With the “Declaration of Independence”, published on July 04, 1776, written by Thomas Jefferson, begins the independent history of United States.
With the “Declaration of Independence”, published on July 04, 1776, written by Thomas Jefferson, begins the independent history of United States of America. On July 11, 1776, a committee under John Dickenson was appointed which drafted the Articles of Confederation which were approved by Congress of states. However, interstate bickering started over a number of issues. To solve the problems and disputes, amendments in Articles of Confederation was felt and thus a convention was arranged in Philadelphia for the purpose in which delegates of 12 states participated (Rhode Island did not). After 16 weeks of discussion, the new constitution of USA was unanimously signed on 17th September 1787 by delegates os states present there. The constitution was adopted/ratified on 21st June 1788 (as nine state (New Hampshire-ninth state) convention ratified) and enforced on March 07, 1789 (Rhode Island last state to ratify it). James Madison is considered as the primary author of US Constitution.
Salient features of US Constitution:
Although there are many interesting features in its constitution but the most important are:
- Written constitution
- Rigid constitution
- Popular sovereignty
- Bicameral legislature
- Separation of powers
- Checks and balances
- Judicial Review
- Presidential system
- Federal system
- System of republic
- System of spoils
- Bill of Rights
- Dual Citizenship
American constitution is a written constitution framed in 1787 and enforced in 1789. It consists of seven articles; three of them related to structure and powers of Legislative (Article 1), Executive (Article 2) and Judiciary (Article 3) and the other four dedicated to position of states (Article 4), modes of amendments (Article 5), supremacy of national power (Article 6) and ratification (Article 7). It also holds that constitution is the supreme law of the land. Article one is the longest and cannot be amended. Like other constitutions, it also consists of preamble; a single sentence that introduces and defines purpose of the document.
It is one of the most rigid constitutions in the world which means that for amending it, a special and difficult procedure has to be followed. It consists of 2 steps;
Proposal for Amendment:
Either two-third (67%) of both the houses (Senate and House of Representatives) shall propose for amendment to constitution or on the application of legislatures of two-third (67%) states shall call a convention for proposing amendment.
Ratification of Proposal:
The amendment shall be ratified by the legislatures of three fourth (75 %) of all states or by the convention of three fourth of states.
It is because of this rigidity that American constitution has been amended only 27 times in over 200 years.
In U.S, the people rule i.e. they have delegated their powers to the government and the government owes its authority to the will of the people. The principle of popular sovereignty is stated in the Preamble of constitution as “we the people……..do ordain and establish this constitution for United States of America.”
The constitution of USA provides for bicameral legislature i.e. two houses in the centre. According to Article 1, “All legislative powers are vested in Congress.” Congress consists of two houses i.e. Lower House or House of Representatives and the Upper House or Senate.
House of Representatives:
The House of Representatives has 435 members who are elected by the people through adult franchise method for a period of two years on population basis i.e. state with larger population gets more seats in this house like California has 53 members.
The members of Senate are elected by the state legislatures. Each state has two senators meaning that each state has two votes in senate. These senators are elected for a period of six years on parity basis. The total number of senators is 100 as the total states are 50.
Separation of Powers:
The doctrine of separation of powers divides power between the three pillars/institutions of government to prevent interference of one institution in the affairs of another. The powers are divided among Congress, President and the Judiciary.
Congress has the power to make laws which outline general policies and set certain standards. President can enforce, execute and administer law. He is assisted by his cabinet but is solely responsible for all actions of Executive branch. Judicial Powers are exercised by the Supreme Court which interprets laws and decided cases and controversies in conformity with the law and by the methods prescribed by law.
Checks & Balances:
The system of Checks and Balances laid down by the separation of powers prevents misuse of powers. The powers are provided in such a way that it provides a check upon other institutions.
- President can veto a bill passed by the Congress. The congress can pass legislation over president’s veto by two third majority.
- President has the power to appoint judges of the Supreme Court subject to approval of the Senate.
- The constitution has vested the powers of “Judicial Review” in Supreme Court. Supreme Court can approve, reject or review any action taken by the President or laws made by the Congress as it did in Marbury vVs Madison Case.
All this creates a system which makes compromises necessary which is a sign of healthy democracy. It prevents the rise of dictators as well.
The U.S constitution provides for a federal system of government which means that powers are divided among centre/federal government and the states. According to Article 1, the federal government has jurisdiction over 18 matters and residuary powers are vested in states. States are autonomous bodies and centre cannot meddle in their affairs. In case of conflict, Supreme Court decides or settles the dispute.
The constitution provides for a presidential form of government. Article 2 provides the powers, election and their matters related to president. President is elected for a term of 4 years and is not answerable to Congress but cannot dissolve Congress. He has a cabinet to assist him in running his executive powers.
The constitution calls for a republican system with President as elected head of the state. The constitution derives its authority from the people and is supreme law of the land. Neither centre nor states can override it.
Bill of Rights:
The first ten amendments to the constitution are called “Bill of Rights”. The BOR provides for the rights of a person’s property, liberty, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly.
The constitution provides for dual citizenship i.e citizen of United States and the state where one is domiciled. Britain and Pakistan provides for single citizenship.
System of Spoils:
When a president is elected, he does appointment of public offices. If in elections, President elected is of the opposition party, he dismisses the public office bearers and makes fresh appointments. Under this system, a civil servant appointed by one president on political consideration cannot retain his office when an opposition President secures victory in polls.