• Mary Evans Seeley

We the People

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

On Sept. 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers signed the Constitution at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, creating a new government for the United State of America. For over 230 years, this revolutionary plan has stood the test of time for We the People. How much do you know about the Constitution of the United States?

Let’s start from the beginning. The need arose out of situation where Britain’s King George III sent troops to America demanding the 13 colonies pay taxes to their homeland. Opposing taxation without representation, colonial soldiers fought to be free in a six-year war, called the Revolutionary War.

While the soldiers fought, under the leadership of George Washington, leaders from each colony met and formed the Continental Congress. The Congress declared independence from Britain in July of 1776. They also declared that from this time forward, the colonies would be called the United States of America.

The 13 states signed the Declaration of Independence and each formed their own government and chose leaders to make state laws. The states also wanted to be joined together under a national government. A plan called the Articles of Confederation was established. Within a short time, it was apparent that the national government lacked power to tax the states; they could only ask for money. The more powerful states often refused to give money to the government because they were short of money too. The states found it necessary to raise taxes on their people, which resulted in a rebellion. Daniel Shays led angry farmers to attack the courthouse in Massachusetts in response to excess taxes.

The Articles of the Confederation were obviously not working; something had to be done to help the struggling states become united. The 13 states were acting like 13 countries. They passed their own laws, printed their own money and taxed goods coming across their borders.

On May 25, 1787, well known leaders from each of the states met in Philadelphia to fix the problem. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton were among the delegates to this Constitutional Congress, as it was called. Rather than fixing a broken system, they decided to start over. The new plan became known as the United States Constitution.

The Constitution was a revolutionary idea to put power and government in the hands of We the People. The Constitution called for the establishment of three branches of government; no group would have too much power. A system of checks and balances was created.

The legislative branch would make the laws. It was comprised of two groups: the Senate and the House of Representatives; together they made up the Congress. Under the Constitution each state was allowed two senators; the number of representatives were determined by the size of the state’s population.

The executive branch would carry out the laws. It was led by a president and vice president, elected by We the People. The president would nominate a cabinet, that had to be confirmed by a majority vote of the Senate. The president also became the commander-in-chief of the army and the navy and made agreements with foreign countries.

The judicial branch included the Supreme Court which consisted of 9 justices nominated by the president and approved by a majority of the Senate. They would interpret or explain the laws, making sure the president and the congress did not overstep their powers. Federal judges were given authority to resolve matters brought before federal courts.

Finally, on September 17, 1787, after 100 working days, 39 brave men voted to accept the terms of the Constitution. Ratification would require 9 of the 13 states to approve it before it could become official and replace the defunct Articles of Confederation. Delaware was the first state to approve it on December 7. New Hampshire was the 9th state to approve it the following year. The Constitution of the United States was ratified June 21, 1788.

Eventually all the states approved the Constitution with some additional protection from the government. Thomas Jefferson, serving as the US Minister to France, supported the Constitution, based on the condition that a Bill of Rights be added as the first amendments to the document. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, agreed to add 10 amendments guaranteeing that people would have freedom of speech, religion and the press and the right to bear arms among other rights. Approved by the Congress and then by the states in 1791, the amendments became part of the Constitution which was put into operation on March 4, 1789.

Twenty-seven amendments proposed by the Congress, having been ratified by the requisite number of states, are part of the Constitution to date. The United States Constitution is one of the most successful plans of a national government in the world. This plan is still used today.

September 17 is Constitution Day in America. Do you now have a better understanding of the importance of the Constitution and it's meaning personally for you? Defending the 232 year- old Constitution is the responsibility of every generation.

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.

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