The US Constitution is possibly one of the best documents ever written. The Constitution of the United States established America’s national government and fundamental laws, and guaranteed certain basic rights for its citizens. It influenced many other governments constitutions in the past 200+ years.
It was signed on September 17, 1787, by delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Under America’s first governing document, the Articles of Confederation, the national government was weak and states operated like independent countries. At the 1787 convention, delegates devised a plan for a stronger federal government with three branches—executive, legislative and judicial—along with a system of checks and balances to ensure no single branch would have too much power.
I am not an absolutist or originalist. I believe the Constitution was written deliberately vague because when it was written they realized that the future was unpredictable. At a time where slavery was legal and a sign of status who could have seen a women of color as vice president of this new country? I just returned from a business trip to Italy. 8 hours direct Rome to Boston. A trip that would have taken more than a month in the 1780s. Who could have predicted the medical advancements we made even in the last century? The life expectancy of 55 years (excluding child mortality) was largely unchanged between the 12th and 19th centuries.
Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.Alexander Hamilton
Change is inevitable. The constitution needs to remain a living document.
The Constitution gave us a set of rules to follow in this American Experiment with democracy. The United States is among the oldest modern democracies, but it is only the oldest if the criteria are refined to disqualify claimants ranging from Switzerland to San Marino. Where did the founding fathers get the ideas for our democracy?
When the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in 1787 to debate what form of government the United States should have, there were no contemporary democracies in Europe from which they could draw inspiration. The most democratic forms of government that any of the convention members had personally encountered were those of Native American nations. Of particular interest was the Iroquois Confederacy, which historians have argued wielded a significant influence on the U.S. Constitution.
What evidence exists that the delegates studied Native governments? Descriptions of them appear in the three-volume handbook John Adams wrote for the convention surveying different types of governments and ideas about government. It included European philosophers like John Locke and Montesquieu, whom U.S. history textbooks have long identified as constitutional influences; but it also included the Iroquois Confederacy and other Indigenous governments, which many of the delegates knew through personal experience.
The Iroquois Confederacy was in no way an exact model for the U.S. Constitution. However, it provided something that Locke and Montesquieu couldn’t: a real-life example of some of the political concepts the framers were interested in adopting in the U.S.
The Iroquois Confederacy dates back several centuries, to when the Great Peacemaker founded it by uniting five nations: the Mohawks, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Oneida and the Seneca. In around 1722, the Tuscarora nation joined the Iroquois, also known as the Haudenosaunee. Together, these six nations formed a multi-state government while maintaining their own individual governance.
In 1744, the Onondaga leader Canassatego gave a speech urging the contentious 13 colonies to unite, as the Iroquois had at the signing of the Treaty of Lancaster. This cultural exchange inspired the English colonist Benjamin Franklin to print Canassatego’s speech.
“We heartily recommend Union and a good Agreement between you our Brethren,” Canassatego had said. “Never disagree, but preserve a strict Friendship for one another, and thereby you, as well as we, will become the stronger. Our wise Forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations; this has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and, by your observing the same Methods our wise Forefathers have taken, you will acquire fresh Strength and Power; therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out one with another.”
He used a metaphor that many arrows cannot be broken as easily as one. This inspired the bundle of 13 arrows held by an eagle in the Great Seal of the United States.
Franklin referenced the Iroquois model as he presented his Plan of Union8 at the Albany Congress in 1754, attended by representatives of the Iroquois and the seven colonies. He invited the Great Council members of the Iroquois to address the Continental Congress in 1776.
|Iroquois Confederacy and |
the Great Law of Peace
|United States Constitution|
|Restricts members from holding more than one oﬃce in the Confederacy.||Article I, Section 6, Clause 2, also known as the Ineligibility Clause or the Emoluments Clause bars members of serving members of Congress from holding oﬃces established by the federal government, while also baring members of the executive branch or judicial branch from serving in the U.S. House or Senate.|
Outlines processes to remove leaders within the Confederacy
Article II, Section 4 reads “The President, Vice President and all civil Oﬃcers of the United States shall be removed from Oﬃce on Impeachment for, and the conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Designates two branches of legislature with procedures for passing laws
Article I, Section 1, or the Vesting Clauses, read “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” It goes on to outline their legislative powers.
Delineates who has the power to declare war
Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, also known as the War Powers Clause, gives Congress the power, “To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;”
Creates a balance of power between the Iroquois Confederacy and individual tribes
|The diﬀering duties assigned to the three branches of the U.S. Government: Legislative (Congress), Executive (President), and Judicial (Supreme Court) act to balance and separate power in government.|