The 18th-century statesmen who met in Philadelphia were adherents of Montesquieu’s concept of the balance of power in politics . This principle was supported by colo- nial experience and strengthened by the writings of John Locke, with which most of the delegates were fa- miliar . These influences led to the conviction that three equal and co- ordinate branches of government should be established . Legislative, executive, and judicial powers were to be so harmoniously balanced that no one could ever gain control . The delegates agreed that the legislative branch, like the colonial legislatures and the British Parliament, should consist of two houses .

On these points there was una- nimity within the assembly . But sharp differences also arose . Repre- sentatives of the small states — New Jersey, for instance — objected to changes that would reduce their in- fluence in the national government by basing representation upon popu- lation rather than upon statehood, as was the case under the Articles of Confederation .

On the other hand, representa- tives of large states, like Virginia, argued for proportionate represen- tation . This debate threatened to go on endlessly until Roger Sherman came forward with arguments for

representation in proportion to the population of the states in one house of Congress, the House of Represen- tatives, and equal representation in the other, the Senate .

The alignment of large against small states then dissolved . But al- most every succeeding question raised new divisions, to be resolved only by new compromises . Northern- ers wanted slaves counted when de- termining each state’s tax share, but not in determining the number of seats a state would have in the House of Representatives . Under a com- promise reached with little dissent, tax levies and House membership would be apportioned according to the number of free inhabitants plus three-fifths of the slaves .

Certain members, such as Sher- man and Elbridge Gerry, still smart- ing from Shays’s Rebellion, feared that the mass of people lacked suf- ficient wisdom to govern themselves and thus wished no branch of the federal government to be elected di- rectly by the people . Others thought the national government should be given as broad a popular base as possible . Some delegates wished to exclude the growing West from the opportunity of statehood; others championed the equality principle established in the Northwest Ordi- nance of 1787 .

There was no serious difference on such national economic ques- tions as paper money, laws concern- ing contract obligations, or the role of women, who were excluded from politics . But there was a need for


balancing sectional economic in- terests; for settling arguments as to the powers, term, and selection of the chief executive; and for solving problems involving the tenure of judges and the kind of courts to be established .

Laboring through a hot Philadel- phia summer, the convention finally achieved a draft incorporating in a brief document the organization of the most complex government yet devised, one that would be su- preme within a clearly defined and limited sphere . It would have full power to levy taxes, borrow money, establish uniform duties and ex- cise taxes, coin money, regulate in- terstate commerce, fix weights and measures, grant patents and copy- rights, set up post offices, and build post roads . It also was authorized to raise and maintain an army and navy, manage Native American af- fairs, conduct foreign policy, and wage war . It could pass laws for naturalizing foreigners and control- ling public lands; it could admit new states on a basis of absolute equal- ity with the old . The power to pass all necessary and proper laws for executing these clearly defined pow- ers rendered the federal government able to meet the needs of later gen- erations and of a greatly expanded body politic .

The principle of separation of powers had already been given a fair trial in most state constitutions and had proved sound . Accordingly, the convention set up a governmental

system with separate legislative, ex- ecutive, and judiciary branches, each checked by the others . Thus congressional enactments were not to become law until approved by the president . And the president was to submit the most important of his ap- pointments and all his treaties to the Senate for confirmation . The presi- dent, in turn, could be impeached and removed by Congress . The ju- diciary was to hear all cases arising under federal laws and the Con- stitution; in effect, the courts were empowered to interpret both the fundamental and the statute law . But members of the judiciary, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, could also be impeached by Congress .

To protect the Constitution from hasty alteration, Article V stipulated that amendments to the Constitution be proposed either by two-thirds of both houses of Con- gress or by two-thirds of the states, meeting in convention . The propos- als were to be ratified by one of two methods: either by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or by convention in three-fourths of the states, with the Congress proposing the method to be used .

Finally, the convention faced the most important problem of all: How should the powers given to the new government be enforced? Under the Articles of Confedera- tion, the national government had possessed — on paper — signifi- cant powers, which, in practice, had




come to naught, for the states paid no attention to them . What was to save the new government from the same fate?

At the outset, most delegates fur- nished a single answer — the use of force . But it was quickly seen that the application of force upon the states would destroy the Union . The deci- sion was that the government should not act upon the states but upon the people within the states, and should legislate for and upon all the indi- vidual residents of the country . As the keystone of the Constitution, the convention adopted two brief but highly significant statements:

Congress shall have power … to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the … Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States. … (Article I, Section 7)

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. (Article VI) Thus the laws of the United States

became enforceable in its own na- tional courts, through its own judges and marshals, as well as in the state courts through the state judges and state law officers .

Debate continues to this day about the motives of those who wrote the Constitution . In 1913 his- torian Charles Beard, in An Econom- ic Interpretation of the Constitution, argued that the Founding Fathers represented emerging commercial- capitalist interests that needed a strong national government . He also believed many may have been motivated by personal holdings of large amounts of depreciated gov- ernment securities . However, James Madison, principal drafter of the Constitution, held no bonds and was a Virginia planter . Conversely, some opponents of the Constitu- tion owned large amounts of bonds and securities . Economic interests influenced the course of the debate, but so did state, sectional, and ideo- logical interests . Equally important was the idealism of the framers . Products of the Enlightenment, the Founding Fathers designed a gov- ernment that they believed would promote individual liberty and pub- lic virtue . The ideals embodied in the U .S . Constitution remain an es- sential element of the American na- tional identity .

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