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The Formation of the American Constitution

There are few concepts as American as government by means of a written contract. While many of the traditional rights and privileges of American citizens were borrowed from the British system, the American variation was that government existed as a written contract between citizens and the government. This tradition started with the Mayflower compact and continued with many other examples culminating in the constitution adopted in 1789.

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The Mayflower compact

This refers to a document that was signed by 41 pilgrims on November 21, 1620.Upon the signing of this document, the men accepted to form a temporary government that existed through set up laws. It is important to note that the men were not forced into this deal.The government that was formed was to be chosen by common consent. The rules made were meant to foster the common good of the colony. The laws were drawn with will of the majority in mind.The proponents of the document had in mind that the earlier colonies had collapsed due to lack of government. (Carnes, 2006:34). This document became the foundation of the government of Plymouth colony. It was this document that was later on first named Mayflower compact in 1793. However it did not attract official recognition until after the great American Revolution..At that moment no politician was capable of crafting an original form of government. In a bid to establish an acceptable and legitimate government, the leaders decided to borrow the ideas that led to the formation of the government of Plymouth. Prior to the adoption of the document there were differences that emerged between the loyalists who advocated for peace with England.

They argued that loyalty to the then king James and laws of their colonialist would be of great beneficial to the Americans. The supporters of the revolutionist movement held a totally different perspective. They viewed the Mayflower document as a blue print of pure democracy. One of such key personalities was John Quincy Adams. He was on record as having described the agreement as “the only instance on human history of that positive, original social compact,” The famous statement was made in 1802. This led to the belief by many that, document served as the only legitimate source for governance. It is this highly appreciated view that was regarded as the cornerstone of the American democracy. The underlying factor in the formation of the constitution that was the basis of Mayflower document was formed. It depicted that a covenant was not only honored by God and man but also amongst men.America nation was indeed founded by men who honored God.

The Mayflower compact brought to fore two aspects that were later on applied by Americans in the drafting of the constitution after independence. It called for acceptance of social contract as depicted in the biblical times. This was later recognized and expressed by scholars such Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. There was also the belief that a contract is not only between God and man but can be applied between man and fellow man (Carnes, 2006:28). It was this argument that led to the notion that the compact was a constitution. It was compacts fundamental underpinnings that were used in the formation of American government constitution. The notion that the government was a covenant created a binding spirit to the American citizens. It created the view that the legitimacy of a government lies on the citizens’ acceptance to be governed by such an institution. It was apparent that not all people could agree on all the actions taken by the government. However the important fact was that all the citizens owed allegiance to that government.

The enactment of the constitution

A combination of all those beliefs and perceptions led to the formation of a constitution that had just and equal laws, ordinances, constitutions, offices and acts. Such creations were to be revised from time to time so as to meet the needs of citizens as deemed necessary at that particular point in time and for the generations that would follow. This meant that the constitution was not meant to be a static document but an up-to-date document that would be relevant in binding together of the citizens of America. There were other documents that played a vital role in the formation of the constitution. The unanimous declaration of thirteen states of the United States of July 4, 1776 for instance outlined fundamental human rights that had to be taken into account.

One of the assumptions stated in the declaration was the fact that they believed that all men were equally created with rights that were never meant to be alienated from them such as life, freedom and pursuit of happiness. However the state of nature did not provide a conducive environment for their enhancement. It was such arguments, that governments were formed among men empowered by the consent of the people governed. The government in this case was to ensure the continuity of human rights. Incase a government was perceived to be brutal and destructive of the rights in the constitution then, the people were mandated to abolish it and institute a new one.

There were articles that placed an important role in highlighting the traditions and attributes that the American society shared with the British population. Charles Inglis in his article of “the true interest of America impartially stated “of 1776(Carnes, 2006:128) pointed out some of the ideas that the American society wished to associate with the Britons and the disadvantages of borrowing all the British aspects. He argued that the Americans were similar to Britons in various aspects. This was evident in their manners, habits and ideas. They only differed in the political ideologies in the sense that the Britons preferred a middle ground when dealing with such matters they never wanted to take extreme positions. The Britons for instance were wiling to restore royalty in1660, but in 1662 they agitated for the expulsion of the same monarchy. It is that kind of indecision that the Americans hoped to differ with and work towards a constitution that would bring on board all the citizens views.

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The constitution of the United States of America was the source of legal authority that underlined the existence of both the state and federal government. The laws of the United States were crafted with reference to the British common laws which were in place during the revolutionary war. However the supreme laws of the land were as a result of congress and treaties which protected the boundaries of the states and federal republic. The American constitution was crafted from four main sources. They included the constitutional, statutory, administrative regulations and the common laws. However the United States constitution remained supreme to all other laws. The common laws referred to the laws that were directly reenacted into the constitution or those applicable to all other commonwealth countries. One of such kind of laws was the statute of frauds. To date it is still applicable in many American courts. There was divergence later on the common laws in some instances except in circumstances that lacked an American interpretation. This was to ensure even the borrowed laws were geared towards serving the justice system with the American spirit in mind.

The federal laws originated with the making of the constitution. Traditionally it dealt with the granting of power to the federal government as stated in the constitution. Their areas of applications were such as the military, finances, international treaties, tariffs and intellectual property. The state laws referred to laws that were separately applied to the fifty American states as sovereign states.The American constitution was generally perceived as a contract between the government and the citizens. The constitution was an agreement enforceable by law. Its primary functions were to offer personal rights, while imposing personal obligations that the law protected and enforced against the government and its citizens. The agreement between the citizens and the government created legal rights and obligation which were of personal nature and any party in default were subject to them. The state and its apparatus were to be fair and reasonable when discharging its duties. Fairness in this sense referred to the fact that the state was obliged to act always in good faith and without bias. A decision made had to apply all relevant considerations without being unreasonably swayed.

The government was created with a view of representing all states in America. During the drafting of the constitution there was an assembly of congress. Several issues were brought in to consideration. It was clear that all the American citizens were fully represented in the congress. This implied that every citizen’s view was to be considered in the drafting of the constitution. It also created legitimacy of the document by acting through the permission granted by all Americans. The members of the congress rejected and renounced all forms of allegiance to Britain and all other such kind of authorities that would wish to subject them politically, socially and economically.The declaration made by representatives of the states led to independence of all the American states.

The declaration of the congress meant that all the states had the acquired full power to levy war, establish business, and enhance peace, contract alliances and to be involved in all activities that any other independent states are allowed to do. In order to support the kind of legitimacy that was declared, all the members mutually pledged to each other their lives fortunes and sacred honor. It therefore clear that the American constitution was enacted with careful consideration of all the interests of the citizens. The constitution provided a liberal framework within which every individual was allowed to pursue ambitions that would lead to prosperity of the country. In a nutshell there was a conducive environment to realize the American dream, whereby all the citizens would interact freely without fear Economic advancement was made possible through the constitution. The American state became a land of opportunities that is still admired by many other nations to date.


Carnes, M(Ed) (2006) The American Nation, A History of United States to 1877, vol1, 12th edition New York: prentice hill.

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