The American Constitution

On April 30, 1789, Washington stood on the balcony of the federal Hall in New York City and recited the presidential oath. Photo: Wikipedia. The Library Congress 2006.

The Articles of the American Confederation, ratified in March 1781, gave each state so much power and independence that many political leaders believed that America needed a stronger national government. They finally produced a Constitution in 1787, more then ten years after the Declaration of independence (1776), in the same Hall of Independence in Philadelphia.

The Constitution established a two-house or bicameral national legislature, partly based on the number of the population of each state for the House of Representatives or Lower Chamber, and two members regardless the number of citizens in the Senate, the Upper House.

In addition to the Congress, the Constitution created two other equal branches of government: the executive and the judicial. Elected independently from the Congress, the chief executive or President serves now maximal two terms. The Supreme Court heads the judicial branch.

To ensure the judges independence from political pressure, the Constitution provides that they serve for life. The Judges decide if laws agree with the Constitution, although this was not explicitly mentioned. It became practice after 1803 however.

The founders empowered each branch of the government to check and balance the other, so that no one branch could dominate. The Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791, placed restraints on the power of the federal government over ordinary citizens.

The first ten amendments protected individual liberties ever since. The American Constitution remains the legal stronghold of the world’s oldest democracy and the text did not change for almost two centuries.

This remarkable accomplishment was and is unique in constitutional history, a European dream and fata morgana.