America - 200 Years On

Esmond Wright examines the American constitution and its workings after two centuries.

Offering a comment on the American Constitution as seen in today's perspective, requires an initial glance at its historical context.

The document drawn up in those four months of debate 200 years ago was designed to strengthen what central government there then was. The War of Independence had been won, without a national government, by thirteen distinct states. As late as 1760, the father of Gouverneur Morris of New York – who in 1787 was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention – provided in his will that his son never visit Connecticut, lest he be infected by the 'low craft and cunning so incident to the people of that country'. The states had been tenuously linked by Articles of Confederation (agreed on only after five years of war, in 1781), which were in essence a treaty between thirteen independent powers. A single- chamber assembly had been set up as the all-purpose government, with over 100 committees, with no obvious executive, with its only court that designed to settle maritime disputes, and with no power to levy taxes.

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