The Constitutional Convention
The First Continental Congress had written the Articles of Confederation in November 1777, setting up a system of governance for the new country. The states had ratified this document in 1781. However, the federal government had problems in foreign affairs with this document because it couldn't pass or enforce laws regarding foreign policy which states didn't like. Other problems began to occur also.
The Treaty of Paris in 1783 said that Americans had to pay any debts owed to British citizens. Also, Americans who had been loyal to England could sue to get back land which had been taken by the American government. Many states didn't like these policies and refused to carry them out. Therefore, the British wouldn't leave some of their military forts in the United States. In addition, after the Revolutionary War, British goods streamed into American ports from British merchants. This hurt American importers and manufacturers. The Confederation Congress didn't have any power to regulate this trade. Lastly, Spain controlled the Mississippi River and New Orleans and stopped American ships from entering the river. Southern delegates to the Confederation Congress wanted this blockade ended, but the northerners were willing to make an agreement with Spain giving into some of their demands.
To try to solve the matter of a weak central government and many other problems, between May and September 1787, a convention was held in Philadelphia, PA, to draw up a Constitution for the new nation which had won its freedom from Great Britain. George Washington presided over these meetings. Fifty-five delegates from the 13 states attended. Their job was to peacefully get rid of the government which had been established by the Articles of Confederation.
The members of the Constitutional Convention set up a system of government which had checks and balances on each part of the federal government. They developed three branches of government. The Legislative branch, House of Representatives and the Senate, make the laws. The Executive branch, which includes the President, Vice-President and the members of the Cabinet, carry out the laws. The Judicial branch, Supreme Court and other courts, interprets or evaluates the laws.
James Madison did research and brought a plan to Philadelphia. Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, presented the plan to the convention. The plan consisted of a two-part legislature. Representation in each part would be based on the population of each state. The two houses would have the power to elect the President and members of the legislature. This national legislature could have a veto of any state legislature. The smaller states weren't happy with the small representation they would have in the Legislative branch. William Patterson and Alexander Hamilton brought forward two other different plans.
Finally, the delegates from Connecticut came up with the plan which was adopted. One house would have an equal number of representatives from each state. This is the Senate. The other body would have representation based on the population of the state. This is the House of Representatives.
Originally, the writers of the Constitution wanted a weak Executive branch and a strong Legislative branch. The Senate would take care of important matters. The President would handle less important ones. As they continued to discuss and debate, the delegates to the convention gave more and more power to the Executive branch. The President was given authority to carry out foreign relations. The United States Constitution was drafted by a Committee of Detail. The final writing was accomplished by a Committee of Style. It was ratified by the necessary number of states in 1789.
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