The American Constitution is the framework of laws that govern the United States. The document was drafted by a committee, which included James Madison, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton. It was then ratified by the states in 1789.
The history of the American Constitution is filled with contradictory accounts. Some say it was a brilliant piece of lawmaking while others claim it was nothing more than a poorly thought-out compromise between competing interests.
Regardless of how it came to be, there can be no denying that it has played an instrumental role in shaping the country we know today. Let us take a look at some key moments in the development of the American Constitution.
The First Continental Congress
The First Continental Congress was a short-lived assembly held by the 13 American colonies in the summer of 1774. The congress was convened in response to the Coercive Acts, the first in a series of punitive laws enacted by the British government in 1765 against the American colonies.
At the congress, the American colonies determined that they would no longer be bound by the instructions issued to them by the British Crown, as outlined in the instructions governing “the regulation of Privateering.”
Privateering was a centuries-old practice by which a nation’s privateers (vessels authorized by the nation to attack and seize enemy ships) used the sea as a battlefield. American privateers thus hoped to evade the Coercive Acts and wage war against the British.
The congress established the Continental Association, which aimed to boycott British goods. The association was largely symbolic and failed to encourage large numbers of merchants to refuse to sell British goods. While the Continental Association is generally considered to have failed, it showed the colonists’ willingness to stand up to the British.
Declaration of Independence
The Declaration of Independence was a political declaration adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which declared the independence of the United Colonies from the British Crown. The Declaration was a formal announcement of the new American alliance between the American colonies and the French Republic (1778–1783) and was one of the principal documents of the American War of Independence (1775–1783) and is one of the most important historical documents of all time.
The Declaration was an expression of the principles and the resolve of the colonists to assert their right and duty as Englishmen to govern themselves independently of the British Empire. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and was approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. The Declaration was a challenge to King George III and the British Parliament.
The Declaration was approved as one of the Revolutionary War documents by the Continental Congress on July 19, 1776. The Declaration was first published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on August 1, 1776. It was later published in various other newspapers and literary works.
Ratification of the Constitution
On June 26, 1788, the Constitution of the United States of America was finally ratified by the requisite number of states. In the process, the federal government was established, and the Bill of Rights was added to America’s charter of rights, as well as a method for amending the Constitution.
In effect, the Constitution became the basic governing document for the young nation. Over the next few decades, the Constitution would endure changes and amendments that would ensure its longevity – although it was not without its flaws.
The American Civil War and Reconstruction
In the early days of the Civil War, public sentiment was divided almost evenly between the North and the South. The North was full of anti-slavery sentiment, while the South was largely committed to maintaining the institution. After a federal blockade of Southern ports failed to halt the flow of supplies to the Confederate States of America, the North was compelled to participate in the war effort.
The North was also guilty of its form of oppression and discrimination, which was reflected in the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Although slavery was abolished in the North with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, racial tensions ran high for the next four decades. Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War in which the South was governed as a federally sanctioned military occupation, was marked by political strife and violence.
President Andrew Johnson was impeached on charges of bribery and corruption. The impeachment trial was something of a circus, as the president and several members of his cabinet were called to testify against each other.
In 1875, Congress passed the “Ku Klux Klan Act,” which gave the federal government the authority to investigate and prosecute the KKK – a largely symbolic move. This gave the federal government a small measure of control over the Klan, but it was far short of the full restoration of civil rights that many Reconstruction-era African Americans sought.
Society after the American Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s was a series of protests and civil disobedience that challenged racial discrimination in the United States. As these protests gained momentum, they challenged the fundamental principles of American society.
The movement began in 1954 with a protest in Alabama against racial segregation in public places. The protesters, who included Rosa Parks, were arrested and charged with breaking the law. In 1955, a federal court ruled that the laws that segregated public facilities were unconstitutional.
This was only the beginning of a long battle that would see many victories against racism, but also many defeats. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, the movement continued to grow and gain momentum, as more and more people demanded change.
The End of an Era – the 25th Amendment and beyond
One of the lasting changes that came as a result of the American Civil Rights Movement was the recognition of the importance of voting rights. Previously, the federal government had imposed few requirements on the states regarding voting and elections.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in voting, but without strict enforcement, the act had little meaning. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, and amendments were made to the Constitution to allow for easier ratification of amendments.
One of these amendments included the 25th Amendment, which was ratified in 1967. The amendment was proposed by Congress in the aftermath of the assassination of President Kennedy. The amendment prohibited the president from assuming the office of commander-in-chief if he were incapacitated due to mental incapacity or physical injury.