Most Important Legal Texts in American History Vol. III
Back from our recent diversion to the kingdom of Babylon and its ruler Hammurabi’s code of laws, we are going to get back to studying the important texts and legislation that formed the basis of American law and government. Last time we left off looking at the Articles of Confederation, the very first, an original constitution for what would become the United States of America. This time we are going to spend our entire entry on the supreme law of the United States, the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution – September 17, 1787 (ongoing)
Entire courses consist of this one document and its interpretation. The U.S. Constitution was initially drafted September 17th, 1787 at the Philadelphia Convention (also known as the Constitutional Convention) to replace the Articles of Confederation. Consisting originally of seven articles that outline the framework of the national government, discussing the separation of powers into three branches (the legislative, executive, and judicial), as well as the basic tenets of federalism, with the rights and obligations of state governments and their relationship to the federal. It was ratified a year later on June 21st, 1788 but did not go into effect until March 4th, 1789.
The document was birthed from the minds of 18th-century philosophers John Locke, Montesquieu, and William Blackstone, and Edward Coke to determine the ways in which consent of governed, divided government, and civil liberties were developed and protected. It also codified the Due Process Clause, based in part on common law and the Magna Carta (remember when we discussed that?) as a means to protect against power wielded arbitrarily by a ruler.
Of course, the Constitution is tied inexorably to the Bill of Rights. While the Constitution has been amended 27 times to date (with more pending) the original 10 amendments were introduced right from the start, creating safeguards for liberty, justice, and rights and reserved powers. Later amendments addressed governmental authority, protected civil rights, and outlined government procedures and processes.
This one document is responsible for all that has come after in regards to American law, though it isn’t without criticisms. Written by a specific group in the 18th century, it didn’t account for everything, hence the necessity for amendments including defining citizenship, voters’ rights and more.
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