How Did the Constitution Guard Against Tyranny?
Imagine oneself back at the constitutional convention in seventeen eighty-seven. All of the brightest minds and most respected people in one place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the southeast of the state, near New York. Because it is May, and just beginning to be summer, it is hot, and because all the windows are closed in the interest of secrecy, it is stifling as well. Fifty-five well known thinkers of the age, all white males, have come. They range in age from James Madison, an up-and-comer and a prodigy who is twenty five to Benjamin Franklin, a wise, venerable, learned man who is eighty one. Delegates from eleven states are present, New Hampshire not turning up until July, and Rhode Island not at all, thinking to veto the proceedings by their absence. The problem that had caused these proceedings was that the Articles of Confederation, the current system of government was too weak. although the Northwest Ordinance resulted of it, and it fixed the fear of a strong central government and dominance by large states, there were unfair competition among states, unenforceable trade agreements, no power over states governments, no president, no judicial branch and the government could not pay debts because they could not force states to pay taxes. As the cons out-weighed the pros, it was clear that something had to be done. The framers decided to create a new government completely. The question was; How do we give the government the power it needs while preventing tyranny? This essay will address the many and varied was the constitution guards against tyranny. In this essay, the word tyranny refers to James Madison’s definition, which states, “The accumulation of all powers…in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many (is) the very definition of tyranny.” (James Madison, Federalist Paper #47, Hook Document). The constitution addresses tyranny in four main ways: the balance of powers between national and state governments, the separation of powers between branches, checks and balances between branches, and the balance between the house and the senate. If states had the power to ignore a federal tax law they did not like, they would deprive the government of revenue. The federal government needs the revenue to repay debts and provide national services. If there was no legislative branch and the President had the power to both make and enforce laws, the President would be the equivalent of a dictator or king. This could easily result in a corrupt form of government, the President acting solely for his own benefit or the benefit of a few others. If the President could fire justices of the Supreme Court if he didn’t like a ruling they made, the court would serve no purpose, because they would always rule with the President in order to keep their position. This would again mean that the President has almost unlimited power. If New York had a lot more members that Rhode Island in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, the big states would run roughshod over the little states. The little states would then have essentially no voice. All of these circumstances had to be provided for. (Hook Document)
The constitution prevents tyranny by giving set powers to state and national governments. When the Constitutional Convention was convened James Madison, a delegate from Virginia, had already had a possible form of government. Called the Virginia Plan, this document was the main arguing point of the convention, and the constitution that resulted is just and edited version of it. In the Virginia Plan, the government had three branches with legislative supremacy, a bi-cameral legislature, proportional representation in both houses, and a federal organization of powers. James Madison says, “In the compound republic of America, the power surrendered by the people is first divided between two distinct governments, and the portion allotted to each subdivided among distinct and...
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