Exploring and inhabiting North America
The United States has a system of checks and balances in its government system that breaks down the government into three branches. These branches are called the judicial, the legislative and the executive. But it hasn’t always been that way. There was local government first, but as the states united, they realized they needed federal oversight.
During the 15th century, many explorers found the shores of America. Christopher Columbus, Ponce De Leon, Hernando Cortes, and Amerigo Vespucci were some of the people that came from Spain, France, and Italy. Gradually more and more people heard about the new land, and those that were not happy with their religion or lifestyle in Europe decided to emigrate to the new land.
During the 16th century, more people emigrated from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Scotland and Ireland. North America became a hodge-podge of cultures and religions with different regions having different influences.
Decentralized, local governments
In the northeast area, the Puritans were heavily influenced by England. They began to hold town meetings and created a simple system of self governance; this was referred to as the Colonial era. In the middle colonies, the culture was a bit more cosmopolitan. The Quakers and less rigid religious influenced thinking Dutch promoted education and equality. In the south, the Spanish colonies had different cultures and were dominated by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries.
Separation of Church and State
There was conflict between religions and Reverend Thomas Hooker recognized the need to separate religion from government. He framed the “Fundamental Orders” in Connecticut in 1638 that was the first known constitution of the North American northern states.
Centralized federal government that supports states and people
In the 17th century citizens like Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin began debating America’s opposition to England’s taxes and control. On July 1st, 1776, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and John Adams among others penned the ‘Declaration of Independence, and it was adopted on July 4th by thirteen colonies’. This is why we celebrate July 4th – Independence Day.
Once the countrymen men ceded from European rule, they had to create their own rules. During the 18th century, the colonies had established a system of government amongst themselves but there were arguments between them regarding a common currency and tax laws.
In the northeast, the colonies adopted a “friendship’ clause referred to the “Articles of Confederation” and formed the colonies into 13 states. About 10 years later, controversy between land ownership arose between Virginia and Maryland, and local delegates from the states agreed to meet in Annapolis, MD in 1786. Their purpose was to review the “Articles of Confederation” and come up with a better government system. This was the first congressional meeting.
The first Congress and the Constitution
They elected George Washington to preside over this first congress. The delegates from the representative states debated how the government should be set up for about five weeks. They were trying to answer the difficult questions: who makes the laws, who does the government serve -the states or the people that reside in those states, and how should people be represented.
They ended up creating the Constitution. James Madison said the constitution was offered as a solution to “secure the public good and private rights…and at the same time, preserve the spirit and form of popular government.” (Pictorial History of America)
The constitution was ratified by 9 of the 13 states, and George Washington was elected to be the United States first President under the Constitution. As part of the executive branch, he also had a Vice President, the Secretary of Treasury, and others. Today the executive office includes 14 positions that the President can choose to support his executive office. The President has the authority to pass or veto bills that the legislature (congress) sends him. If the President doesn’t sign off, the bill becomes law in 10 days.
Judicial review was established in 1789 when the first judiciary act under congress enabled the Supreme Court to have supremacy over the local, district and state courts that were previously established by the colonies and states. The Supreme Court has the responsibility to review cases that have been submitted to it and to establish whether the law has been broken or not. Judges don’t make law, they only enforce existing law. There are 9 different court systems in the United States today.
Soon after the first Presidential election, the states adopted the Electoral college process. This provided states with a certain number of votes per state to represent the number of people within the state. This body of government is called the House of Representatives. These people have a shorter term of office than the senate does, and they are heavily influenced by their constituents or people who voted for them.
The other part of congress is made up of senators. Each state is allowed to send two senators to congress, and these two people represent the interests of the state, rather than the people of the state. Senators approve the Executive cabinet members, they can consent to treaties and they handle the impeachment process of the executive office. To become a law, a bill has to pass both houses.
The future of US Government
During my recent college history class, a teacher posted the question,’Iis the US government effective?’ The US has about 309M people residing in the 50 states today. When the constitution was signed it represented 13 states and about 4 million people.
While some people complain about the way the government works, most abide by the laws and live in harmony 99% of the time. The system seems to work for the most part.
However, currently, the US debt has risen to 13 trillion dollars. To see how the government spends money today, see the Federal Budget link. The biggest expenses are defense, health care and social services such as social security.
Since 1969 the US has spent more money that it has and something needs to change. In 2008, the recession began and millions are without jobs. When people aren’t working, or are working for less money, they pay less taxes so the government is looking at a continued decline of income.
With the proliferation of the internet, and a call for transparency, it is time to revisit the US constitution and federal budget line by line. The government has grown so large it is disjointed and needs to be consolidated.
It is time for Uncle Sam to have a constitutional sized house-cleaning. The American people don’t want representatives and senate members making back room deals but it is built into the process; so the process needs to change. Perhaps it is time to get rid of the house and the senate, and come up with a new way to make sure the people, the businesses, and the states have fair representation. What we have today is putting this country in a state of bankruptcy and it cannot continue indefintely.
YEAR’s Pictorial history of America copyright 1952 Year Inc.