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The us government and its constitution


The form of the US government is based on the Constitution of September 17, 1787, adopted after the war of Independence. A “constitution” in American political language means the set of rules, laws, regulations and customs which together provide the practical norms of standards regulating the work of the government. The document known as the Constitution of the United States, though the basic document is only a part of the body of rules and customs which form the whole of the American Constitution. Supreme Court decisions, interpreting parts of the US Constitution, laws, regulations and customs are part of the basic law (the so-called “live constitution”). Most historians regard the US Constitution as an essentially conservative document drawn up by members of a privileged class bent on preserving their advantageous position.

In the course of the war against Britain the insurgent colonies set up thirteen states united under a federal government. In 1775-1778 all of these states adopted constitutions which opened with statements along the lines of the Declaration of Independence and the Article of the Confederation. The newly formed federal republic had a very weak central control, and no president, while the Congress had only consultative functions. The conflict between the “lower classes” and the “upper classes” which had been dampened during the war years flared up with renewed force. The non-propertied classes were waking up to the fact that their position was a far cry from the lofty ideals of the War of Independence. Inflation, taxes, bankruptcies, maladministration of justice in the courts of law aroused indignation among the farmers who but a short time before were soldiers in the Continental Army and minute-men[2]

In the fall of 1786 an uprising took place in the state of Massachusetts. It was headed by Daniel Shays who had in the past been a captain in the Continental Army. The insurgents dispersed the courts and opened the deptors’ prisons. They heatedly discussed their ideas of true equality and threatened to defend these ideas with force. The Massachusetts rebellion rocked the country. Washington and other American leaders were very much afraid that a “revolution” was imminent.

The rebellion was finally put down, but summary action had to be taken to prevent its repetition. Significantly, the militia that crushed the rebellion was set up with money donated by Massachusetts wealthy citizens, and not by the state legislature. That was a dangerous sign which showed the ruling classes that they must without delay set up a strong system of national government – a system which, first and foremost, would serve their own interests.

In 1787, the Constitutional Convention met behind closed doors to formulate a Constitution for the United States. The Constitution agreed upon, is, with some amendments, in force to this day. This document embodied the political theories of the Founding Fathers[3] , who represented the interests of the propertied minority in the country.

Of the seventy four delegates chosen to represent the states at the Constitutional Convention, fifty-five attended sessions at one time or another, but only thirty-nine signed the final document. The membership of the Convention did not represent a cross-section of the American people. One of the thirteen states was not represented at all, for Rhode Island had refused to send delegates. The great majorities of the delegates were men of property and tended to be conservative in outlook. Forty of the members held public securities, fourteen were land speculators, eleven were interested in mercantile, manufacturing, and shipping activities, and fifteen were slave-holders. The small farmer and debtor classes were virtually without representation. The Founding Fathers were very much afraid of the many Americans who were questioning the established social and economic order.

The philosophy of government inherent in the Constitution was interpreted by Madison, Hamilton and Jay in 85 issues of “The Federalist” published in several newspapers of New York State in 1787 and 1788. The main line of argument of “The Federalist” was the assumption that private property was the backbone of liberty. Thus any attempt on private property was an attempt on liberty itself; and if so, then a democracy that advocates redistribution of private property negates liberty. The rich plantation owner from Virginia, James Madison, who formulated this principle, is regarded as the “father of the Constitution” precisely for this reason.

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