James McClellan begins Liberty, Order, and Justice with the following words: “The American Constitution is an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary document.” This paper provides an explanation of that statement and discusses the historical traditions in which the American founders grounded themselves.
History of the United States Constitution
The Founding Fathers of the United States were an alliance of forward-looking personalities who painstakingly evaluated numerous impactful elements before drafting the instituting political documents. Nevertheless, contemporary authors such as James McClellan have contributed to this debate by offering their unique perspective on the process that ultimately birthed key documents such as the constitution. In his magnum opus dubbed Liberty, Order, and Justice, McClellan (2000) opines that the US Constitution is evolutionary in nature rather than the more commonly accepted axiom referring to it was a revolutionary document. This paper, therefore, seeks to explore this particular viewpoint while conducting an in-depth evaluation of the historical traditions in which the Founding Fathers grounded themselves. Special focus will also be accorded to the Greco-Roman contribution to the constitution, the Mayflower Compact, important English documents such as the Magna Carta, and the Fundamental Order of Connecticut.
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The Greco-Roman Contribution to the US-constitution
The classical influence on the US Constitution is arguably the most overlooked datum in recent history. Yet, the fact still remains that ideas from early Roman civilizations and ancient Greek played a central role in influencing the Founding Fathers when fashioning the US Constitution. Political ideas from this particular era in history were preserved in the coming years and provided an ideal reference point during the drafting of the inaugural document in 1787 (Tushnet et al., 2015). According to McClellan (2000), political virtues, the idea of republicanism and checks and balances were noteworthy classical perspectives which greatly influenced the Founding Fathers. Aspects of this inspiration are evident in the American political structure today in the form of a strict system of checks and balances borrowed from the Roman Republics. In particular, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson analyzed works by Polybius, Socrates, and Aristotle to gain insight into the political thought at the time and how to incorporate it in the American context.
The Influence of English Common-Law on the US Constitution
Initially, the drafting of the US Constitution was of the utmost importance to the Founding Fathers since they were tasked with the arduous responsibility of chartering a future for the newfangled nation. Although the colonialists disagreed largely with the imperial tendencies espoused by the monarchy, they still appreciated certain aspects of English common law. Among the greatest influence on US Constitution was the Magna Carta (1215), especially since its “law of the land clause” mirrored the opinions of a majority of colonialists. Through it, the founding fathers were now able to create a constitution built on personal liberty and parity where the rule of law prevailed and respected by all.
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Similarly, the English Bill of Rights (1689) inspired the creation of the Bill of Rights as enshrined in the US Constitution. The May Flower Compact, as one of the initial governing documents in the English colonies, also played a central role as a foundation for the American Constitution, especially when seeking to reach a compromise between rulers and citizenry (“Constitutional Rights Foundation,” 2015). It is also credited with fostering harmony between early rulers and the masses in a fashion credited with the advances witnessed in the United States today. Additionally, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut as the embodiment of the original constitution in Continental America played a central role in influencing the structure of the US Constitution (“fundamental orders of Connecticut,” 2013). This was mainly because it offered a definite structure for a representative government such as the one envisioned by the Founding Fathers.
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Development of the constitutional system: From a covenant, to a charter, to a constitutional system
The initial idea of the constitution as a covenant was borrowed from Puritan Pilgrims. This notion had been initially enshrined in earlier documents such as the Mayflower Compact which formed the basis of governance in the New World. Soon after its implementation, it was decided that the colonies had come of age and now capable of enacting a more sophisticated document to serve their need for a constitutional system. The Charter of 1606 was soon passed as a unique strategy by the New World colonists in their quest to spread their religion as envisioned by the English Crown (Bodenhamer, 2018). However, an unanticipated consequence of its implementation was the conflict it bred between the colonialists and England as a consequence of an influx in migrants with sweeping land and property rights. This eventually culminated in the Revolutionary War which eventually birthed the constitutional system.
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Major Political Ideas of the Founding Fathers as a Consequence of being Rooted in this Tradition
The US Constitution is an amalgamation of ideas and historical notions gathered from a wide array of sources and combined to form one of the most influential documents yet. At the core of the vision of the original Founding Fathers was the idea that the newfangled United States would benefit greatly from a political and social experiment where governance took precedence. In this particular system, an elaborate system of checks and balances would be created to enable the citizens to check the excesses of the government in its new dispensation (Brennan, 2012, p. 45). The Founding Fathers were also keen on ensuring that citizens, from all walks of life, prospered and enjoyed liberty in their own country. These ideas were then pieced together meticulously, eventually resulting in the US Constitution which still serves the country
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