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American Legal and Constitutional History

The constitutional system America has been living under since the first presidential election of 1788 is not actually the original American government. The first government was set up by the Continental Congress and was named the Articles of Confederation. This government only lasted 10 years, proving to be very ineffective. This was a unicameral government with every state having a single vote with president or judiciary.¹

From May to September, 1787 there was a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia to revise or create a new government. All of the delegates agreed on two things:¹

  1. There should be 3 branches: executive, legislative and judicial
  2. It should be a republican government with representatives, rather than a direct democracy. The goal was to create a government to protect from both government and citizen tyranny.

Large states supported James Madison’s Virginia Plan, which called for 2 houses with representation proportional to state population.¹

Small states supported the New Jersey Plan which entailed a single legislative house with equal representation afforded to each state.¹

This resulted in the Great Compromise of 1787. This called for a bicameral Congress with a House of Representatives with proportional representation and a Senate with 2 representatives from each state. House members would serve 2 year terms and Senators would serve 6 year terms with one third of them being up for election every 2 years.¹

Another problem to solve was affording representation.  Large, slaveholding states wanted slaves to count towards their population even though they could not vote, whereas states with few slaves argued that slaves should not be counted.¹

This led to the 3/5th compromise. To determine a state’s population all white people are counted and 3/5th of ‘other persons.’¹

This new Constitution embraced 2 things: separation of powers and federalism. This meant that a system of checks and balances must be in place where each branch can check  the powers of the others and that governmental authority would rest in both national and state governments.  

Reference:

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO7FQsCcbD8

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