How did the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution alter the concept of government that had prevailed in society before their creation?
Before the Declaration of Independence, it was considered acceptable for representative bodies such as Parliament to be able to speak for the entire country instead of being responsible to their constituencies. The colonists insisted that they had rights and that Britain was treating them as an occupied nation rather than as an extension of Britain. Most of the Declaration of Independence references natural law and how these laws cannot be taken away. Furthermore, the Declaration of Independence contains methods by which Britain had flouted these laws. One of the most radical ideas in the Declaration of Independence states that the people have a right to overthrow the government when it takes away natural rights. This was a radical idea that meant that government existed for the people—and not the other way around.
The Articles governed the American colonies during the war for independence and in the period immediately thereafter. The Founders did not want to create a strong central government out of fear that it would soon be as unresponsive as Parliament. Under the Articles, the central government lacked the power to tax, and it could not defend itself properly as the Founders did not want to give the federal government military power.
The Constitution fixed the issues that were in the Articles of Confederation. Under the Constitution, Congress had the power to tax, but all taxation bills started in the House of Representatives because this house of Congress was theoretically the one most connected to the people. Congress also had the power to declare war. An executive branch was instituted to enforce the law and a judicial branch was put in to interpret the law. In order to safeguard the public's natural rights, the Founders created a Bill of Rights.
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, many people were comfortable with having an unelected monarch as the head of the government. People were comfortable with having some say in the matters of government, as determined by the actions of Parliament. Since the people had elected some leaders in Parliament who could speak on their behalf, they accepted this system of government.
These three documents changed the prevailing view of government. It was no longer acceptable to have an unelected head of government. People wanted the government to work for them and be based on the wishes of the people. Elected leaders needed to do what was in the best interests of the country, instead of what was in the best interest for themselves. People wanted the government leaders to represent them. They also wanted their rights to be guaranteed and protected. They feared a government that had too much power, which could possibly take away their rights. There was a desire to ensure that the individual states had sufficient power and would not be dominated by a strong federal government.
The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution changed the way people thought about their government.
Prior to the Declaration of Independence, the American colonies were separate entities under British rule. The Declaration of Independence was essentially a statement sent to the British government announcing that the American colonies wanted their independence from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776.
In the Second Continental Congress, the Articles of Confederation were drafted. This was the first constitution of the United States. They had to be approved by all thirteen colonies. This was ratified on November 15, 1777. The Articles of Confederation set up a weaker central government and a stronger state government, as is typical in a confederate political system.
Unfortunately, the Articles of Confederation created several problems. In 1787, a Constitutional Convention was called. Twelve of the thirteen states sent representatives to the convention. The only state without a representative was Rhode Island. John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote The Federalist Papers in defense of the new constitution. The new constitution set up a stronger central government but also allowed for states' rights. The new constitution went into effect on March 9, 1789. All thirteen states ratified the Constitution by May 29,1790.