In June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote a draft for a constitution for Virginia. In this draft, he lists why the British government has no place in America. This draft is the first evidence of what would later become Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. After the success of the Revolutionary War against England, the Constitution was adopted. The first problem Jefferson has is that the American colonists are not able to govern themselves and are left for long periods of time without any representation.
He feels that the colonists are being neglected and that the King only intervenes when it suits his interests, which, because of the distance between the colonies and England, is not very often. Also involving distance, Jefferson does not believe that criminals in the colonies should have to be sent back to England, especially when the accusations are suspect. He also believes that the colonists have the right to a trial by jury, something the king has ruled against. Another issue for Jefferson is the constant presence of the military, despite being in a time of peace.
Jefferson does not think the colonists should be living in a police state, surrounded by war ships and large numbers of troops. He does not agree with foreign mercenaries being sent to the colonies or the destruction of coasts and plundering of towns. Jefferson also speaks against England’s habit of encouraging Negros and Indians to rebel against society. He considers Indians to be savages who indiscriminately use warfare against the colonists and questions why Negros in the colonies should be encouraged to rise up when they are still enslaved by the British.
And perhaps his most well known argument, Jefferson does not think the colonies should have to pay taxes they have not agreed to and should be allowed to trade with other nations. Shortly after writing this draft, Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and presented it on July 4, 1776, declaring the 13 colonies independent of Great Britain. More ten years passed before the United States Constitution was adopted on September 17, 1787. When creating the Constitution, James Madison studied Montesquieu, a French commentator, John Locke, the British philosopher, and the Magna Carter.
The Constitution explains the role that the federal government plays in the United States and its relationship to its citizens and the three branches of government are introduced. The Constitution was accepted by every state following individual conventions in those states for the people. The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Introduced in 1789, they were officially made a part of the Constitution and federal law in 1791, after being accepted by of the American states. It begins with the Preamble, explaining the need for a Constitution and what it hopes to accomplish.
The first amendment of the Constitution claims freedom of speech, religion, press, and the right to assemble. Having been oppressed by the British crown for so long, the founding fathers did not want the citizens of the United States to feel the same pressure. Many original settlers had come to the United States to escape religious persecution and could not petition the government safely. This amendment allows those activities to occur legally. The second and third amendments relate to military use, allowing the ownership of weapons and the ability to refuse to house soldiers in private property, something that was required under British law.
The fourth amendment establishes the requirement for a warrant before searching private property. The next few amendments focus on the legal rights of Americans. They state that an accused citizen has the right to a fair, fast, impartial jury trial, and will not be subject to cruel or unusual punishment, including excessive bail. These amendments allow a trial witness not to incriminate himself (known now as “pleading the Fifth), and that all trials be made public. Under British law, Americans were often subjected to long, private in England, which did not come across as fair to the founding fathers.
The last two amendments remind all Americans that these rights do not override other rights secured by the people and that each state has the right to create it’s own constitution, as long as the federal rights are upheld. The founding fathers were believed to be highly ethical for their time. In Europe, this time period was known as the age of Enlightenment. Men and women were exploring new ways of thinking and writing, and making their thoughts public. Jefferson, Madison and many other American leaders subscribed to this new way of philosophizing.
Jefferson is quoted as saying “I have but one system of ethics for men and for nations-to be grateful, to be faithful to all engagements under all circumstances, to be open and generous, promoting in the long run even the interests of both; and I am sure it promotes their happiness. ” James Madison followed the same line of thought as Jefferson, celebrated the works of John Locke, strongly believed in limited government and more rights to the people. All of these believes are obvious in the documents that created the United States of America.
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