A blupete Essay

The Constitution of the United States, Part 4 to blupete's Essay
"A Country's Constitution"

In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and, in the next place, oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience, as James Madison observed, has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

The United States, in the late eighteenth century, within a few short years of its revolt against the British, by way of a democratic process, came up with a constitution which, ever since, has impressed political scientists; and which has been taken up by emulative constitutional writers worldwide.

Prior to the revolution, the American colonies were independent of one another. Their union was necessary if they were to win the war with Britain; this union continued long after. Each state, however, within the union, continued to be sovereign and completely in charge of their own affairs, except, of course, in those areas which had been transferred to the central, or federal government.10

(Unlike the American constitution, the Canadian constitution, when framed, a hundred years later, did not bring together existing identities into a union. In fact, new identities were created, Ontario and Quebec. These new identities were joined to existing identities, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.)

During the revolutionary era, each of the states, former colonies of England, developed their own state governments. There were three main types: the "Virginian," the "Pennsylvanian", and the "Massachusetts" type.

The constitution in Virginia was drawn by people who were fresh with the revolting experiences of a colonial administration, and, in particular, an arrogant royal governor. The Virginians, in their setup, gave supremacy to the legislature. The Governor in this new constitution could do nothing on his own, he had to do things "in counsel." In times of emergency, such as a war against a powerful adversary, what is needed, is a leader who is in control, and, if need be, one who is in a position to call the shots in a hurry. This "Virginian" government, this government by committee, was a mistake; on account of it, Virginia suffered during its fight with the British.

The most democratic and progressive of all the constitutions of the infant states was set up in Pennsylvania; it provided for a single-chamber legislature11 with -- instead of a Governor -- an elective executive council. (Pennsylvania was Benjamin Franklin's home turf: "rotation in office was enjoined; none could serve as a representative for more than four years in every seven ... the election every seven years of a Council of Censors, whose duty was to enquire whether the Constitution has been preserved inviolate in every part, to order impeachments, and to summon a constitutional convention if necessary.") This "Pennsylvanian" form of government was, all and all, the finest example of a "popular front" government as likely as has ever been seen in history12 -- it did not work.13

In the competition among the American constitutional writers of the time, it was John Adams from Massachusetts who won out; it was his theory of "mixed government" or a government of "checks of balances" that was adopted,14 and enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. It consisted of only a preamble and seven articles, - "it was brief, essential, and flexible." It set up a form of government that had never been tried before, anywhere. The Constitution of the United States has now endured for over two centuries, longer than any other in recorded history.

Thus, in the United States, there evolved a "presidential" form of government; where one group, the group responsible for making laws (the legislature) is separate from the executive group (the president) which is bound to administer the laws. Thus, a separation of powers15 exists, - a separation of the power to make laws from the power to enforce laws. The elected President has a check in the form of a veto over legislation; he has the power to appoint most of his administrative officials, and the power to select judges, subject, however, to approval by the senate, its check against the President. Into this "presidential" form of government was added the balancing wheel of an independent judiciary.


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Peter Landry

2011 (2019)