How did the Founders strike a balance between reserving individual rights and forming a strong and long-lasting government using the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the use of...

How did the Founders strike a balance between reserving individual rights and forming a strong and long-lasting government using the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the use of Philip Freneau's poem "On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country?"

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Declaration of Independence made the striking claim that governments were essentially established for the purpose of protecting the "unalienable rights" of "all men." Because Parliament and the British king had failed to carry out this duty, the Declaration claimed, the American colonies were justified in parting ways. The Declaration established the protection of individual rights as a founding principle for the new government. These principles were enshrined in most of the state governments, many of which included bills of rights and specific protections of principles such as habeas corpus. 

When the Constitution was ratified and went into effect in 1789, it did not include many specific protections for individual liberties. There were prohibitions against Congressional suspension of habeas corpus, punishment for ex post facto laws, and a few others, but the purpose of the Constitution was to establish a powerful central government. Protests by Anti-Federalists in the various state ratification conventions led to the addition of the Bill of Rights within two years. The rights protected by the first ten amendments to the Constitution do not need to be repeated here, but the Bill of Rights represented a compromise to satisfy those who were troubled by the powers given to the the federal government at the expense of the states, which were held to be more conducive to individual rights. 

As for the Freneau poem referenced in the question, it does not directly represent an attempt to strike a balance between government power and individual liberties. It does, however, celebrate these liberties, which Freneau says were established upon leaving Europe: "What wonders there will shall freedom show/What mighty states successive grow!"

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution had a very delicate balance to strike as they tried to protect individual freedoms and maintain a strong federal government. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote about the people having unalienable rights. These rights can’t be taken away or given up. They include the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence stated that the government must protect the rights of the people. If the government doesn’t do this, the people need to replace the government.

When the Constitution was written, the Founding Fathers realized that a weaker federal government, such as the one that existed under the Articles of Confederation, caused many problems for the United States. The writers of the Constitution created a stronger federal government. However, to protect the rights of the people, an agreement was made to add a Bill of Right to the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. These amendments protected rights such as freedom of speech and religion and the right to bear arms.

Philip Freneau’s poem stated that the United States was different from Europe. The government was based on the consent of the governed, and the people’s rights were protected. He described a happy person who wasn’t being held back by despotic leaders. He also mentioned how people were freer in the United States because the system of government was different from the system of government that existed in many European countries. His ideas can be seen in what the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were trying to accomplish.

mrkirschner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Thomas Jefferson, as an anti-federalist at heart, was very concerned about individual liberties. When writing the Declaration of Independence, he stressed these virtues in filing his grievances with England. This is evident in the first line of the document when he says all humans are granted the God-given rights of life, liberty, and property. The document outlines many violations of individual rights that the king has pursued, including quartering soldiers in private homes and denying colonists a fair trial. In reading the Declaration of Independence, it is clear the framers of the constitution are concerned about individual liberties.

In pursuing a new system of government, the authors of the United States Constitution debated how civil liberties could be protected while providing for an adequate federal presence. There were a number of states that did not want a strong federal government in fear of trampling individual rights. A compromise was realized when it was agreed that a Bill of Rights would be added to the document as Amendments. The Bill of Rights protects individual citizens on a number of levels. Examples include the right to a speedy trial, right to bear arms, and the freedoms of religion, speech, and press. These rights, in addition to the powers granted to the three branches of the federal government, struck a strong balance between individual rights and an adequate federal presence.