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The us government and its constitution


The colonists fighting in the war for freedom, almost identical to them with the protection of property, were also fighting for the perpetuation of Negro slavery. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and many other leaders in the struggle against Britain were slave owners. The fact that several thousand Negroes in the ranks of the Continental Army was of no consequence for the situation of the Negroes who at that time accounted for one-fifth of the country’s population. After the victory the federal government paid for the freedom of some Negro veterans at one thousand dollars a head, while all others were return to slavery.

The Constitution set up a strict division or separation of powers, classifying governmental powers as executive, legislative and judicial, and entrusting the performance of each to separate agencies (the US Presidency, Congress, and Supreme Court). The theory of “separated powers” was supplemented by “checks and balances”, those various safeguards and devices which protect against too great a concentration of power in any governmental body. The President has the power to veto acts of the legislature, but that body may override the veto by two-thirds vote of both houses. Moreover, the Congress may impeach the Chief Executive and remove him from office. The Congress passes laws, but the president enforces them. Major executive and judicial appointments are made by the president, but they are subject to the Senate confirmation (“by advice and consent”). Perhaps better descriptions of the “separation of powers” theory would be “shared powers”, since these powers are not absolutely and clearly separated. This very complicated structure of “checks and balances” was meant to perpetuate the oligarchic republic. James Madison saw this as a guarantee against the capture of the system of government by a radical majority. And although the political thought of the Founding Fathers has been canonized, this aspect of the system of government is kept in the shade and is replaced by the noisy rhetoric about “incomparable American democracy”.

“ For American historians, the formula of “democracy born of the American Revolution” is nothing but a clichй which is not taken seriously in scholarly research. In drawing up the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were thinking in terms of their own time. And in those terms democracy was not thought of as a monolithic entity. Their view held that if all the functions of fidelity (the democratic function), wisdom (the aristocratic function), and energy, secrecy and dispatch (the monarchial functions) could be held in balance, this would provide the best of all possible commonwealths.”[4]

The US Constitution consists of the Preamble, seven articles and twenty-six amendments, the first ten of them called collectively the Bill of Rights and adopted under the popular pressure in 1791. When the Constitution was first proposed in 1787, there was wide-spread dissatisfaction because it did not contain guarantees of certain basic freedoms and individual rights.

The Constitution consolidated those gains of the Revolution that were to the advantage of the richest class which was now in full control of the nation’s destinies. Significantly, nothing was said about the elementary bourgeois-democratic freedoms. The Founding Fathers who presided over the Constitutional Convention believed that this issue could somehow be avoided, in spite of the warnings that came from their own midst. The more far-sighted Americans aware of the growing popular demands for the passage of a Bill of Rights on freedom of speech, press and conscience, etc. The revolution that had shortly before started in France encouraged people in these demands.

In December 1791, the Congress adopted ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. The Bill enumerated what the government controlled by the oligarchy was not going to be allowed to do, which was, of course, an important democratic gain for the people.

Some of these ten amendments are now relatively unimportant, such as the Third which prohibits the quartering of private houses in peace-time without the consent of the owners. But others, especially the Fifth Amendment, continue to be of importance and significance in the fifth of the American people for their civil rights. The Fifth (the “due process” amendment) provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law”, and no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”.

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