It was just before 1500 that the Europeans discovered the New World or the American continent conquering and dwelling in new lands. It is these settlements that led to the transformation of the physical and cultural landscape of America (Vile 78). The main entrants into America were the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Danish. These European powers divided America amongst themselves, displacing the native red Indians as they settled in various areas. The colonization led rise to new civilizations, cultures and later on states that translated to the merging of the European traditions and Native American institutions and people. The transformation was observed in various aspects such as architecture, arts, gastronomy and religion. With time, communal living in various settlements within America changed into private ownership land. As the populace grew so did the need for governance. America elected its first legislative assembly in 1619 dubbed as House of Burgesses. This was followed by the Mayflower Compact that was ratified by the Pilgrims setting up governance structures for the rest of the American colonies.
In 1732, the 13 colonies that would be the United States of America were formed with the colonization of Georgia. These states experienced high growth of the colonial populace eclipsing that of the Native Americans (Vile 90). These colonies developed self-government which fostered republicanism that motivated the Great Britain monarchy to reassert its authority over them. The colonies were forced to pay taxes to the Britain in 1760’s culminating into patriot riots across the 13 states. In 1776, the American revolutionary war which ran up to 1783, took place (Vile 92).
In 1783, a peace treaty was signed giving the birth to the new governance structure. Through the ratification of the Articles of Confederation by the 13 states, a central government was formed (Marsh 24). The new government faced a number of problems such as lack of sound trade, economic and foreign policies. The confederation further lacked clear leadership as well as government presence to implement various legislation. It was also hard to amend the articles of confederation due to the sovereign powers held by the thirteen states. The articles of confederation had a number of positives such as focus on individual rights and individual ownership (Vile 99).
The insufficiencies of the articles of confederation prompted calls for its amendments. This was initiated by 1786 Annapolis Convention led by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams that gathered delegates from various states to discuss ways to forge unity amongst them (Marsh 32). It was followed by the 1787 Grand Convention held in Philadelphia where delegates were supposed to amend the Articles of Confederation. These delegates, chief among them Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, went further to write a new constitution behind closed doors (Vile 113). These delegates unanimously elected George Washington as the president of the convention. It is however prudent to note that James Madison being the strongest proponent of the creation of a new government had written his initial draft which was dubbed as the Virginia plan prior the convention. Having a great number of delegates behind him, his draft was supported as the sole document to be deliberated on in the quest of a new constitution over other drafts such as the Charles Pinckney’s plan.
The Virginia draft advocated a bicameral house-an upper house and the lower house, which replicated the British House of Lords and House of Commons respectively. The draft further mooted the idea of an independent executive with the office of the president being the commander in chief of all American forces (Vile 119). It also fostered the separation of powers with each of the three branches of the government having unique functions. The executive was accorded the function of enforcing and executing laws. The legislature, on the other hand, had the major role of passing and amending laws. The judicial as the last branch of the government had the role of interpreting and adjudicating between parties based on set laws.
The constitution was ratified on September 17, 1787 bringing to power the first US government (Marsh 32). It had seven articles with the first three dwelling on separation of powers dividing the federal government into three core branches. The three articles further offered details of different functions of the three arms of the government (the executive, judiciary, and the legislature). The fourth, fifth and six articles delved into the federalism, states’ rights and responsibilities, and the relationship between the federal government and the states. Article seven spelled out the ratification procedures that was to be employed by the thirteen states (Marsh 37).
The constitution up to date has been amended 27 times to incorporate emerging needs and concerns of the American populace. These amendments were arrived at due to compromises over various issues such as slavery, state power, governmental powers, and liberty versus order in government. Slavery brought about several compromises such as the three-fifths compromise which sought to determine how slaves would be counted in order to establish taxation and representation (Vile 138). Another concession was the empowerment of congress in banning international slave trade twenty years after the ratification of the constitution.
The greatest compromise was observed regarding state power where the senate was established as the most powerful house with each state having two senators while the lower house (house of representatives) was based on individual state populace (Marsh 52). As for the separation of powers, compromise was arrived at regarding the powers held by various branches of government (Marsh 55) . The constitution provided the president with veto powers that could only be overridden by two-thirds majority in the legislature. The constitution compromised on state functions by appreciating the role of the judiciary in interpreting and introducing new laws through precedents. Another major compromise was observed where the constitution incorporated bill of rights to enhance both liberty and order in the United States.
Marsh, Carole. "sign on the Dotted Line!": The U.s. Constitution. Peachtree City: Carole Marsh/Gallopade International, 2005. Print.
Vile, John R. The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America's Founding. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2005. Print.