The founding fathers wanted to create a constitution because many believed that the national government had to be stronger than what it had been with the use of the Articles of Confederation. But at the same time they were fearful of human nature and how often it could be seen in the history of other countries such as Britain, for people in the position of power to infringe on the rights of others, by becoming hungry with power. Taking this into account, they wanted to create a government with another power to keep order and to govern.
But also make sure there were sufficient checks put in place so that the government could never exercise power that threatens individual liberties. The constitution created a government with a written set of rules to follow which it could not infringe upon. This in itself was one way to create a limited government, which is a main factor in why the founding fathers created a constitution. The Founding fathers also wanted to divide power in different ways, in another attempt to prevent its future abuse.
The three main concepts within the constitution are separation of powers, cheques and balances, and federalism. The founding fathers originally debated where power should ultimately lie; Alexander Hamilton suggested that a unitary system would be the best. This is where the power lies with the central authority; many knew that this would never work, as the country is far too big and diverse. There were even hints at a monarchy but George Washington quickly made his feelings on the idea open.
‘It is an idea I must view with adherence and reprimand with severity’ George mason on the other hand was in support of a confederate system, this is where the states would be split up , and then all have to agree on individual issues. There are very few examples of a confederate system working, and it is clear to see why it would not work in in America, as it would be very difficult to get all the states to agree on individual issues, due to the diversity of the country.
The solution to this problem was suggested by James Madison, which was quite simply a mixture of the two systems unitary and confederate. This is where power is divided between central and state government. National or delegated powers are powers only exercised by the national government, examples of this today would be the right to print money, and the right to declare war. Some examples of concurrent or shared powers are the right to borrow money, and make and enforce law. An example of a state or reserved power is the right to regulate intrastate commerce or create corporation laws.
This was done for two main reasons, the first being to limit centralised power, and presidential power, and secondly so that states would agree to the constitution. The states also agreed for two other reasons , one being the Connecticut compromise, and the other being the Bill of rights , which most American historians just count as part of the original constitution, but it wasn’t actually added till 4 years later, Madison claimed it was important as ‘You must specify your liberties’. The Connecticut compromise was created to keep the small states happy, so that they would agree to the constitution.
The geographically small states wanted representation based on population, not on size of state, when the biggest states with the smallest population wanted it to be based on the flat rate. So the political compromise was that in the House of Representatives, representation was based on population, and in the senate it was based on the geographical size of a state. The bill of rights is a document that American historians claim is part of the original constitution, although it was sent off to the individual states 4 years later.
It was there to clearly show the rights of the people, so that they could never be taken away. The 1st amendment included freedoms such as freedom of assembly and free speech or the 2nd amendment which is the right for everyone to bear arms. It is often shouted out by gun associations when the government tries to put restrictions on the ownership of guns. The founding fathers put this in place so that it would outline in more the detail the precise freedoms of the people, which also helped to convince the smaller states.
The constitution splits the power given to national government into three branches, which are separate from each other: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. The separation of powers was based on the ideas of Montesquieu, with him ‘L’esprit de lois’ which means the spirit of the law. The executive plays the role of administrating law. The president does this in many ways , for example he; executes federal laws and programs, conducts foreign policy , commands the armed forces, negotiates treaties and other such roles.
Checks and balances another main factor of the constitution comes in here, as the people get to keep a check on the president every 4 years with the presidential election, which stops any tyranny of powers. This can also be seen in another branch of government. The legislature passes law, this is done through congress. Congress is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Its roles include; regulating interstate and foreign commerce , creating and maintaining the armed forces , printing money, declaring war , and other such roles.
The power here is limited in two ways, which is exactly what the founding fathers wanted; it’s done through a 6 year change of the senate, which rotates 1/3 of its members for election every 2 years. This is also done in the House of Representatives, as they have to run for re-election every 2 years, this means that representatives have to get things the public want done, or they can just be kicked out. This keeps power in the hands of the many, which is also how they wanted to constitution to work. The last branch is the Judiciary, its role is to interpret and enforce the law.
It is able to stay separate from the other branches, as it operates heavily outside the government, but also because ‘nothing maintains the independence of the judiciary more than its permanency in office’. It is also tied to the other two branches, as if the president wants to pass a law, it must get through congress and through the Supreme Court, as they can rule it unconstitutional, so the founding fathers created a system so that every branch was a check on each other, this also creates a system, where politics becomes the art of compromise.
This system of checks and balances means that all the branches have to work together, and have to compromise. Congress holds its check on the president in different ways, such as; Congress is able to impeach and remove a president, although impeachment does require a 2/3 majority of house, and removal 2/3 of the senate. Congress can also override a presidential veto, this also requires a 2/3 majority in both houses, but this system means that no one branch can hold far more power than another which is another example of why the founding fathers chose such a system.
It also holds other powers such as rejecting treaties which limits presidential foreign policy. Congress also holds checks over the judiciary. It can do this by proposing constitutional amendments, and impeaching and removing judges with the 2/3 majority in the senate. This also shows us that the judiciary can never hold too much power over the president or congress, which is another example of how the founding fathers wanted the constitution to work. There are also powers given to the other two branches of government, which help to keeps checks, so that they can all counter each other with enough majority.
But a problem with this is that it can lead to political gridlock, and this means very little can get done, which is not what the founding fathers intended. To conclude, the founding fathers created a constitution that meant that power could never be held within the hands of the few, but with the many. It also created checks on power in every branch of government, not just from the people, but from the branches themselves acting as checks against each other.
They had wanted to create a system that worked this way, because of the tyranny that could be seen in other countries. This is why George Washington destroyed any idea of a monarchy, he wanted the United States of America to be founded on principles the promoted compromise, and freedom, and equality. It was also meant to act as a block on any future tyranny, or corruption of power, but it also creates problems in itself, as it can lead to political gridlock, but no political system is perfect.