Three Systems of Government
The American people have had three systems of central government since 1775. The first was the wartime Continental Congress, appointed by the thirteen individual colonies, governing the general affairs of the Union for six years.
The second began in 1781 shortly before fighting ended. The Continental Congress governed under the Articles of Confederation, the first written constitution of this nation. And the third is the Constitution that this nation is governed by today, the Constitution of 1787, put into effect 1789.
The Continental Congress drew its power from two things, the united determination of the people and the Congressional power to print money and make treaties. The paper money carried a pledge that it would be redeemed in gold or silver. With Congress unable and the states unwilling to levy taxes, Continental currency began to slide down hill, prices soared, more money was printed and inflation swept the nation. In late 1789, Congress quit printing money and called on the states to pay for the war. That did not solve the financial problems, but it did end Congress as a powerful governing body.
Before the money presses were shut down, James Madison wrote, “Congress had the whole wealth and resources of the continent within its command and could do as it pleased, but when the power was given up, it has become as dependent on the states as the King of England is on the Parliament”.
Articles of Confederation
Meanwhile, the Articles of Confederation were before the state legislatures for ratification. This new form of government had three weaknesses. The most serious was the absence of taxing power, leaving Congress completely dependent on the states, coupled with this was the inability of Congress to regulate commerce. The second defect was the voting procedure by which things were passed into law by the states, which paralyzed Congress. And third was a declaration that each state retained every power not expressly delegated to the Confederation. James Madison and others tried to wipe out these defects unsuccessfully, thus leaving a weak central government through the Articles of Confederation.
Framing The Constitution
The Articles of Confederation brought so much confusion and strife that if something was not done to form a stable government, this nation would most likely be broken into pieces. Thus a handful of men led by Hamilton and Madison pressed Congress to form a constitutional convention to revise the federal government. So the framers of our present Constitution gathered in Philadelphia in 1787, and for three months, worked in utter secrecy. Then their work was submitted to the state conventions for ratification. Much effort was put forth by men such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, in writing the Federalist Papers. In Virginia, James Madison won a timely debate with Patrick Henry to help ratify the Constitution.
All men wanted a strong government for America, but wanted no tyranny of any sort, so the government was divided into three branches. They separated the executive from the legislative branch and form them they set a strong and independent judiciary. The framers desired to protect property and they trusted the federal government, leaving it free, later adding the Bill of Rights to protect individual and property rights from government interference.
It was James Madison who put a solid foundation under democratic self-government. He said, “The abuses of democracy were at their worst in small republics (states). The only remedy was to enlarge the sphere of government that would divide the community into so great a number of interests and parties that it would be difficult to organize a majority for the oppression of the minority. State governments, being inclined to oppress minorities, must be held in check by federal authority and the federal authorities held in check by different branches of government.” His view was accepted and is built upon to this day. James Madison truly is the Philosopher of the Constitution.