Prior to the formation of the United States all major nations of the world were monarchies ruled by a king, queen or emperor, and an upper class of nobles. The idea of a country governed by the people, for the people, was truly revolutionary.
After 8 years, four months and 15 days fighting, on September 3, 1783 America won the war for independence.
Finally victorious and free from Great Britain our founding fathers now had to answer the question “Now What?”
We had our freedom, but the war of independence was not just to throw off oppression, but to build a better world for all Americans.
The Answer to that question was the Constitution of United States of America
The system we all take for granted now of three branches of government that form checks and balances on each other had yet to exist, and it took over 3 months of hard work, deliberation, debate and compromise to create the world’s most transformative document. The initial document which would become the center of debate was created by James Madison.
Known as the “Father of the Constitution” James Madison, was deeply worried that the inability of congress to conduct foreign policy, protect trade and foster settlements would cause our new nation to fall apart.
Madison devoted himself to intense study of law and political theory, and was influenced by the ideals of Thomas Jefferson. Madison wanted to create a government of majority rule, yet one that did not trample on individual freedoms. In preparation of the Constitutional Convention Madison worked with other members of the Virginia delegation to produce his concept framework called The Virginia Plan. Calling for three branches of government legislative, executive, and judicial, The Virginia Plan would become the core idea of the US Constitution.
The Constitutional Convention
Democracy in action, the constitution was a product of dozens of people from across the fledgling country incorporating ideas to accommodate different viewpoints for the benefit of all.
Beginning in the summer of 1787, 55 delegates from 12 states (Rhode Island Refused To Participate) gathered at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. George Washington presided over the convention and while James Madison’s Virginia Plan was a focus of debate, other delegates had their own plans, ideas and priorities.
Just like today, the founding fathers each had strong opinions of how the government should work, and much of the debate centered around the balance of power between the States and the Federal Government, as well as how people would be ensured fair representation.
Strong Disagreements About Representation
Getting to an agreement took over 3 months and debate was fierce. In Fact, at one point the entire effort nearly failed because of disagreements on how the people were to be represented.
Large populous states wanted representation by population, and smaller states wanted each state to be equal.
Saved By The Great Compromise
Connecticut delegate Roger Sherman made a proposal to make both sides accept how representation would work.
It called for state representation based on population in the House, and one representative per state in the Senate, later changed to two, the system we have today. Even with the new compromise adoption of the proposal barely passed 5-to-4 with one state split. The so-called great compromise is credited with saving the Constitution and possibly more.
Other major points of argument included, the fact the Constitution did not include a Bill Of Rights, and the great hypocrisy of slavery.
Signing Of The US Constitution
In the end the final document looked little like Madison’s original version having been changed and amended several times over the course of the convention.
On September 17th, 1787 the majority of the delegates put their signatures on the Constitution of the United States Of America, forever making history.
Doubts and debate still lingered and of the 42 delegates that took part in the meetings to draft the document only 39 were willing to sign.
Delegates Edmund Randolph, George Mason of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts refused to sign in part due to the lack of a Bill of Rights.
The Long Road To Ratification
It may surprise many people but the signing of the constitution by the delegates was just the beginning. While September 17th is the day marked for Constitution Day, for the hard-won document to become the law of the land, it had to be ratified by at least 9 of the 13 States, and that was by no means guaranteed.
Over the course of the following year, each state would debate whether or not to ratify the document and agree to the new federal system. Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution and the debate rages in state assemblies, until on June 21, 1788 nearly a year after it’s creation New Hampshire became the ninth of 13 states to ratify the US Constitution making it the law of the land and creating the United States of America as we know it today.
The Bill Of Rights.
One reason for the long controversy and debate in both the creation of the Constitution and its ratification was many delegates did not want to sign the document without a Bill of Rights protecting the individual freedoms of each citizen.
Initially containing 17 separate amendments to the constitution, the Bill of Rights was eventually reduced to the 10 we know today. On December 15, 1791, Virginia became the last state to ratify the amendments and the Bill Of RIghts finally became the law of the land.
Citizenship Day, The 14th Amendment and Naturalization
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was crafted and ratified in 1868 three years after the end of the Civil War in the tumultuous period known as the Reconstruction era. The 14th Amendment was one of three amendments passed during the Reconstruction era to abolish slavery and establish civil and legal rights for black Americans firmly in the US Constitution.
The 14th Amendment was a huge victory for equal rights advocates across the nation, giving full citizen’s rights to all natural and naturalized former slaves. According to the Amendment “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” What it means to be a citizen is that you cannot have your rights infringed upon by any means and that it guarantees equal protection under the law. In practice the 14th saw immediate success during reconstruction but lost effectiveness in protecting African Americans due to legal loopholes and fear of losing the south again.
The 14th amendment had been a game changer to formerly oppressed people is that for a long time legal rights had been denied to African American citizens since the beginning of the country. After the 14th, all former slaves had become full citizens and it was now illegal under the constitution to infringe upon those rights granted to those new citizens. Other amendments like the 15th and 19th guarantee the right to vote for African Americans and women in addition to native citizenship in 1924 these and more would not have been possible without the 14th which laid the groundwork by ensuring that all native born Americans regardless of race were citizens. Unfortunately It did not stop the racially discriminatory legal loopholes and societal inertia that kept many citizens down but without the 14th amendment a more perfect union of America would not have been possible.
The 14th amendment would become the basis for many landmark Supreme Court decisions over the years, and shaped a far more equitable society.
Immigration - Becoming A US Citizen Through Naturalization
What about people not born in America who would like to make a home for themselves here?
Well that’s where naturalization comes in, the requirements for naturalization are simply not being born in the US to be naturalized you must go through an extensive screening and testing to determine who’s citizenship material. It requires immigrants to take an oath of allegiance; the most important requirement is to be present in the nation for about 30 of the 60 months your application is being processed to be considered. Naturalization is much more than simply being a “legal resident” it is being considered a full citizen and with all the rights and protections from the US Constitution. For many immigrants completing the naturalization process is a dream come true.