The History of the US Constitution

articles of confederation vs constitution

In 1776, the Continental Congress adopted Articles of Confederation, the first prototype of the Constitution of the United Colonies. They represented a legal treaty that consolidated the Alliance of 13 independent states. The Confederation was created for the common defense, ensuring the freedom of these states, as well as for the mutual and common welfare. The sovereignty of 13 states was preserved by this legal document and free residents of one state became able to enjoy all privileges and benefits of free citizens in all states.

The US Constitution, adopted on September 17, 1787, was the first constitution in the world history set out in writing. The Constitution enshrined the democratic principles and the gains of the American people and contributed to the industrial development of the country. The Constitution consolidated the Republican form of government on the scale of the whole country and in each of the states.

The most important document in the process of the constitutional development of the US was the US Declaration of Independence of the 13 American States of July 4, 1776, proclaimed the independence of the former 13 colonies from Great Britain, which signified the appearance of 13 sovereign states on the Atlantic coast of North America. It was important not only to declare a break of political ties with the Metropolis but also to prove the legitimacy of this act to the world. The argument given in the Declaration was based on the doctrine of natural law, the idea of people’s sovereignty and the contractual theory of the state origin. In the Declaration of Independence of the United States, it is possible to distinguish three meaning segments. It is stated that all people are equal and have inalienable rights from birth, the main of which are life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. The people are the source of power, they can and obliged to replace or even destroy a bad government. Although the Declaration contained the words “United States of America”, it did not mean the creation of a single federal state, but only fixed the initial stage of the formation of a sovereign state.

The Union that arose in the conditions of the war against the Great Britain was exclusively military in nature. At The Second Continental Congress, a decision was made to unite the armed troops of the colonies. For several years, The Second Continental Congress played the role of the only legislative body where decisions were taken on the basis of equality of votes from the colony states. An attempt was made to create a single monetary system. So, it was decided by Congress to create an interstate union of states based on the actually created unity. The idea of proclaiming independence and creating a single political body in the form of an interstate union, proposed by Franklin, was approved by representatives of the states in May 1776. It was assumed that the created union would be Confederation. By the end of 1779, the Confederation project was ratified by legislative assemblies of 12 states, and in March 1781, the Second Continental Congress proclaimed the entry into force of the “Articles of Confederation”, which became the first Constitution of the United States. Despite the weakness of the powers of the general government and administration, the “Articles” proclaimed the irrevocable creation of a single state. States did not envisage the right to leave the union. The decision of the majority of the members of the confederation had little force for other states. The state sovereignty remained, but in a parallel way, an exclusive power of the Union was introduced. The people of one state enjoyed privileges and benefits in other states on a par with their inhabitants in relation to transport, commercial and financial activities and property. To solve common problems, the State Congress was created, where all the subjects of the Confederation were represented. The competence of the Congress included management issues: declaring war and concluding peace agreements, regulating the monetary system, setting measures and weights, and establishing military orders. The states were forbidden to create their own armed forces and conduct their own diplomatic activities. The Union, the creation of which was fixed by “Articles”, had military, political, as well as declarative nature. Its task was to provide legitimacy to the political state body that was forming. However, after proclaiming the independence, the states could not resist to the powerful Metropolis. In order to overcome the destructive consequences of the war in the economic and social spheres, there was a need in the strong centralized power that could not be created within the confederation, so there was an objective need for modernization of the principles of state power, which led to the creation of the US Constitution in 1787. This document recorded the transition from the Confederation to the Federation.

The military and political unity, enshrined in the “Articles of Confederation” of 1781, was developed during the War of Independence of 13 North American colonies against the British Crown. This union was temporary and declarative in responding to the needs of the wartime. But in the post-war period, it proved ineffective in dealing with inner political, social and economic problems sharpened the problem of financing the army by increasing taxes that were collected from the states. The post-war crisis led to the complete impairment and the inflation growth. In the absence of a centralized authority, it was not possible to start paying off French loans. In addition, the contradictions between the US states about the development of western lands that the confederation could not solve were exacerbated. The mass social unrest that arose because of the economic and financial crisis finally proved the inconsistency of the Confederation, which was the main reason for the revision of the “Articles of Confederation” in 1781. In May 1787 in Philadelphia, state politicians managed to work out a new constitutional document. After lengthy controversy regarding the form of the political organization acceptable to the whole country, the deputies approved the draft copy of the Constitution by James Madison. It was characterized by laconicism and included a preamble and seven articles. The Constitution of 1787 established a republican form of government both for the state as a whole and for individual states. The main principle of state organization was federalism, based on recognizing the high degree of state independence. The organization of power was subordinated to the principle of separation of powers – legislative, executive, and judicial.

The competence of the Congress included the right to impose taxes, fees, and duties, to regulate the trade, the monetary and financial system, to finance the Army and the Navy. The Congress had full organizational independence and equal rights in the field of legislation. The head of the executive branch was President who was elected for four years. A US citizen who had reached the age of 35 and met a high residence requirement could apply for the post of President. At the same time, a vice president was elected who had no independent authority and was a deputy and assistant to the president. The President was the supreme commander-in-chief. With the consent of the Senate, he concluded international treaties, appointed high-ranking officials, had the right to amend the legislation that could be overcome by the Senate with a qualified two-thirds vote. The relationship between the executive and legislative branches of power was regulated on the basis of the deterrence principle and preventing the concentration of power in one of the branches. The principle was not only aimed to prevent usurpation tendencies but also to ensure the stability and functioning of the state authorities themselves. The judiciary was granted to the Supreme Court of the Federation and to lower courts. Judges were appointed by President with the consent of the Senate.

The US Constitution of 1787 consolidated the creation of a single federative state with a republican form of government. The principles of the state organization laid down by this document were largely served as an example for many countries that decided to build a democratic statehood on the principles of parliamentary.