How the U.S. Constitution Has Changed and Expanded Since 1787
The US Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified by nine of the original 13 states a year later, is the oldest written constitution in the world. But that doesn’t mean it’s stayed the same over time.
The founding fathers wanted the document to be flexible in order to adapt to the changing needs and circumstances of the country. In the words of Virginia delegate Edmund Randolph, one of the five men tasked with drafting the constitution, the aim was “to insert only essential principles, lest the operations of government be obstructed by making these provisions permanent.” and unalterable, which should be appropriate for the times and events.
Since the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, Congress has adopted only 23 additional amendments to the Constitution, and states have only ratified 17. Beyond that, many changes in the political system and American legal came about as a result of judicial interpretation of existing laws, rather than the addition of new ones by the legislature.
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The rights of individual Americans were protected
One of the most important early criticisms of the Constitution was that it did not do enough to protect the rights of individuals from violation by the country’s new central government. To remedy this, James Madison immediately drew up a list of rights for citizens that the federal government did not have the power to take away. This bill of rights included freedom of religion, expression and the press, the right to bear arms, the right to a jury trial and the right not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures.
The way Americans elect presidents, vice-presidents and senators has changed
The Constitution declared the presidential runner-up to become the vice president – a system that nearly sparked a constitutional crisis in 1800, when Thomas Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received the same number of electoral votes. The 12th Amendment, ratified in 1804, required voters to vote separately for president and vice-president.
Over a century later, the 17th Amendment similarly changed the US Senate election process, giving the American people – rather than state legislatures – the right to elect senators.
The role of the Supreme Court expanded
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In comparison to its treatment of the executive and legislative branches of government, the Constitution itself has remained relatively vague on the role of the Supreme Court and the judiciary, leaving much of its organization to Congress.
It was John Marshall, the nation’s fourth chief justice, who established the power of the court by asserting its right to declare acts of Congress unconstitutional. “It is the duty of the judiciary to say what the law is,” Marshall wrote in the landmark case. Marbury vs. Madison (1803). Since then, the Court has taken an increasingly active role in interpreting the laws passed and actions taken by the other two branches, and in ensuring that both respect the Constitution.
The balance of powers between the states and the federal government
At the time the Constitution was drafted, the governments of the individual states were more powerful than the central government of the new nation. This balance of power quickly changed over the years, as the federal government developed and assumed an increasingly dominant role.
Federalism has become the law of the land thanks to the decisions of the Supreme Court as McCulloch v. Maryland (1823), which affirmed the right of the federal government to take “necessary and appropriate” measures to meet the urgent needs of the nation.
The debate on the question of the rights of states continued until (and beyond) the civil war, when the victory of the Union and the dawn of reconstruction marked the beginning of a new expansion of the federal power. The passage of the 16th Amendment in 1913 gave the government the power to collect income tax, a change that effectively reversed the prohibition on “direct tax” in Article I of the Constitution.
People other than white men got the right to vote
In the aftermath of the civil war, three “reconstruction amendments” sought to realize more fully the founders’ ideal of all men created equal. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, the 14th Amendment extended the status of citizens to African Americans, contradicting the Supreme Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857).
The 15th Amendment guaranteed black men the right to vote (although southern states would soon find ways to restrict those rights). In 1920, after the ratification of the 19th Amendment gave all American women the right to vote for the first time, Suffrage Leader Carrie Chapman Catt memorably declared that “getting the word ‘masculine’ out of the Constitution was costly. fifty years to the women of the country. -two years of uninterrupted campaign. “
PICTURES: Women’s suffrage
The power of the executive has grown
Throughout the 19th century and into the 20th century, Congress was the dominant branch of government, as the framers of the Constitution intended. Although some previous presidents – including Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson – claimed more power for themselves, especially in wartime, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency marked a turning point in the expansion. executive power. Despite the passage of the 22nd Amendment, which limited future presidents to just two terms, the growing power of the presidency was a trend that showed no signs of slowing down.
Businesses started to be treated like individuals
The Constitution does not mention corporations or their rights, nor does the 14th Amendment. But from the end of the 19th century, with its verdict in Santa Clara County c. Southern Pacific Railroad Company (1886), the Supreme Court began to recognize a company as a “person” with all the rights that this entails. Subsequent court rulings – including a 5-4 decision in the notable First Amendment case Citizens United v FEC (2010) – expanded this controversial application of the 14th Amendment to protect businesses from certain types of government regulation. In his United citizens dissent, Judge John Paul Stevens turned again to the nation’s founding document, asserting that “corporations … are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was made. established.