The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States (Bantam Classic)
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
The Declaration of Independence was the promise of a representative government; the Constitution was the fulfillment of that promise.
On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress issued a unanimous declaration: the thirteen North American colonies would be the thirteen United States of America, free and independent of Great Britain. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration set forth the terms of a new form of government with the following words: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Framed in 1787 and in effect since March 1789, the Constitution of the United States of America fulfilled the promise of the Declaration by establishing a republican form of government with separate executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. Among the rights guaranteed by these amendments are freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to trial by jury. Written so that it could be adapted to endure for years to come, the Constitution has been amended only seventeen times since 1791 and has lasted longer than any other written form of government.
free and independent,” which would alienate slaveholders and make ratification of the Constitution even more difficult. Virginia had already seen the inconsistency between those words and the institution of slavery in June 1776 and altered Mason’s draft to try to get around the problem; later, some slaves won their freedom in Massachusetts courts by arguing that the words “all men are born free and independent” in the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights was incompatible with slavery.36 Or
Constitution, 2nd ed. (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1929), 178–86. 20The text is available in Oscar and Mary Handlin, eds., The Popular Sources of Political Authority: Documents on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (Cambridge, 1966), 441–42. 21Madison, “Vices of the Political System of the United States,” in Rutland, ed., Madison Papers, IX, 345–58. 22The argument, which Madison would later develop in the 10th Federalist Paper, is stated in his “Vices,” ibid.,
Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it becomes a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it
Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State. Section. 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence. ARTICLE. V. The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or,
proper” for executing the other powers assigned to it. One person, “a President of the United States of America,” was entrusted with the executive power. (Edmund Randolph, who presented the Virginia Plan, thought the executive power should be in a committee, which could act less decisively than a single individual.) In 1776, the word “president” referred to a weak executive, a person who presided over a meeting; “governor” implied a strong executive. But this “president” had substantial powers.