Constitution of the United States

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How Does The Constitution Reflect The Times In Which It Was Written

How does the constitution reflect the times in which it was written?

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The U.S. Constitution reflects the United States of America at our founding, when there was no true model for such a document. The founders were not swayed by the organization of Britain or other nations in the 18th century or by the Articles of Confederation of the pre-Constitutional colonies. The framers were, in large part, the cream of the original citizenry, but—having lived during the revolution—appreciated the power of the “will of the people." By both formal and self-education, most were familiar with concepts of democracy from the classical world, international business, and alliance relations concepts stemming from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Some had represented the colonies with the contemporary governments of Britain and France.

So the times included a world in which the mechanics of finance, trade, citizenship, and treaty-making were appreciated as important. But in actual governance, they had a clean slate before them. Because we know no difference, today we celebrate that the framers evaluated Old World governance and came up with the genius checks-and-balances tripartite government.

The Constitution reflects that the times included many of the same practicalities as we see in our international world today. In its creativity, it reflects that there was no actual model to base itself on. Because of the pre-revolutionary iron fist of military/monarchial rule, rights were valued by new Americans. Because these new ordinary Americans knew how to overthrow a central authority, we have our precious Bill of Rights, which they demanded. The times generated a document of brilliant practicality.

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The population of the colonies at the time of the Constitution was wealthy to semi-wealthy farmers/smiths/small businessmen with lots of land, slaves, and product and who did a great deal of commerce with each other, the Indians, and overseas.  So the Constitution reflects the needs of that population:  the need for free speech from the tyranny of the English king, the need for arming themselves in case of war, the need for protecting soldiers from attack or imprisonment during wartime, and so on. 

Many of the first amendments were based on freeing the new world from the old and the war that followed in order to demand that freedom and establish a new government.

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The Constitution reflects the time when it was written in a number of ways.  Generally, these aspects of the Constitution show us how people at that time were worried about different issues than we are today and that they had different sensibilities than we have.

One example of how people worried about different things in those days can be seen in the fact that the Constitution prohibits the government from granting “titles of nobility” to people.  The idea that the US would make people knights or lords or anything like that seems odd now, but it was a real concern in those days.  The same goes for the prohibition against the government quartering soldiers in private homes.

Perhaps the more important way in which the Constitution reflects its time is in the way it treats African Americans and women.  The fact that it condones slavery clearly makes it a product of its time.  So is the fact that it does not protect women from discrimination and does not grant them the right to vote.  These are things that seem terrible to us today, but which clearly reflect the time when the Constitution was written.

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