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How Much Power and Liberty Did the Constitution Give to "the People?"

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How much power and liberty did the constitution give to "the people?"

The constitution is the document that has framed and shaped the United States from inception. It is the document that is defended by all new presidents and also the document which affords the citizens of the United States freedoms and rights that cannot be removed. In its drafting it shaped the formation of a new country and a new style of governance. It is a 'bottom up' as opposed to established ways of government which are 'top down'. However for all its virtues the Constitution is somewhat ambiguous and there is some debate of the intent of the drafters, did they intend to give as much power or did they intend to give less power to the people?

The Constitution sets out the system, rules and regulations of how the new American government was to work. The constitution was drafted by a small select group of people from the 13 states; they were the people's representatives for the constitution. However these people were very much part of an emerging elite, the masses weren't literate nor would they have had a vast understanding of theories of government, all they knew was the old system and monarchical government. Therefore the drafting of the constitution fell to what one could call idealistic gentry, who were very wealthy and well educated perhaps an upper class group of individuals. They may have been acting on behalf of the people but there are numerous examples of blatant self-interest. When assigning powers to congress taxation was obviously a big area, the representatives from the Southern states managed to get exemptions for export duties. Many of the representatives from these southern states were heavily involved in the Tobacco trade and made a lot of their personal wealth from this trade so it was is in their own direct interest to get exemptions for these things. This is a clear demonstration on how some representatives weren't wholly representative.

To assess how much power and liberty the constitution gives to the people one obviously must look at the language and the content of the document itself. In article one, section four, it states "The congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall be on the first Monday in December, unless they shall appoint a different day". The language of this section implies that congress was only intended to meet rarely, any elected chamber that is intended to meet rarely cannot have much legitimacy. It cannot be thought of, as a great democratic institution representing the peoples will.

At the time of drafting the constitution, the rules on the senate were to be two senators for each state, which were appointed by the state legislatures, rather than directly elected by the people. "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof". This is somewhat of an oxymoron for a country that states 'we hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal'. The power in the Senate does not lie with the people, but of the people they elected for their State legislatures. There is no direct link here between the people and congress, the power is appointed rather like the house of Lords in the mother country, which was meant to be a bridge between the monarch and the house of commons, if you will a middle ground between two opposing factions. The way the Senate was comprised is of a political appointee system, which inevitably favours the wealthy and influential elite's. It is the power of the people by proxy, which is hardly democratic.

The Congress had the discretion whether to publish its proceedings, so if they so chose the public who put them there could never know what they are doing on their behalf.

The system laid out in the constitution for electing the President is symbolic of the distrust of the people by the representatives at the constitutional convention. The Electoral College system was devised as a 'half-way' house between the people directly electing the president and the president being appointed. The Electoral College is devised as to proportion the votes to the population of the states. So the number of electors for each state is the number of house representatives and senators combined. Therefore New York currently has 31 House representatives and 2 senators, so it has 33 electors for the Electoral College. When Americans are voting for a President they are actually voting for a board of electors who then vote for the president. But these electors don't have to follow what the majority of people in that state voted for; they can if they so wish vote for another candidate. This has happened on some occasions in the 1948 presidential election one of Tennessee's electors voted for J. Strom Thurmond instead of voting for Harry Truman. This shows a blatant disregard for democratic principles, as the drafters of the constitution did not want a direct link between voters and the presidency. They did not believe that ordinary people could make sophisticated and intelligent decisions. It shows that they had a healthy interest in their own self-interest, perhaps following the maxim of Thomas Gordon "Whatever is good for the people is bad for their governors" . In theory this could still happen in modern America, as the board of electors do not have to follow what the voters say in the election. This shows to me an evident democratic deficit.

There is not just a deficit in Congress or in the Presidency, but also in the State legislatures that is set out in the constitution. The Constitution defends the right of states over their own affairs, "the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited to it by the states, are reserved to the states respectively". However particularly in the first few years after independence it was a big concern of the citizens that they had replaced one form of tyranny with another. Huge amounts of power rested in the hands of a few wealthy men, who it was claimed would be happy to be corrupt or indulge in corrupt practices "Power once concentrated almost exclusively in the crown and it's agents, was transferred to various state legislatures". Power again did not rest with the people rather the power was borrowed from the people but never given back.

The Constitution as it was originally written did not include huge areas of rights that modern Americans assume are self-evident rights. For example the freedom of religion, press and speech are all in the first amendment they were not included in the original body of the text. Also amendments on female emancipation



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