American History: Constitutional Convention Essay
In 1787, several important delegates convened to discuss how to tackle governance problems in the USA. This meeting, referred to as the Constitutional Convention of 1787, resulted in the formation of the USA constitution. After the United States gained its independence from Great Britain, the country functioned under the Articles of Confederation. While the initial purpose of the convention was to revise these Articles, James Madison, a delegate, pushed for the creation of a new system of governance (Swift, 2002). During the convention, the main arguments were about the formation and structure of the Senate, the election and terms of office of the president, proportional representation, and the division of executive power.
Separation of Powers
One of the main debates held in the convention was on the separation of powers. The delegates decided that a better governance system was only possible through the formation of a three-branch system of government (Vile, 2005). The Founding Fathers pushed for the separation of powers mainly due to their history under the British monarchy, and the need for a more stable government.
One of the main reasons the Founding Fathers pushed for the separation of powers was that they wanted to fully separate from the British Monarchy. America was a colony of Great Britain and thus had to abide by the whims of the British Monarchy. The founding fathers felt that the British Monarchy had denied the people many liberties and thus sought to rectify this by establishing a new constitution (Jillson, 2013). In this new constitution, the founding fathers wanted to avoid the establishment of a new monarchy, and thus chose to separate the executive power into three.
Another reason why the founding fathers pushed for separation of powers was to ensure that the executive operated independently from the legislature. Under the confederation government, the executive was bound to the legislature (Swift, 2002). This resulted in stagnation, as the executive could not make any decision without the approval of the legislature.
According to the culture of Great Britain, judges acted as representatives of the King’s Court. According to James Madison, this relationship between judges and the executive encourage corruption through patronage (Vile, 2005). He pushed for the total separation between the two functions of the state, thereby creating the third branch of the government, dubbed the judiciary. The delegates decided that the judiciary should be under the purview of the legislature, instead of the president’s office. They finally agreed that while the president may choose the judges, only the Senate could confirm them into office.
The final reason why the founding fathers sought for separation of powers was to create a system of checks and balances. The delegates wanted to ensure that all the three branches created were equally powerful and that no branch was subservient to another (Beeman, 2009). They thus developed various guidelines that would ensure that each branch had the power to examine the operations of the others, and could veto some activities. The executive, legislature, and the judiciary were created so that each branch could hold the others accountable, thus creating a more stable government. After living under British rule in which the monarchy was not accountable to anyone, the Founding Fathers felt that a check and balances system was imperative.
Interaction in the Three-Branch Government
After the creation of the constitution, the government was composed of the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. The constitution outlined the guidelines with which these branches of the government were to interact. The guidelines within the constitution created a “checks and balances” system between the three branches of the government while ensuring that each branch was relatively independent (Jillson, 2013). The constitution outlined various guidelines to ensure that each branch of the government has specific responsibilities, and restricted the authority of each branch in any particular area.
The legislative branch, referred to as the Congress, is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. In respect to the executive branch, the legislative branch provides various “checks” to curtail the powers of the president. First, Congress has the power to remove or impeach the president (Swift, 2002). Congress also has the responsibility of approving various recommendations made by the president, such as those regarding appointments, budgets, and treaties. In respect to the judicial branch, the legislative branch is responsible for regulating the number of judges in the Supreme and Federal court systems (Swift, 2002). After the executive has nominated federal judges, it is the responsibility of the Congress to approve or reject their nomination. Finally, the legislative branch is responsible for proposing any amendments to the constitution (Jillson, 2013).
The Executive branch, under the office of the president, proffers various “checks” to both the legislative and judicial branch. The president has the power to veto all laws passed by Congress (Vile, 2005). Additionally, the president can also introduce new laws, and request for special sessions of the Congress. The Vice President also chairs the Senate and is the deciding vote in any debate. In respect to the judicial branch, the president is responsible for nominating candidates to be federal judges (Beeman, 2009).
The Judicial branch operates through the Supreme Court. It is responsible for providing “checks” to the Executive Branch by ensuring all actions and orders made by the branch are constitutional and are in accordance to the laws developed by the Legislative Branch (Jillson, 2013). With respect to the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch consults with the Congress on legal matters and ensures that the judiciary follows the constitution before passing any laws.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a very important event in the history of the United States as it led to the development of the US constitution. One of the most important facets of the constitution is the separation of powers that defines the three branches of the government. One of the main reasons for the separation of powers was to avoid tyranny that was inherent in the British Monarchy. The need for a “checks and balances” system was also an important reason that led to the separation of powers.
After the separation of powers, each branch of the government was tasked with specific responsibilities concerning governance. Each branch was responsible for placing “checks” on the functions of the other branches so that no branch could exercise total control on any government decision. The constitution made sure that any branch had to interact with its counterparts to accomplish its mandates and goals. This has resulted in the United States has one of the most stable governments in the world.
Beeman, R. (2009). Plain Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. New York, NY: Random House.
Jillson, C. (2013). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change (7th ed.). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
Swift, E. (2002). The Making of an American Senate: Reconstitutive Change in Congress, 1787-1841. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Vile, J. (2005).The Constitutional Convention of 1787: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of America’s Founding. California, CA: ABC-CLIO.
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