History and Politican Science: The U.S Constitution - Essay Example

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History and Political Science The U.S. Constitution Name The U.S. Constitution The U.S. Constitution that we rely on today has evolved out of a number of earlier events and documents going back ultimately to the original ideas of classical Greek democracy…
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History and Politican Science: The U.S Constitution
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History and Political Science The U.S. Constitution The U.S. Constitution The U.S. Constitution that we rely on today has evolved out of a number of earlier events and documents going back ultimately to the original ideas of classical Greek democracy. In these ancient times city states governed themselves in small senates and they debated and clarified basic principles of fair and proper rules and regulations for society. In medieval times many of these initial concepts and ideals were lost in a system of feudalism which gave power to kings and nobles with very little control on how that power was exercised. The document known as the Magna Carta changed all this when it originated in England in 1215. The country was an unhappy monarchy, and the barons of the land were dissatisfied with the unreasonable demands of King John for their resources and their services. For many years they were required to supply money, men and even on occasion their lives, in wars and crusades that the king initiated. This resulted in a group of barons taking matters into their own hands and rising up against the king. They wrote down a number of “articles” or basic demands which aimed to clarify and above all curtail the powers of the king. They demanded that their rights be set down in writing, and withdrew their allegiance to the king when he was not willing to sign. The king had no choice but to give in, and his royal seal finalized the deal on June 19 1225. (Howard, 1998, p. 8) The Magna Carta prescribed certain rights and privileges of people in different social stations, and guaranteed trials by a proper justice system,. It documented what was reasonable in terms of taxation and how towns, villages, churches, and even farmland and forests should be fairly administered. The negociation of this charter was a major achievement which set down a principle for others to follow. It was the first step towards self-determination by the people, and significantly curtailed the power of the king. The Mayflower Compact of 1620 was a similar kind of document but this time in the context of a group of persecuted Christians who left England to set up a new colony which would allow freedom of religion for all citizens. It is much shorter, but sets out nevertheless an intention to set up “a civic body politic” based on “just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices…” (University of Arizona, 2005) The men who drew up this compact all signed it to pledge their willingness to submit to its terms. These two early documents set down the basic principle that no man is above the law, and that all must submit to society’s rules for the benefit of everyone. It also enshrines the principle of active citizenship and participation in government business. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 marks the moment when the United States finally separated from the rule of the English crown. It sets down the aspirations of a society which values equality rather than the hierarchies of nobility and royalty. Above all it lists a number of key values which mark the United States out from other countries, and provides the basis upon which all future laws depend. This document was followed up by the Articles of Confederation which defines the new entity of the “United States” in terms of a linked set of smaller units rather than one big central states. (Kammen, 1986) It contains the essence of a federal structure, and draws demarcation lines between the central body which decides matters like defence and foreign affairs, and day to day government which is the job of each separate state. This document sets up the “unity in diversity” approach that makes America the distinctive type of state that it is today. In these various stepping stones towards modern democracy there were many debates, and the role of the press in printing some of these debates was very useful in terms of making sure things were carefully worked out, and also in terms of publicizing the important ideas and events that were to result in the final American Constitution. A set of letters and arguments known as the “Federalist papers” were first printed in newspapers and then later collated together in book form. These were written by interested scholars and citizens and they debate some of the contentious points such as how to deal with the great geographical size of the American states’ territory, and the differences that emerge in different parts. They also list arguments in defence of a federalist structure, and helped to explain why some central control was necessary alongside the devolved state governments. These papers are particularly valuable to historians because they show the thought processes and assumptions that were present in the minds of politicians and bureaucrats in those days. Modern citizens can also trace back our present traditions from these early debates, and this makes it easier for people to understand contemporary systems are the way they are. Freedom of speech, for example, was built into the formation of the American Constitution through all these early stages, and this is why this right is very robustly guarded into the present day. References Howard, A.E.D. (Ed.)(1998) Magna Carta: text and commentary. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press. Kammen, M. (1986) The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. New York: Penguin. “The Mayflower Compact” (2005) University of Arizona Study Packet. Available online at: Read More
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