have to follow what the voters say in the election.
This shows to me an evident democratic deficit. There is not just a deficit in Congress or in the Presidency, but also in the State legislatures that is set out in the constitution. The Constitution defends the right of states over their own affairs, the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states respectively. However particularly in the first few years after independence it was a big concern of the citizens that they had replaced one form of tyranny with another.
Huge amounts of power rested in the hands of a few wealthy men, who it was claimed would be happy to be corrupt or indulge in corrupt practices Power once concentrated almost exclusively in the crown and its agents, was transferred to various state legislatures. Power again did not rest with the people rather the power was borrowed from the people but never given back. The Constitution as it was originally written did not include huge areas of rights that modern Americans assume are self-evident rights.
For example the freedom of religion, press and speech are all in the first amendment they were not included in the original body of the text. Also amendments on female emancipation and African-Americans civil rights were not included. One must assume that this is because the representatives at the constitutional convention never intended for this to happen and therefore the constitution in these cases did not afford all citizens the same rights. In other words that some citizens are born more equal than others. There are huge areas of the Constitution that serve self-interest and do not think about the public good.
However there are huge areas also that are specifically designed to protect and not infringe citizens rights. The Constitution was designed to be a balwark against tyranny. All forms of tyranny, for example even the tyranny of the majority hence the inclusion of the 1st Amendment, which includes freedom of religion and freedom of speech, which could be easily infringed like against pornography or extreme political views. The Constitution was written in such a way as to protect the individual from the state, and to never let the state become in any way tyrannical.
The representatives went to great pains to ensure a clear separation of powers between the Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court, they did this to ensure that no one section of the government could ever become dominant and autocratic. It is in the Amendments that the people are given their greatest liberties, before the constitution just concerns itself with the workings of government and clear separation of powers, the amendments however are more specifically directed toward individual liberties.
The first amendment and the Fifth Amendment are frequently held up as examples of an individual rights under the constitution, in fact the first and fifth were consistently used by people under investigation by Senator Joseph McCarthy as a method of their defence. Also included in the Amendments are those which guarantee the right to trial by jury. These first ten amendments were ratified in 1791, which was a good fifteen years after the declaration of independence.
However these 1st ten amendments are among the most important included in the constitution these guarantee what many people in the colonies thought of as English liberties as the new citizens still wanted these rights they had enjoyed as subjects. The original Constitution was obviously not concerned with what we would consider liberties today for example a womans right to vote, or the abolition of slavery. The US Constitution reflects these changes in attitude in the 13th amendment outlawed slavery, and the 21st amendment enshrined the right of women to vote.
However the constitutional amendments were not always concerned with the rights of the individual or individual liberty. The 18th amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol, although this was a widely held view that alcohol was a societal ill, it could also be interpreted as an infringement of an individuals liberty. It can also be seen as an example of the failing of the constitution to protect minorities from the majority. However this amendment was repealed 14 years after it was introduced so the Constitution did reflect the rights enshrined earlier in the constitution.
It seems that Congress and the states forgot about the constitution and the bill of rights when approving this amendment; it was in my opinion unconstitutional. This is a clear example of how the constitution can be disregarded when it suits a particular group of people. Even in todays political climate rights that are enshrined in the constitution can be circumvented, President Bushs proposal to allow faith-based organisations to take over rehabilitation of prisoners and other welfare programs, would be an infringement on the first amendment principle of no law respecting an establishment of religion.
The interpretation of the constitution is also important, as at times the Constitution is somewhat ambiguous. A good example of the Constitution being misinterpreted is the right to bear arms. The Amendment states A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed. This implies that at the time of drafting the security of states was a high priority, and at the time the US did not have a professional army which it does now.
This amendment seems to be about the protection of the states from an outside aggressor rather than about an individuals right to own a gun. The Constitution has extended peoples power too. The amendment on the election of senators and Primary elections greatly extended these powers. The great mass of the American public could have the right to decide the candidates who fought in their district, so even if one lived in a strongly Democratic area and one was a lifetime Republican then one could still influence which candidate was able to stand.
The right to elect senators also meant that citizens have the right to elect people who approve legislation on their behalf, which seems anachronistic if this stayed an appointed system in a democracy. The Constitution as the foundation of the United States; can be picked apart by so many interested parties, but the founding fathers deliberately made this document hard to un-pick. To change the Constitution requires two-thirds majority of both houses and of two-thirds of states as well, so it is extremely difficult to change. Also in the installation of the Supreme Court as ultimate arbiter can strike down legislation.