The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are two of the most important documents in the world. These documents were truly visionary at the time of their creation. The world had not seen a government that clearly was for the people and by the people before these documents. It is important to recognize that the previous document of American revolutionary thought were not perfect. In addition, the Constitution had to find ways to answer the grievances that were listed in the Declaration of Independence.
The Declaration of Independence lists multiple grievances against the English king. The Constitution attempted to ensure that these new grievances would not occur in the United States. One of the grievances was that King George III kept standing armies that were not required. This grievance was addressed in the Third Amendment. This Amendment clearly limits the ability of the government to create martial law. Another grievance listed in the Declaration of Independence is the well-known concept of taxation without representation. This was clarified in the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1, as well as Article II Section 9, Clause 4.
The Constitution also rectified several of the weaknesses that were discovered in the Articles of Confederation. An important weakness was the failure to allow different size states to enjoy different levels of representation in Congress. This was addressed by ensuring states received representation based upon size in one part of Congress. This was fairer to the larger states. However, the smaller states also needed to receive an equal voice. This was achieved with the Senate; regardless of size, all states only received two votes. This was called the Great Compromise. In addition, Congress was now given the power to tax, as well as regulate interstate commerce.
A major issue of the document was its failure to establish the proper branches of a government. While it is difficult to imagine today, the Articles of Confederation lacked an executive branch. Essentially, there was no president. The job of the president is to enforce the legislative acts. In addition, the document failed to provide any form of a national court system. While the individual states may have their independent court systems, there was no method established for settling disputes between states or disputes of national importance. This resulted in significant quarreling between the states. When two or more states had a disagreement about joint issues, there was no means or method to resolve the issue. Obviously, states that were in theory joined, could not operate in this manner.
The Bill of Rights was also a crucial aspect of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights refers to the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. This also resulted from a compromise. Many of the anti-Federalists opposed the Constitution and fought to block its ratification. The Federalists fought for the ratification of the document. This was most clearly documented in the work The Federalist Papers. The anti-Federalists did not believe that the Constitution was the correct document to determine how the new government should operate. The lack of protections for individual freedoms was a particular concern for many; essentially, while the document stated what the government could do, it did not expressly prohibit what it could not do. Because of this failure in the document, many feared that the government would become too strong and overrun the hard-won freedoms of the citizens.
James Madison proposed the first Ten Amendments. These collective became known as the Bill of Rights. They were ratified by the states in 1791. These amendments protected the civil liberties of the citizens. Among these civil liberties are some of the most cherished liberties in America. These include freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Additionally, an individual has the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure by the government. An individual can also “plead the Fifth.” This commonly used statement in criminal issues refers to the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. The Ninth Amendment recognizes that there are a number of civil liberties to which individuals should be entitled under the government. However, the leaders recognized that it was impossible to list and to enumerate what could arguably be an endless list of rights. Therefore, the Ninth Amendment ensures that individual rights are protected even if they are not specifically named in the document. The Tenth Amendment also recognizes that the list of civil liberties is potentially endless. For this reason, it ensures that if the federal government is not specifically given the right in the Constitution, these rights would remain in the hands of the states and the people. This allows for balance between the size and power of the federal government and the size and power of the state governments.
The proposals made by Madison came from suggestions that had been made at various constitutional congresses and through discussions. Madison’s work eventually led to the proposal of twelve amendments to the Constitution. However, only ten were ratified and approved. While today there are twenty-seven amendments, only the first ten are collectively referred to as “The Bill of Rights.” One amendment, the Twenty-First Amendment, also repeals another amendment, the Eighteenth Amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment established Prohibition of alcohol in the country. The Twenty-First Amendment made the sale, purchase and use of alcohol legal again.
While the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are assumed to be a natural part of the United States today, this was not always the case. The original document for the United States, the Articles of Confederation, were a dismal failure and needed to be replaced. The Constitution replaced it; however, this was after significant debate and fighting between leaders and the states. Due to these debates and fights, the Bill of Rights also emerged as one of the most important documents of the United States.