The founders of the government of the United States of America were statesmen and political leaders who took part in the American Revolution. They were participants of American Revolution war, signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, and designers of the United States Constitution. There are two key categories: those who signed the U.S Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The first group participated either in the drafting or framing of the United States’ proposed Constitution. Another group that cannot be gainsaid is the one that signed the Articles of Association. Another group that cannot be gainsaid is the one that signed the Articles of Association (Rossiter 195)
Historians have a broader view of the founding fathers. They do not limit them to the framers and signers but the holistic group which participated in winning independence and creation of the United States of America. They categorize the group into ordinary citizens, soldiers, jurists, diplomats, statesmen, and politicians.
One of the most significant steps in the founding of the United States of America was the creation of the Constitution. It was created in 1787, but intellectual foundations can be traced to long time ago. Experts have described it as the apex of the American enlightenment. It is an application of the eighteenth century Western science and learning to the affairs of humans. It cannot, therefore, be said that Constitution-making was simply an event that evolved from the summer meeting of 1787. Its origin dates back almost to the whole previous history, as a product of enlightenment. Political theorists and historians have searched thoroughly through the past searching for a sole book or philosopher that might have directed the designers of the Constitution (Rossiter453). The key people they thought of were John Locke, Scot David Hume, and Montesquieu. However, none of them was the singular thinking of the founders.
Searching for one main personality to demonstrate the origin of the Constitution is not possible. Influence on the robust, expansive and meticulously created Constitution cannot be explained by the works of a single mind. Among other thinkers, the writings of Montesquieu, Burlamaqui, Locke, Polybius, and Hume were significant in creating the Constitution. These and other thinkers formulated indispensable aspects of the political culture of the United States. The founders, in their speeches, referred to their literary works by citing or quoting. The most common quotes were from Plutarch, Cicero, Blackstone, Plato, Pufendorf, and Rousseau. In their speeches, the founders quoted and cited so many promiscuously so that it became difficult to decipher the most influential personality (Ellis 300).
There were several influences affecting the actions and reasoning of the formulators of the Constitution, though implicating the influences of a particular thinker on a founder of the Constitution is difficult. The founders were pragmatic and experienced political leaders. Their shortcoming was that they were not logical and practical men who could be questioned about political philosophy. They were rather interested in ideas and making theoretical sense of their endeavors. They participated in a rich and progressive political culture that informed the Constitution they made. For them to understand the Constitution, they had to understand the political culture.
The most extensive feature of the political culture was republicanism. It formed the presumptions of American thinking. It shaped the founders’ belief of the elective political system and their social and moral objectives. The American Revolution had targeted at becoming a republican. This was a brilliant idea because in the eighteenth-century era, monarchies were dominant. It was an intellectual technique by which citizens could show their dissatisfaction to selfishness, corruption, and luxury of the dominant monarchial culture. Such an ideology fanned the American Revolution. It was the ideology of the eighteenth century’s democratic revolutions. By the end of the eighteenth century, the Constitution of the U.S was highly republicanized.
Another intellectual influence was the body of classic literature updated by the renaissance. The most significant was the writings of Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher. A collection of these values was combined into a custom called civic humanism. The practice highlighted that the moral conduct of independent citizens is necessary for good politics. The practice further directed that good citizen should be independent, free of the influence of parochial interests and property-holding farmers who are not controlled by other men. The classical conception became dominant among the educated people(Ellis 200).
The practice of civic humanism spread into northern Europe culture. It inspired the works of republicans, including Harrington, Sidney, and Milton, and transferred to the eighteenth century by translators. Gordon wrote about the value of freedom of speech and religion. Even the French aristocrats embraced the values practiced by republicans. All this pointed at the phasing of monarchial systems and instigating the electoral system of government. The aims of republicanism were to design a political system conscious of public welfare. Critics of the monarchial systems were concerned that kings were paying no attention to the public good but were rather obsessed with parochial interests. By doing away with hereditary kings and instigating governments where people would elect leaders of their choice, the liberals who championed reforms anticipated that this will compel the governments’ work welfare of the public.
The civic tradition had spillovers beyond the political arena. It had moral and social implications. Republics needed egalitarianism characterized with independence and a requirement that property-holding citizens were ready to forfeit their selfish interests for the public good. Such reliance on equal populace made the republic weak and short-lived politics. Monarchies, on the other hand, were formidable and brought leadership to their stride through absolute power, hereditary advantages, and sturdy army. Because republics embraced sacrifice of the people, theories of thinkers like Montesquieu cautioned that republics had to contend with small territories, uniform and moral conduct. The republics that sustained through the eighteenth century like Switzerland, the Netherland, and the city-states of Italy had small territories. In spite of this, the U.S in 1776 wanted to try Republicanism. Nevertheless, by 1787, Americans became concerned about this system.
By 1787, Americans were less enthusiastic about the republican system. The American people had cast aspersions on the ability of popular government such as the legislature to embrace a morality and forfeit selfish interests. They were prepared for “systematic change” as James Madison referred to the new system of government. The system led to formation of the federal Constitution. Most Americans were reluctant to embrace the new system as they said no other form will resonate with the ideals of the revolution or with the determination which derives freedom. The modelers of the new Constitution provided for occasionally elected leaders to take positions in the executive and the legislature. These leaders made the federal government assure a government based on the republican ideals for every state.
In 1787, American thinking was based on classical republicanism. The classical theory of balanced governments involved the concept of an independent president, popular House of Representatives, and the aristocratic senate.
Another influence on the creation of the Constitution was the English Constitution from which America attained its independence. The Constitution created a balance between the House of Commons, the king and the House of Lords. The Americans did not believe in this Constitution. The king used his power to appoint men, who he crowned offices. The aim of the king was that these men could bribe and influence members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The executive part was literally usurping powers to itself. When America got its independence from Britain, its aim was to miniature the English Constitution. To minimize these effects, most states significantly limited the appointing powers of the chief executive. The Constitution prohibited members of the judiciary and legislature from holding office in the executive branch simultaneously. To prevent the corruption that America observed in the English way of government, they separated from each other the powers of the executive, judiciary, and legislature.
The prohibition of legislators from holding executive offices marked a difference in their Constitution from that of their former mother country. They achieved preventing the English-style cabinet form of government. They avoided the corruption influence of the executive. The ultimate source of this balanced government structure was the English Constitution. The difference they made was separating the functional powers of the judiciary, legislature, and executive. Each of these arms was a check on the other. The independent judiciary, presidential veto power, federalism, and bicameralism became a technique of checking mistrusted political power (Ellis 356).
The founding fathers wanted to design a state that was corruption free, responsible, and accountable to the people. All the efforts can be summarized into one topic- Separation of powers. It was to work for public good because appointments could not be skewed to the parochial interests of any individual; the arms of state now worked more consciously because there were checks and balances whenever they slipped from their mandate.
The Concept of Separation of Powers
Separation of powers was a requirement of the Constitution to separate the government into three branches. Each of the three branches could wield clearly defined powers, and the three organs could check the powers between them. The main objective was to prevent abuse of power by the authority and enhance individual liberty. The three arms were the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. They were to maintain checks and balances to meet the objective of individual liberty (Hardin 124)
The executive had the power to veto bills, and through this, it checked the Congress’ function of making laws. However, the Congress had powers to override any veto by a two-thirds majority. The President was vested the powers to settle a dispute whenever the two houses could not agree on a date to adjourn. The vice President was to serve as the Senate’s President. The President had the responsibility to appoint judges but with the endorsement of the Senate. The Constitution recognized the President as the Commander in Chief of the Navy and Army. At this capacity, he was tasked with commanding the defense forces to launch military action in case there was a crisis. Congress prescribed the regulations of operation of the forces. It also maintained, raised, and funded the forces. The Admirals, who were appointees of the President, could get a confirmation by a majority of the Senate before assuming office.
The judiciary, through the judicial review, checked both the legislative and the judicial branches. The courts had a duty to review the laws made by the legislature to check if they were in tandem with the Constitution. The Congress also had checked over the judiciary because it set the jurisdiction the courts. The Senate could impeach the President, and if this happens, the Chief Justice presides in the Senate (Hardin 243).
The leadership style of Britain and the English Constitution greatly informed the structure of government, and the founders of United States wanted to lay for their country. The main idea was to deflect from future actions such as those where the King of Britain influenced both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The founding fathers wanted an efficient and corruption-free leadership which acted to enhance the public good. To achieve this goal, they separated the powers of the executive, legislature, and judiciary. They called such a system of government ‘separation of powers’. As the paper hypothesizes, this theory was not an appropriate tool for a democratic and efficient administration, especially when it led to delay in decision making and disharmony among the three organs of the government and failed to secure individual liberty. The risks outweigh the benefits and, for that reason, the system was not appropriate.
Arguments to Support Thesis
The government was supposed to be an organic unit. Absolute autonomy in its arms was, for this reason, impossible. It was not practicable to separate the arms into three purely autonomous compartments. According to J.S. Mill, absolute separation of various arms of the state would lead to general inefficiency and repeated deadlocks. Laski said that separation of powers is an exhibition of confusion. It plunged the government into convulsions. The government suffered from delays, jerks, and jolts. Whenever the Congress and the President failed to disagree, the process of law-making halted. The governments that operate on the principle of separation of powers lack efficiency, unity, and harmony. In real-world situation, the organs are interdependent. For example, the legislature performs certain judicial and executive functions (Hall 176)
The practice tried in the U.S proved impractical. It stipulated that the President be exclusively in command of the executive, the Congress have exclusive legislative powers, and the Supreme Court have the judicial authority. The arrangement was only in the Constitution. Essentially, the executive and legislature work in total disregard of this requirement. The President nowadays holds two positions, the Principal Executive and the Chief Legislator, because he was elected by the people. In addition, the Senate and the President had a hand in appointments. The latter made the appointments, and the former ratified them by a two-thirds majority. There was little separation of powers in the administration of America (Hardin 276).
The United States embraced democracy; hence, the use of ‘power’ in defining a system government was in total contravention of the requirements of democracy. The word ‘power’ was inappropriate in this case. The framers of the Constitution could have rather used ‘function’. In a democracy, people are the custodians of power as the popular sovereign, and they delegate functions to the government (Hall 203).
The theory was interpreted that the organs enjoyed equal powers, which was far from the truth. The legislature wielded more powers than other organs because it formulated the framework which guided operation of the whole government. The legislature further controlled the state’s finances (Hall 215). The legislature, therefore, exercised control over other arms, making it superior.
The main objective of the separation of powers was to safeguard individual liberty. It is not singularly separation of power that delivers liberty. Although the English Constitution did not operate upon the principle, the British citizen enjoyed liberty just as Americans. The Swiss enjoyed liberty as well, even if their Constitution was not based on the theory. America had separation of powers in place, but its citizens did not enjoy absolute liberty. Slave trade was widely practiced, and even the architects of liberty in the government like George Washington kept slaves. Individual liberty does not necessarily come as a result of separation of powers. It is rather secured by the rule of law, vigilance of the people, and citizens’ love for liberty (Hall 233)
The theory also hindered the government from acting expediently in times of crisis. In the United States, the court restricted the ability of the Congress to investigate the lives of private individuals. Such a move prevented investigation of suspects of criminal activities arguing that delving into their private lives was an infringement on their rights (Hardin 120).
The functions of government were complex, and performing them called for experience, awareness, expertise, and knowledge. The attributes were beyond the capacity of one person, and division of labor by separation of powers became necessary (Hall 163). Making laws, monitoring compliance with the laws, and implementing them were sensitive and involving duties to be left to one body.
Separation of power ensures that the three organs of the government are separated and cannot interfere with the duties of the other. An organ maintained checks and balances on others. Not one branch dominated the Constitution. No arm became a tyrant over the other two (Hardin 273)
Separation of powers ensured that individual liberty was maintained. Concentrating powers in one hand could make the man in command usurp powers and abuse individual liberty. Man generally has a tendency to dominate and oppress those below him (Hall 1992). In Britain, King George grabbed power during his time and appointed officials in offices who bribed the House of Commons. Separation of powers safeguarded liberty by preventing tyranny because it dispersed powers to three arms(Hardin 159).
By balancing one branch against another, the theory achieved to expose and frustrate sinister schemes. A policy was passed after deep consensus by more than one branch. The goals of the government were modest, impartial, and accepted widely.
Appointments by the President were endorsed by the legislature under this theory. This ensured that the officials appointed by the President met the required standards of credibility and suitability for the. The President could not make appointments based on his own skewed judgment.
The major intellectual influences on the founders who created the government of the United States were the works of various philosophers and thinkers of the time. They also structured the government to avoid the shortcomings of the leadership style they had observed in their mother country, Britain. In their quest to instigate an efficient style of administration in the government of the United States, the founding fathers designed the system of separation of powers which resulted to delays in decision making, disharmony among the organs of government, and failure to deliver individual liberty.
Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York: A.A. Knopf, 2007. Print.
Hall, Kermit. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print.
Hardin, Charles M. Constitutional Reform in America: Essays on the Separation of Powers. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989. Print.
Rossiter, Clinton. Seedtime of the Republic: The Origin of the American Tradition of Political Liberty. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1953. Print.
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