Who Were The Framers of Our Constitution?
Backyard barbecues, red-white-and-blue sparklers for the kids, and after-dark fireworks shows: For many Americans, these are the most iconic images conjured by the Fourth of July.
But this holiday is really about our nation becoming a country – and after the Declaration of Independence was signed, our Founding Fathers had a lot more work to do. Today, we look back at the framers of our Constitution and how they developed the document we base our government on today.
The First “Constitution”
Our first stop is the precursor to the Constitution we know today. The Articles of Confederation were adopted in 1781, shortly before America established its independence from England. This document was a much weaker version of the Constitution, laying a very loose framework under which each individual state essentially operated as its own country.
Under the Articles of Confederation, America had just one branch of government: the Congress of the Confederation. There was no president, and no judicial branch yet. And even though the Articles of Confederation technically gave Congress the right to do things like declare war and regulate currency, they had no power to enforce policies on the states.
Strengthening the Federal Government
After the American Revolution, the founders realized they needed a stronger central government to keep the new country stable. In 1787, delegates from all states except Rhode Island (which did not want a central government) met to discuss what form this new government should take.
Some leaders, like Patrick Henry (who refused to attend the convention) were concerned that a stronger central government would impede state and individual rights. And while the convention was originally conceived to amend the Articles of Confederation, the conversation turned to a completely different form of federal government.
This new form of government addressed some of the concerns many delegates had about governmental overreach. These concerns resulted in our three-prong form of government: Executive, legislative, and judicial, with checks and balances built in to keep any one branch from consolidating too much power.
The new government also addressed concerns about state representation, with two branches of representation (one based on population and the other with equal representation from all states) as a compromise to two different schools of thought.
The Bill Of Rights
Between 1787 and 1790, the states ratified the new Constitution – but not without controversy. Some states were concerned by the lack of protections in the document for basic rights like freedom of speech and religion. They eventually ratified the Constitution under the promise that amendments to address these issues would be immediately proposed.
James Madison, now a member of the new House of Representatives, proposed 19 amendments in 1789, twelve of which were adopted by Congress and sent to the states for ratification. Ten of the amendments got the seal of approval from the states and became the Bill of Rights.
This very abbreviated history of the United States Constitution shows how the framers were able to compromise to come up with a system of government that could endure and hold our country up. Spare a thought for these brave and thoughtful men while you watch the light shows this Fourth.