In 1774, a Continental Congress was formed in Philadelphia to consider the various options available to the colonies regarding what the colonists believed was tyrannical governance by the British Crown. In the end, representatives of the 13 colonies agreed that the colonies must separate from Britain, and form our own Country. In 1776, the Continental Congress published the colonies’ Declaration of Independence, and our Revolutionary War officially began.
Even as the war raged, this Congress functioned as the governing body of the 13 colonies. One of their main accomplishments was to write the Articles of Confederation, the agreement among the colonies that defined the National Government. Beginning on March 1, 1781, this document served as our first Constitution.
It soon became clear that the Articles were flawed; under the Articles, the Government didn’t have the authority to do many of the necessary functions that any national government would require. For example, the government:
• could not establish a single currency,
• could not collect taxes to pay for its own operation,
• could not regulate trade through tariffs and treaties,
• could not enforce its laws,
• had no national judicial system.
In 1787, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was formed to revise the Articles. They soon realized the necessary changes to the Articles were not feasible; work was started on a new founding document, our Constitution. Our Constitution, having been ratified by the required 9 states, became our founding document on March 4, 1789. As part of the ratification process, a Bill of Rights was to be developed and put forward for ratification promptly after the Constitution became effective. The first 10 Amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights, were written and adopted on December 15, 1791.
Several well-known men of our Nation’s founding participated in the Constitutional Convention of 1871. George Washington presided over Convention, but did not otherwise contribute to text. But, who is the father of the constitution ? James Madison is recognized as the Father. He wrote the document that provided the model for the Constitution.
After the final version of our Constitution was written and submitted to the States for ratification, a series of 85 articles, called the Federalist Papers, were written by Madison (29), John Jay (5) and Alexander Hamilton (51), and presented to the public under the pen-name “Publius.” These articles clarified the meaning of various passages in the document so that the State Legislators who would be voting to ratify or not, and the general public, could understand the meaning. In today’s terminology, we could say that they translated “legal-speak” into “people-speak.”
Recall that, in the 18th Century, schooling for all didn’t exist as it does today in the United States. A large part of our economy was agrarian in nature, and children were raised to grow up and work on the family farm. That is why our colonial and national leaders were typically very successful in business, and could afford to attend schools, purchase books, and had the time to read those books. They were perhaps even better educated than even the college professors of today. Today’s “teachers”, and thus, our children, are saturated in socialist ideology; our Founding Fathers payed attention to history’s lessons, and took us as far as they could down the path to individual freedom and responsibility.
The Articles of Confederation taught us that a Federal Government could be so limited as to be unable to perform many of the necessary functions. Our Constitution corrects these defects, while still providing reasonable limits on Federal authority. This is what limited government in the constitution means.
Our Constitution creates three co-equal branches of our government: The Legislative Branch (Article 1), the Executive Branch (Article 2), and the Judicial Branch (Article 3). And, within each of these branches are the specific authority that is granted to that branch. Article 4 defines the relationships among the States. A few major limitations of these four branches are summarized below.
• Section 1. There shall be a single legislative branch, consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
• Section 8. Powers of Congress. This section is called the “Enumerated Powers” because it strictly limits the areas of authority that Congress has.
• Section 9. Limits on Congress. The types of laws that Congress can write are limited.
• Section 10. Powers prohibited of States. Certain State powers are prohibited.
• Section 1. The executive Power shall be vested in the President. His term of office, and the vice-president, is 4 years. The operation of the Electoral College is described. The 12th, 20th, and 25th Amendments were later enacted to provide additional limits on the President and Vice-President.
• Section 2. Declares civilian power over the Military and the state Militias, Cabinet members, Pardons, and Appointments to high positions with the advice and consent of the Senate.
• Section 3. The President shall present the State of the Union address, and may convene and adjourn Congress.
• Section 1. There shall be one Supreme Court, and other inferior courts as may be needed, as determined by Congress. The judges shall hold their positions “during good behavior.”
• Section 2. This defines the scope of the Judicial branch, trial by jury, and jurisdiction.
• Section 3. Defines treason against the United States, and the requirements for conviction.
Section 1. Each State shall honor the actions of the other States. For example, if an individual is convicted in one State, the other States must honor that conviction.
Section 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.
The descriptions above represent some of the major elements of our Constitution that serve to limit our Federal Government. It is our duty as citizens to ensure that OUR government does not extend its authority beyond the limits we have set with OUR Constitution.